Eschaton

From DFW Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Eschaton means the end of everything and the final destiny of the world; in Abrahamic religions, this event is referred to as "End Time." In the cyclically structured Infinite Jest, however, there is never an "end time"--only "the annularized Great Concavity's No-Time (183). The temporal gap between the novel's de facto and chronological ends is this "no time" and it is also the untold, final destiny of the novel; Infinite Jest's eschaton occurs in "no time."

In the novel, Eschaton refers to a fictional nuclear war game played on a tennis court at the Enfield Tennis Academy every year on Interdependence Day. Older students organize the game, which is played out by 12-15 year old students. The students team up into geopolitical entities (such as AMNAT, REDCHI, SOUTHAF, etc) and lob old, unusable tennis balls symbolizing nuclear warheads at each other.

Michael Pemulis is Eschaton's original game master, due to his preternatural lobbing ability and excellent math skills.

The breakdown in “discipline and verity and order” (338) in the game-between map and territory; and reality and game-leads to a moral breakdown as well. Armageddon involves the breakdown of “concrete” morals into a more “abstract” Humean moral subjectivity, which holds that moral judgments can never be based on concrete facts. Hume writes that vice and virtue “must be compar’d to sounds, colours, heat and cold, which, according to modern philosophy, are not qualities in objects, but perceptions in the mind." Morality, therefore, depends on the nature of perception.

Examples of Humean moral subjectivity in the novel:

  • Hal feels uneasy about “smoking dope with/in front of all these others, especially out in the open in front of Little Buddies, which seems to him to violate some issue of taste that he struggles to articulate satisfactorily to himself” (329). Here, Hal’s moral qualms are completely subjective and based on taste- the same way one would prefer a white-colored beanie over a red one, he prefers not to smoke. The fact that he struggles to articulate this is because it constitutes an interior, subjective perception; if it were an objective matter, rather than an "issue of taste," it would not be difficult to articulate, as it would be a fact. As it is, Hal's unease is entirely abstract, as he cannot concretely pin it down. While Hal permits himself to smoke marijuana daily (making the moral judment that it is alright for him to do so) his second-order, self-conscious thinking leads him to believe he must hide that act. Thus, he hold two, opposing moral positions. His Humean moral subjectivity is incredibly fluid, breaks down, as Hal is “taking the proffered duBois amd smoking dope in public without even thinking about it or having consciously decided to go ahead” (332).
  • Trevor Axford tells Hal and Troeltsch he wishes he didn’t feel the dark thrill he felt watching Ingersoll get pummeled”(339), yet he does. Although he cannot deny that this “dark thrill” pleases him, he feels second-order guilt about his schadenfreude; his second-order, self-conscious thinking perceives his previous moral judgment (dark thrill = good) as bad. He too is holds two, conflicting moral positions simultaneously, and his morality consequently breaks down.

In "David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest," Stephen Burns asserts that "the narratives clearly move toward an apocalyptic collision, while 2010 is 'the very last year of O.N.A.N.it Subsidized Time' (p. 1022n114), and the hidden calendar of the novel suggests that, as in 'all quality eschatologies (p. 1043n234), a feast of the dead is imminent" (65). The end of subsidized time (the "end of time," if only in terms of the current calendar) happens well after the novel's latest temporal occurrence. This looming apocalypse is a constant reminder of death, and creates an end point at which all the narratives way very well converge.

External Sources

David Hume, Treatise on Human Nature, Book III, Part I, ed. Norton. David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest: A Reader's Guide, by Stephen Burn. New York, NY: Continuum, 2003. 96 pp.