Lecture: pp. 270 – 367

Don Gately


  • “…his younger and way more externally impressive brother Hal almost idealizes Mario, secretly.  God-type issues aside, Mari is a (semi-) walking miracle, Hal believes. … Mario floats, for Hal.” (316)


“I wrote “Calamity Song” shortly after I’d finished reading David Foster Wallace’s epic Infinite Jest. The book didn’t so much inspire the song itself, but Wallace’s irreverent and brilliant humor definitely wound its way into the thing. And I had this funny idea that a good video for the song would be a re-creation of the Enfield Tennis Academy’s round of Eschaton — basically, a global thermonuclear crisis re-created on a tennis court — that’s played about a third of the way into the book. Thankfully, after having a good many people balk at the idea, I found a kindred spirit in Michael Schur, a man with an even greater enthusiasm for Wallace’s work than my own. With much adoration and respect to this seminal, genius book, this is what we’ve come up with. I can only hope DFW would be proud.”

— Colin Meloy

“The celebrations at E.T.A. on November 8 are introduced with the Latin “GAUDEAMUS IGITUR” (321), a phrase from a medieval student song that translates as: “let us therefore rejoice.” … On that date in 1895, the German physics professor Willhelm Conrad Roentgen worked into the night in his laboratory in Würzburg. While preparing an experiment on cathode rays, Roentgen accidentally discovered x-rays when he passed a current through a partially evacuated glass tube shrouded in cardboard and made a chemically treated paper glow on the other side of the room. Roentgen’s discovery allowed scientists to literally see inside a human being without dissection for the first time in history. But while this obviously had medical applications, its impact extended far beyond the scientific community. Popular magazines reacted with a mix of hysteria and commercial greed to Roentgen’s pictures of human interiors, as the primitive horror the images prompted was gradually replaced by the consumer consolation of the chance to buy a picture of your own soul.

“Infinite Jest evokes this historical context by making two apparently incidental references to x-rays in sections that take place on November 8 …. the Interdepenence Day Eschaton game depends upon Otis P. Lord calculating the impact of every “thousand Roentgens of straight X and Gamma” unleashed (330). …. The anniversary of the date when Roentgen saw inside himself is the date in the novel when, at E.T.A., the masks start to come off and the hidden interiors are revealed.

“This is most explicit in the Eschaton episode. Although the game’s combatants have been carefully schooled at E.T.A. toward loss of self and the goal of machine-like functionality, the events of the afternoon of the November 8 reveal the selves they have been taught to hide: the previously repressed rage and frustration that the younger students have for each other end in a massive fight; Pemulis’s “blue-collar Irish” heritage comes out (334), as does the long-term resentment he has for the Penn family; while for James Struck, the loss of control and revealed interior are more literal, as he collapses and wets himself.

“…the most significant interior that is revealed on November 8 undoubtedly belongs to Hal. Like the others, Hal has some fairly straightforward moments of self-knowledge that afternoon. He suspects that he may be “a secret snob about collar-color issues and Pemulis” (335), and he is unable to conceal the contempt he has for “Sleepy T.P.” Peterson’s inability to define the word “equivocationary” (337). But the scene is ordered so that Hal’s self is also more dramatically exposed. The Eschaton section ends with Wallace describing “a brief moment that Hal will later regard as completely and uncomfortably bizarre,” as Hal “feels at his own face to see whether he is wincing” (342)…”

– Stephen J. Burn, in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, Second Edition: A Reader’s Guide (p. 54).