The entitled kids atop the hill at E.T.A.—whose leisure-game Eschaton eats up a significant portion of this week’s reading—presents an interesting juxtaposition to the world-weary addicts down the hill at Ennet House as they attempt to Hang In at AA meetings they deem to be absurd yet strangely effective. Interestingly, we see Hal, Pemulis, and their peers languishing on various drugs as they spectate the Eschaton debacle, headed for a life of substance-dependence and addiction themselves, but without enough life experience to have hit their own rock-bottoms yet. One day they might just slouch down that hill to Ennet House themselves.
My friend Nathan has been reading Infinite Jest for the first time recently, and told me about his experience reading the Eschaton scene on an airplane, embarrassed by his subdued but irrepressible laughter in a cabin full of bored and tired strangers. Moments that do it for me, comically speaking, include:
- Everyone’s “thanatoptic fury” (327) [“thanatos” meaning “death” in ancient Greek, which I happen to know about because I actually took ancient Greek in my undergrad for some masochistic reason]
- Jim Troeltsch’s running commentary of the game, which is “tough to enliven, verbally, even for the stimulated. Being generally too slow and cerebral” (329) [Troeltsch probably being my third favorite character after Mario and Pemulis]
- Evan Ingersoll in the act of “positively strip-mining his right nostril” (332)
- Struck’s being “abruptly ill all over his own lap” (331) [which if you recall from my post last week is funny for already established reasons]
- And then also LaMont Chu’s “throwing up into the Indian Ocean” (341) [Ibid.]
The scene is also punctuated with moments of meteorological beauty, such as, “It starts to snow harder, and dark stars of melt begin to multiply and then merge all over the courts” (334), and “the no-sound of falling snow” (342), which strikes me as a beautiful but apt paradox.
So Eschaton, as you’ve probably noted from this week’s posts, is a fan favorite section of the novel, and for good reason. Its technical detail and metafictional cleverness make for 20 pages of ear-to-ear toothy glee. Nathan (the Guide) hinted at some of the interesting critical stuff going on in this scene in his post this week, and at the risk of me getting too academically obtuse and going against the Guide’s Mandate laid out by one Mark Flanagan, I’ll just briefly mention a few additional quotes about how fun the map/territory elements of this scene are, as they relate to Jorge Luis Borges’ cartography fable discussed by Jean Baudrillard at the outset of his famous essay “The Precession of Simulacra” (if you’re into this sort of thing). If it’s new, simulacrum is a weird phenomenon whereby copies are produced of an original thing that doesn’t actually exist. Baudrillard uses Disneyland’s themed “Lands” as examples of this kind of simulation. And so we get:
- Pemulis: “It’s snowing on the goddamn map, not the territory, you dick!” (333)
- Axford: “Except is the territory the real world, quote unquote, though!” (334)
- Lord: “The real world’s what the map here stands for!” (334)
- Unknown: “Real-world snow isn’t a factor if it’s falling on the fucking map!” (334)
- Regarding Hal: “It also occurs to him that he finds the real-snow/unreal-snow sang in the Eschaton extremely abstract but somehow way more interesting than the Eschaton itself, so far.” (335)
- Narrator: “Now a real-world chill descends over the grainily white-swirled landscape of the nuclear theatre.” (337)
- Pemulis: “It’s snowing on the players but not on the territory. They’re part of the map, not the clusterfucking territory.” (338)
So that aspect of the scene cracks me up, and like Hal muses, it’s abstract stuff when put in relation to post-structuralist critical theory’s blah blah blah.
And then in the AA section, this made me laugh for a sustained 30-40 seconds, “Four-year White Flagger Glenn K.’s personally chosen Higher Power is Satan, for fuck’s sake. Granted, nobody in White Flag much likes Glenn K., and the thing with the hooded cape and makeup and the candelabrum he carries around draw some mutters, but Glenn K. is a member for exactly as long as he cares to Hang In” (352).
These moments are part of the reason Jest is so personally compelling to me, that combination Wallace strikes between high-art philosophizing and low-rent slapstick that just about no one else can execute in quite the same way. Feel free to fire away in the comments about your favorite lines from Eschaton; there’s a lot there to laugh about.