BrickJest, a collaboration between Kevin Griffith, an English Professor at Capital University, and his eleven-year-old son, Sebastian, reenacts scenes from David Foster Wallace’s most famous novel, even though Sebastian has not even read the book. I called them up to get a little background on their project.
So, why’d you start the site?
Kevin Griffith: We were interested in doing something ambitious together. We had seen a book called The Brick Bible, where somebody took their New Testament and did it in Legos. We thought, is there any kind of novel or non-Biblical text that would offer a similar challenge? I teach Infinite Jest at Capital University, so we thought we might try that. It’s over a thousand pages long. We thought it would be kind of cool if we could make it through that.
Kind of off-topic, but how do you even teach Infinite Jest?
KG: The class is a critical theory class, so we look at it in a few different theoretical perspectives. We look at it through a feminist perspective, through deconstruction, we look at it from neocriticism in some way, Marxism, and then we try to look at it through our own critical lenses as well through close reading. That’s how we did it. You can’t really follow it through as a linear text.
Were there other novels you were considering to produce in Lego-form?
KG: It was Infinite Jest right away. That was the one since I knew it and had read it several times. Did you want to talk to my son real quick?
Sebastian Petrou Griffith: Hello.
Have you read the book before?
SG: No, I haven’t read the book. I would kind of like to, but my dad said really clearly that it’s not for children. I have to wait until I’m eighteen.
What do you like about doing the project?
SG: I just like making the models and it’s kind of cool learning more about Infinite Jest because my dad talked about it a lot and he taught it and it’s one of his favorite books. So, it was kind of nice learning more about it now.
What books do you like now?
SG: I deeply enjoy The Lord of the Rings. The Percy Jackson series is pretty good, too.
Do you get some of what’s going on in Infinite Jest because of the project?
SG: Yeah, I have a vague idea. It’s a book about drugs and tennis and stuff like that.
Do you have a favorite photo?
SG: I really like very first one I took, a kind of classic one that’s the bug sitting on the shelf. And the one of “The Barrel Incident.”
Okay. Let me talk to your dad again. Are there any plans beyond this site?
KG: We’ll probably add a little bit more to the website. And we’ve been contacted, believe it or not, about a potential movie, and a potential book. We’ve been invited to Germany for a book fair. We’ve really caught on overseas. So it’s kind of exciting. We’ll see how everything pans out. The website was getting fifteen thousands hits a day. It’s pretty amazing.
What do you think it is about this book?
KG: I think it’s the book that will be remembered in the post-Vietnam era. I heard from someone in Paris yesterday — they’re doing a big conference there because they’re releasing it in the French translation, so that’s kind of cool. I think the book is the first post-postmodern novel — that is, a book that’s actually trying to find meaning in life beyond just being ironic and hipsterish and post-modernist. It’s really about returning to values and what is it about being human that’s worth living for when, really, books up to then were making clever jabs at popular culture and that kind of thing. I think Foster Wallace was really onto something about the culture and that we needed something that flew in the vacuum left when postmodernism came around. I think that’s why it gets a lot of attention. If that makes any sense.
Rick Paulas once read a theory that David Foster Wallace put in all those footnotes to force the reader to mimic the actions of a tennis match while reading, which is really fantastic and great, even if it’s not true.
Images courtesy of BrickJest