Monday, August 01, 2011

Summer of Infinite Jest -- 7: the Eschaton match

Now well into the 300s (of pages), I read today the Eschaton scene. Eschaton is a war game played by the tennis academy kids on a world map stretched out over 4 tennis courts in which you bomb other teams' territory by lobbing tennis balls onto it, the tennis balls representing thermonuclear weapons. And this scene, all twenty pages of it or so, is really the first utter masterpiece of the book. The author begins with the origin of the game, its rules, its motley equipment, long footnotes about theory, etc. -- and then depicts the match itself. Somewhere along the line, the scene switches from symbolic violence to real violence, from farce to what might be tragedy (we don't know by the end of the scene, but it's conceivable that one or two of the players has actually been killed). I was really impressed by the way the author manages this transition, while stage-managing the actions of at least 25 characters, some of them participating, some only "spectating," and at the same time crafting what is, at least, a remarkable allegory of how games are war, especially war games. Other themes: how combatants are essentially adolescent, no matter how adult and grave they try to be; how one generation passes its traditions on to the next, partially in hopes that precise transmittal of this tradition will ensure nothing changes, and how these hopes are inevitably dashed; and how people constantly disappoint themselves and each other.

Preceding this scene we're finally back on the outskirts of Tucson with the two secret agents who are discussing the magically compelling videotape. In this scene we find out that the content of the tape is pleasing, and that its origin is American (i.e. United Statesian, which in this book is part of a North American union, although the protagonists [antagonists?] of this scene speak as if Canada and the U.S. are still separate countries), but nothing else. They have a conversation about who is responsible for the deaths caused by the compelling videotape -- which victims find themselves unable to stop or turn away from, and thus die from thirst in their seats after several days -- the producer or the consumer, if a product is so addictive it kills. I liked this scene much better than the preceding ones that showed this pair. They seemed less menacing and more like a tragic chorus.

And before that was the scene about the drag queen addict going pretty much insane as he goes through heroin withdrawl in the worst way possible. Grisly, but clearly inseparable from the author's purposes.

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