David Foster Wallace’s masterpiece Infinite Jest, is one of the greatest modern novels that I’ve ever read. The writing style is innovative and bears Wallace’s unique stamp, yet the story lacks nothing as an entertaining piece – creating a work of fiction that isn’t merely an academic or intellectual endeavor, but also a piece of entertainment. That one of the books main themes is the addictive qualities of great entertainment only makes Wallace’s great offering more brilliant and thought-provoking.
But this post is not about the novel itself. It’s about a tiny sub-story about a game that the students in the Enfield Tennis Academy partake in once a year – a game called Eschaton. Over the course of 21 pages, Wallace develops a game so absurd and brilliant that you feel like he must have played it his entire life, and then proceeds to tell the hilarious story of one Eschaton match gone awry.
Eschaton is your basic world domination game, except the map of the world is a tennis court (instead of a Risk board) and tennis balls represent 5-megaton thermonuclear warheads. The teams, representing countries, lob tennis balls at other teams court areas in order to cause optimal destruction (which happens if you land a ball on t-shirts or towels that represent different territories and targets). There is a score-keeper (Otis P. Lord, a thirteen year old calculus wiz) who uses EndStat computer software to calculate points and wears different colored beanies that represent different stages of battle and war.
If you’re confused, that’s ok. Wallace spends 21 pages elucidating the game’s details, and I have no intention of fully replicating that in a blog post.
Which brings us to The Decemberists. Colin Meloy was apparently reading Infinite Jest when he wrote Calamity Song, of their most recent album “The King Is Dead.” Instead of pretending that the song is about the book (which it’s most certainly not), Meloy decided to pay tribute to this wondeful scene by bringing it to life, in the form of a video.
If you’ve never read the book and are confused – watch the video; it should explain a lot. Also, go out and buy the book. And read it. I’ll see you in a few months. If you have read the book, then watch the video. To see this scene brought to life in such vivid and perfect detail (aside from the fact that it was snowing in the book) is exhilarating and fulfilling in a way that’s neither kitschy nor strange.
The Decemberists – Calamity Song (live)