Starting on page 321, we learn about Eschaton, a game we’ve seen a couple of references to (including one of JOI’s films, Baby Pictures of Famous Dictators, included in the filmography in note 24) and now come to understand in pretty great depth. I don’t love this section of the book. It’s sort of dull, though not without interest — and the interesting parts have nothing to do with the game itself, which we read about in excruciating detail.
So, the interesting parts. The notion of territory vs. map is pretty fun to think about both within the game and without. As an abstract concept, it’s neat to think about, but also, given the territorial conflict between Quebec and the U.S., it’s pretty relevant. I’m not sure how clear the terms of this conflict would be by now to a first-time reader; I think there’ve been enough hints (especially in note 110) that a picture of the state of things is beginning to emerge, but I may as well go ahead and state simply what’s going on. America has made a gift of a part of the northeastern part of the country (the part bordering Quebec) to Canada in a fit of what Wallace calls experialism. If imperialism is when you go into a country and take over and claim it for your own country, well, experialism would be giving away part of your own territory to another people. What a gift, right? We’ve read a bit about waste clouds and these catapults that shoot waste containers 5km up into the air as they sail northward toward this gifted land that Americans call the concavity and Canadians call the convexity. Basically, America ruined part of the country to the point that it serves as a breeding ground for giant feral infants and herds of ravening feral hamsters and then made a gift of it to Canada. The various separatist groups making trouble for New Englanders are responding to this gift. So: The book is very much dealing with notions of maps and territory and geopolitical strife.
We’ve also seen in the book a phrase about the elimination of maps, which in short means at the very least to pretty well screw somebody up physically and I think in most cases to actually kill somebody. I’m not sure really how map/territory comes into play here, but I’ll bet a thesis could be built up around the correspondence.
The other interesting thing that’s going on in this section is the the way the narrative is structured. Note 123 (also 127) is written from the point of view of Pemulis filtered through Hal’s memory and with interplay between the two within the note (i.e. the comment about the length of Hal’s unit, and Hal’s comeback). Also, we’re watching this game unfold, but we’re also watching the older students watch (and shape) the game, and we’re also incidentally sometimes watching Steeply and Thode watch it. There’s a weird mix of exposition and explanation of the apparatus of the game (see p. 338 and also p. 68 for this phrase), but it also has a very present-tense feel, and yet we know from note 123 (and from the fact that the beginning of the book occurs more recently, chronologically, than this section of the book) that we’re receiving this after the fact and filtered. It’s all very strange and disorienting and kind of fun to cogitate on.
The actual mechanics and specifics of Eschaton, though? Dull as ditch water.