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Eschaton in Bullet Points

Detail of Michaelangelo's Last Judgment, via Wikimedia Commons

So: Eschaton! Hells yeah! But wait — what exactly happened in that chapter anyway? Since “all the apparatus of the game” of Eschaton can easily get lost in all the apparatus of Wallace’s writing, what I’m going to do here is provide a bare-bones outlines of the sequence of events within the game itself that leads to the famous apocalyptic meltdown. I’m not trying to summarize the whole chapter, just the course of the game. Just writing this out helped me make some sense of the episode, so hopefully others might find it helpful too.

Please note there’s a lot of talk about fiction/reality below, which IMHO is one of the key take-aways of the whole episode. When I say “fiction,” I’m referring to the world of the Eschaton game, and when I say “reality” I’m referring to the world of the people playing the game, ie the characters in the novel Infinite Jest. I’m all-too-aware that IJ is itself a work of fiction, which adds a whole ‘nother layer of mind-buggery to this that I don’t even want to start thinking about.

For some muddle-headed analysis of what all this might actually mean, please refer to All the Apparatus of the Game, my muddle-headed Eschaton analysis post.

  • Things start off smoothly: “11/8’s game proceeds with much probity and cold deliberation, with even more pauses and hushed, chin-stroking conferences today than tend to be the norm” (328).
  • SOVWAR, “absorbing serious collateral SUFDDIR,” requests negotiations with AMNAT (330). AMNAT, after some back-and-forth, agrees to “a temporary cessation of SPASEX” (332). God (Otis Lord) puts on the white beanie. All other combatants are free to keep bombarding.
  • REDCHI bombs INDPAK and claims a direct hit on Karachi. INDPAK claims it’s only indirect. They appeal to God but God, busy calculating peace terms between AMNAT and SOVWAR, isn’t paying attention (333). This marks the first encroachment of reality upon the fiction of the game, since in truth there’s no “actual wienie roast in the actual Karachi” to decide the question.
  • JJ Penn of INDPAK, looking to minimize his SUFFDIR, introduces the second reality-encroachment when he attempts to argue that the real-world snow affects the fictional blast radius within the fictional game (333). Pemulis goes apeshit and commences his “map-vs.-territory” (read: “reality-vs.-fiction”) tirade.
  • General map-v.-territory pissing-and-moaning ensues. God gets distracted by a boogery nose and a floppy umbrella (334).
  • Evan Ingersoll, of IRLIBSYR, realizes that “IRLIBSYR’s highest possible strategic utility lies in AMNAT and SOVWAR failing to come to terms” (335). Recall that the heads of AMNAT and SOVWAR are still negotiating terms in Sierra Leone (332).
  • Ingersoll comes up with the outside-the-box solution of launching a tennis ball/warhead at the real-world people representing the fictional AMNAT/SOVWAR (335). Note that now, fictional strategic interests from within the fictional confines of the game are erupting outward to cause real-world pain in a real-world human being (Kittenplan) (336). In the Karachi incident and the proposed snow-effect on the blast radius, the opposite dynamic was occurring.
  • God/Lord, rather than invalidating the “map-not-territory equivocationary horseshit” consults the rulebook and finds no entry for this scenario (338). God, basically, throws up his hands. Pemulis goes beserk.
  • Kittenplan, taking Ingersoll’s reasoning one step further, decides to inflict real-world pain back on Ingersoll in the spirit of real-world revenge. At this point, all pretenses to complying with the internal logic of the fictional game are dropped (339).
  • The other players descend to commit real-world cruelties. All armageddon breaks loose (340).
9 Comments leave one →
  1. Matthew Morse permalink
    July 24, 2009 6:37 pm

    There’s another bilateral violation of the map and territory that’s worth mentioning. This occurs immediately before your quote about the “game proceeding with much probity and cold deliberation.” Things may be proceeding smoothly, but the line between the map and the territory is already blurring.

    SOUTHAF unloads its arsenal at AMNAT. The in-game reason for this is that SOUTHAF has been persuaded by Israel to launch the attack, but this reason doesn’t hold up because Israel isn’t in the game today. The real world reason is because Josh Gopnik, who is playing SOUTHAF, has a real-world interest in Israel. So Gopnik’s map-level reasoning determines SOUTHAF’s territory-level actions.

    Then INDPAK responds by launching MIRVs at Israel. This in-game response is totally ineffective because Israel isn’t in the game today and therefore has no targets to hit. This territory-level action results in Pemulis’s map-level mockery of J. J. Penn, who is playing INDPAK.

    This violation is far more mild than the arguments over the snow and the uncertain result of the attack on Karachi, but it demonstrates that even before the rules arguments start, the map-territory distinction is not absolute.

  2. infinitedetox permalink*
    July 24, 2009 9:51 pm

    I totally missed that — thanks for pointing it out! When I have a spare second I’ll update the post with that info.

  3. February 28, 2012 12:28 am

    I know you posted this 2.5 years ago, but I’m just now reading the book and I HATE this chapter. I’ve been avoiding the book for two solid days now because I can’t get past SJOG and AMNAT and SOVWAR and INDDIR/SUFDDIR and then he has the nerve to throw higher math at me.


    • May 21, 2012 6:13 am

      Tanya I’m so sorry to hear this. I often re-read this chapter as it one of my favourites. I think it’s hilarious, tense and other than maybe the fight sequence later with Gately the plot actually advances within the chapter

    • Eric Maden permalink
      July 2, 2016 2:23 pm

      this will be of serious help

      one thing about getting through books like this is to keep in mind what details are the most pertinent or not. it’s clear that in this chapter the general idea is kids playing a complicated game, and doubtful that full understanding will be of consequence later on (i havent finished the book, i am only on this part, but that is what im assuming anyway). many of the terms, while their acronyms aren’t immediately clarified can be figured out based on context. The acronyms introduced at the beginning are the teams, and the ones introduced later on seem to be various terms in the game. though their precise meanings can be fuzzy, the fact that DFW chose not to enlighten us suggests to me that we’re supposed to be observers in a complicated game we don’t quite understand. that’s just my theory though. just try to enjoy the ride and not to get bogged down. 🙂

  4. jerry wolfram permalink
    October 31, 2012 1:05 pm

    I am on my second time throuh Ij, and now just finished the eschaton. In my markups first time through, i asked…. who was in the ford, and who was blowing the whistle… maybe not important, but rarely does Wallace put sumethinh in the text that has no future implication. Just saying…(wondering).

  5. Peter McCaffrey permalink
    October 29, 2016 8:11 pm

    “The map is not the territory” is I believe a quote from Gregory Bateson, who used it to illustrate concepts related to information theory. I love most of IJ but this section of the novel seems to support Harold Bloom’s criticism, that too much of it seems to be DFW merely showing off his breadth of knowledge.


  1. All the Apparatus of the Game « Infinite Detox
  2. Not with a Bang but with Some Whimpering Kids : Journeyman

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