Easy as EN123

Fix yourself a drink, if – I’m almost probably impelled to add, legally – you’re above whatever the legal drinking age in whatever like jurisdiction you’re in, because I’m here to talk about the Eschaton scene. (My drink recommendation, IYI, is as follows):


Pour one-ish measures of quality gin into a short and attractively etched crystal tumbler – one of the ones that reflect fingerprint-sized coins of rainbow light onto the surface around the glass that the glass is on.

Fill all but about half an inch of the tumbler’s remaining space with very cold tonic water.

Shave ice and sprinkle it onto the GIN AND ESCHATONIC recipe.

Serve with red-skin peanuts and spectation.

Okay but are you ready for this now, because this is the post where I’m really bending the “don’t get too recursively, abstractly, prolixly academic” mandate us guides were given before Infinite Winter even began.

Because I’m not going to talk about Eschaton itself, or maps vs. territories etc etc. What I’m going to do is shake a finger at (aside: it strikes me that this is what pHD candidates might mean whenever they use expressions like “gesturing Deleuze”) some of ways Hal and Pemulis put the state of authorship under question. Particularly in – and hence this post’s terrible, terrible title – endnote 123.

Endnote 123 is basically transcribed or quoted from Pemulis/Hal’s Eschaton guidebook. Although the book’s ur-author-figure type author type of person doesn’t introduce the endnote with any kind of all-caps heading (like pretty much any other time “another” text is quoted in Infinite Jest, it’s pretty clear that this section is by Pemulis and Hal because Pemulis makes it pretty clear: Pemulis here, dictating to Inc”.

So Pemulis is responsible for the words, while Hal’s just an instrument for getting them on to the page. He’s basically the equivalent of a pen. Except that but unlike a pen, Hal’s a conscious sentient being and he understands what his and Pemulis’s roles are supposed to be. Hence all the little [sic]s that litter the text. A simple pen would never do this (on its own) – there’s no way it needs to throw up its little pen hands and say that whoa, that this mistake isn’t my doing.

But Hal does.

There’s kind of a typically multi-levelled Wallacean irony at play here. Hal knows he’s not the author, but he knows that he’s still in a position where he can be seen to be responsible for the text’s errors and following that logic, for the text itself. So to absent himself from this position of potentially perceived responsibility, he drops [sic] every time Pemulis drops the ball. The sort of ironic bit is that whenever he does he’s pointing to himself – showing how he is present in the text.

Not to mention, even, all the times Hal does consciously alter the text with his “occasional verbal flourishes” and Trump-like endowment-defensive addendums.

So who’s the real author here? And what I’m really asking is: who is ultimately responsible for what the text says?

Here’s the thing that really interests me about EN123 though:

It’s going to be interesting to see if [sic] Hal, who thinks he’s just too sly trying to outline Eschaton in the 3rd-person tense [sic]

So, wha?

If we flip all the way back to wherever it is (must be around p340) in the book’s main text where the superscript linking to this EN123 is; is all the “this is what Hal’d say if he had a gun to his head” posturing just a smokescreen? That it’s just Hal pretending to be some omniscient 3rd-person narrator getting into Hal’s head, or imagining what it’s like in Hal’s head?

Can the book’s characters do this?

Can we ever be sure just who is addressing us in this book?


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10 thoughts on “Easy as EN123”

  1. So glad this was picked up at this juncture as I thought I was either going bats or missing something obvious… Earlier on in the book (can’t for the life of me find where, just now), I’m sure there was a similar authorship/narrative tease at least once or twice?

    I remember it as a whole several-page chapter, written in the third person (I think about Hal), suddenly turning to the first person for just one sentence near the end. Kind of a soliloquy I guess? But also contradictorily suggestive of an omnipresent author at the same time (the sections focused on other characters where Hal clearly isn’t there). And but the more tantalising thing is that it’s used so sparingly (at least so far) that you’d miss it with a blink. Even having noticed it I find myself wondering if it really happened, or if so was even meant in the way I’m interpreting it.

  2. Curious if anyone knows how DFW actually worked with his endnotes. For something like Eschaton I can imagine the whole chapter was dreamed up with a lengthy endnote goof in mind from the start, but some of the quicker ‘errata’ endnotes seem like they might have been added in later, in drafts/revisions. Any ideas?

    1. Hey Jeff – I think I’ve seen a few things Michael Pietsch has written about this… there might be a couple of posts on The Howling Fantods about it.

      I’ve heard that some of the longer endnotes were originally in the main text and moved out of them in editing – partly as a sneaky workaround to the great length of the novel (ie. to make the main text shorter, and to (and this is the v. sneaky part) take advantage of the endnotes’ smaller font size).

  3. This is great. I agree about the question of authorship and who is speaking. This is also the section where it hit me that one of DFW’s reasons for using footnotes is that it allows him to use his own voice, using words and making comparisons, that the characters never would (i.e. the note that says, “Pemulis doesn’t actually say ‘bread and breadth.'”)

    BTW, about your gin and eschatonic, do you feel any pinge of, I wouldn’t call it guilt, drinking while reading Infinite Jest? There are some sections where, reaching for my glass of wine I’m thinking, “What the heck am I doing? What is DFW trying to tell me?” It’s almost like drinking in front of him…

    1. [nods furiously] – even in some of the endnotes we’ve already seen there’s a couple of things like “presumably”, “seems to be” and esp. “Not 100% clear on this” that function in this way (plus, the undercut the “author”‘s omniscience in interesting ways.

      And yeah – there was a pinge of some feeling I didn’t have a name for about the whole drink thing.

      1. Oh no. Now, after avoiding the Escaton parts for ten years until Mark tipped my coat to its true meaning (M vs. T), now I have to read bleeping Endnote 123 (which as I recall is one of the long ones) as well!!!

          1. Some of the footnotes are funnier than some of the text.
            Generally, when I’ve read IJ for the “AA Parts,” I’ve also avoided the non-AA endnotes — especially the long ones.
            I will read EN123 tonight…

    2. More on cocktails: On the 20th Anniversary back in February I celebrated with a cocktail…and was confronted with the same conundrum as to whether or not it was suitable to design a cocktail “in honor of” Infinite Jest, and did my best to brainstorm an alcohol free alternative.

      As the following suggests, I was not alone in either endeavor: https://twitter.com/allenchristman/status/696859010243436544

      With the Eschaton chapter and notes being one of my all-time favorite sections of writing, it provided valuable inspiration. Thanks for the continued insights, all.

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