Brain Pickings

3 Ways to Visualize the David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest


What dotted lines have to do with telenovelas, pop culture reverence and analog GPS.

David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, a favorite book of many, is the kind of genre-bender that will thwart your mind with its convoluted narrative, plethora of allusions and cultural references, and multilateral connections between the characters. Navigating its maze of relationships and 400 footnotes could drive even the most seasoned literary disentanglers up the reading room wall.

So today, we look at three visual efforts to deconstruct the iconic novel.


To illuminate the essential points of the novel’s plot, German designer Jonny set out to flowchart the novel’s most essential characters, revealing an amusingly complex ecosystem that’s part Shakespearean play, part Mexican telenovela.


If the characters aren’t enough of a brilliant mess for you, David Foster Wallace adds another layer of confusion with a slew of locations that would send any GPS spinning. One brave Infinite Jest reader decided to take a tour of Boston, photographing all the locations mentioned in the book, then plotting them on a map.


From designer Sam Potts comes another visualization of the relationships between the characters, this time in the form of a diagram.

It’s really, really hard to know where exactly to delimit the Great Concavity. Where the novel is vague, a map must be specific, even when it is being demapped. I did the best that makes sense to me.” ~ Sam Potts

Since family is an important theme in the novel, a dotted line represents additional metadata showing a family connection.

The reverence in the designer’s tone as he explicitly points out that the diagram is no substitute for actually reading the novel bespeaks the height of the pedestal Infinite Jest has erected for itself in pop culture:

The best I can hope for in terms of this diagram’s relationship to Infinite Jest is that it’s a) as accurate as I could make it and b) a reminder of the seemingly endless details and pleasures to be found in Wallace’s masterpiece.” ~ Sam Potts

The poster is available as a free downloadable PDF and sold as a 36″ x 24″ print on 80# Lynx Opaque paper for a well-justified $20.

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