In a post from nearly a month ago entitled “Fragmented into Beauty,” I pulled the following quote from a dream Hal describes on page 68:
We sort of play. But it’s all hypothetical, somehow. Even the ‘we’ is theory: I never get quite to see the distant opponent, for all the apparatus of the game.
So imagine my surprise (I wish I could say I was prescient or that I had picked this out on a prior reading) when I stumbled across this on page 338 in what turns out to be sort of a riveting and hilarious riff on boundaries (which was the context for that earlier quote):
Players themselves can’t be valid targets. Players aren’t inside the goddamn game. Players are part of the apparatus of the game. They’re part of the map. It’s snowing on the players but not on the territory. They’re part of the map, not the cluster-fucking territory. You can only launch against the territory. Not against the map. It’s like the one ground-rule boundary that keeps Eschaton from degenerating into chaos.
Within the Eschaton section — about which I’ll be frank: I heaved a sigh when I started in on the first few pages of it, having forgotten what a payoff there was if you only got through the first few sloggy pages — you’ve got this treatment of territory vs. map within the game, which is played by kids framed within a set of tennis courts, framed within a tennis academy, framed within a made-up town in a reconfigured continent. There’s a lot of framing and boundary stuff going on here. Wallace takes it a little farther, even, by interrupting the Eschaton with brief, apparently insignificant, yank-you-out-of-context descriptions of the idling mint-green sedan and then again with note 130 sort of editorializing on Pemulis’s diction.
I don’t know exactly what Wallace is doing here, but I think he’s playing with authorial or narrative boundaries in some way, for one thing. There are several mentions of absorption (even, on 340, of being “paralyzed with absorption,” which, hey, anybody heard of a little film that paralyzes people with absorption?) and engrossment. Maybe Wallace is perforating the Eschaton story frame with these interjections in order to sort of yank us out of what became, for me, at least, absorption in the notion of territory vs. map.
In his story Mister Squishy, Wallace deals with framing as well, as applies to market research. Sort of the holy grail of market research within the story is a scenario in which the market itself (rather than easily-contaminated focus groups, etc.) provides the data for testing the market. And of course this is actually now possible (and Wallace was flirting with the idea) via web site tracking, A/B testing, etc.. An excerpt (emphases mine):
For now, in Belt and Britton’s forward-looking vision, the market becomes its own test. Terrain = Map. Everything encoded. And no more facilitators to muddy the waters by impacting the tests in all the infinite ephemeral unnoticeable infinite ways human beings always kept impacting each other and muddying the waters.
Both Mister Squishy and Infinite Jest treat of the notions of maximizing pleasure and of giving yourself away to something larger and meaningful outside your own solo frame of reference. I think Wallace was very much concerned with escaping the destructive frames of reference (the cages of addiction and solipsism, for example), and this meditation (though it’s too zany to be a meditation, I suppose) on territory vs. map in Infinite Jest, well, maybe it’s calling attention to how easily our frames of reference (self vs. other; healthy indulgence a la Schacht vs. absorption) can be blurred and how bad things can result from that blurring. I’m still trying to piece all of it together, and I haven’t even given much thought yet to the actual map/territory/concavity/convexity parts of the story yet.
I won’t write today about the AA stuff, though I think it’s brilliant and horrible and beautiful and probably exactly right. There’s also something weird about the page numbers for this spoiler-line, which seems to end right in the very middle of the AA section.
Awesome — I love the connection between “paralyzed with absorption” and the Entertainment, which I totally missed. I think Wallace uses words like “narcotic” and “addictively compelling” in his opening description of Eschaton, which further hammers that point home.