This is the latest entry in Words, Words, Words the ongoing liveblog of David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest.”
October 7, 2011, pgs 321-342/1022-1025. The Eschaton game on Interdependence Day is quite possibly the signature piece of writing in David Foster Wallace’s entire body of work. I invite readers to agree or disagree in the comments. Allow me to point out, however, to those inclined to pose some counterargument about the way that the cruise ship essay or “Good Old Neon” or the Kenyon University commencement speech better capture DFW’s intangible essence, my point can almost be proven mathematically, with data. This section has tennis, trigonometry, violence, drugs and alcohol, overachieving kids, a beanie to provide a slight touch of dorkiness, rampant and disorienting abbreviations, chaos, humor, a sinister and mysterious element on the perimeter (the mint green sedan), Utter Global Crisis, serious consequences, technology, bodily fluids and a really long endnote. It is “Infinite Jest” at full throttle, Wallace at his most excessive, showcasing his best as well as his worst.
By way of visual aide, another great graphic from Chris Ayers at Poor Yorick Entertainment (click to enlarge; take some time to explore):
This is “Lord of the Flies” updated for the millenium, right down to the nerdy kid getting his head stuck in a computer monitor rather than crushed by a rock. I don’t actually think Wallace was deliberate with the parallels, I just mean its in the same spirit, that being the spirit of how quickly all hell can break loose.
Despite the elaborate mathematics — in fact, partly because of them — in the long Pemulis-narrated endnote, this chapter is one of the more absurd in the book. I admit I’m not a big fan of when Wallace pushes these boundaries. But even though they can be uncomfortable for 20 or so pages, they’re essential to the novel as a whole. It just wouldn’t be the same without the occasional reality-busting weirdness. This chapter is also a pivotal point for plot movement in the pages ahead, with potentially far-reaching consequences. Plus, we get to hear a bit more from Pemulis, who I truly enjoy, even if he is “a thoroughgoing chilled-revenge gourmet, and is not one bit above dosing someone’s water jug…”
Another piece of evidence for Eschaton’s enduring and ouvre-defining (if such a thing is possible for Wallace) quality is the fact that it has been the focus of a stage adaptation of IJ:
And recently dramatized by The Decemberists in a really fantastic music video: