“Pemulis howls that Lord in his vacillation appeasing Ingersoll in Ingersoll’s effort to fatally fuck with the very breath and bread of Eschaton.130 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 clusterfucking 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. Eschaton gentlemen is about logic and axiom and mathematical probity and discipline and verity and order. You do not get points for hitting anybody real. Only the gear that maps what’s real.” –Infinite Jest, page 338
130. Pemulis doesn’t actually literally say ‘breath and bread.’ –Infinite Jest, page 1025
This passage appears in the heart of a long section that details ETA’s annual tradition of playing Eschaton, a made-up game that incorporates tennis, mathematics, and world war. I believe that the description of the game, and this passage in particular, reveals Wallace’s interest in embodiment and his views on the function of characters within literature.
This passage is in conversation with the emphasis on characters’ bodies in the beginning of the novel and in other places throughout the narrative. It’s interesting that Wallace is usually very concerned with the placement of characters in space and in relation to other characters, but in this passage, he is claiming through Pemulis that the bodies of the characters don’t matter. While the movements and positions of the characters in the first scene are painstakingly detailed, this passage insists that the bodies of the characters are less important than the greater environment that they are engaged in. Comparing the characters in this section to the “map” that is referenced in the text subtly asks the reader to focus on the territory of the novel, the greater themes, rather than the characters alone.
Though Pemulis is presumably the one speaking, he demonstrably lacks agency in this scene. His lack of agency is subtly shown through the lack of quote marks around the passage even though the emphasis (shown through italics) and informal style (Eschaton gentlemen is; note lack of commas) would normally indicate that a character is actually speaking. Wallace makes it especially clear that Pemulis lacks power in this scene through the endnote that is referred to in the passage. ‘Breath and bread’ is used in the narrative, but the endnote makes it clear that Pemulis is not the final influence on the telling of the narrative—there is an outside force that is filtering the story before it reaches the reader.
Obviously, this is true of all fictional characters in all forms of media. However, it is in this passage that Wallace chooses to remind the reader of this fact. I believe that this dissonance regarding the narrative leads to the next part of Pemulis’s supposed monologue, which explains the difference between the players of the game and the territory or environment of the game. He emphasizes that the players themselves are not part of the territory of the game, they are merely a part of the map, comparable to an actual map as compared to the world itself.
The juxtaposition of these ideas being represented in the text with the footnote reminding the reader of the outside influence on the narrative relates the characters in the book to the players in the game. Like the players are part of the “apparatus of the game,” Pemulis and the other characters are not a part of the territory of the book, they are merely part of its apparatus. The characters are the map of the novel, but the territory is much greater—addiction, growing up, family, athletics, and more. The territory of the book is concepts that exist in reality and the characters are only present in order to help the reader understand the greater concepts that Wallace is addressing. As demonstrated by this passage, Eschaton is a metaphor for Wallace’s conception of the novel itself.