MISFIT DOC: The David Foster Wallace Gallon Challenge

In 2014 I performed a piece called “The David Foster Wallace Gallon Challenge.” For this performance a chapter was randomly chosen from the author’s unfinished novel The Pale King. I was to read this chapter out loud for an audience, every minute stopping to chug milk from a plastic gallon jug. The performance was over once I finished reading the chapter, or I finished the gallon of milk, whichever came first. Thankfully, the chapter chosen was only seven pages long. I knelt on the ground with the book and the milk in front of me. I opened the milk, opened the book, and began to read. I read for over eight minutes, stopping each time when an assigned person in the audience, who was keeping track with a stopwatch, said CHUG. I then chugged from the gallon. A CHUG is three big gulps. Droplets of milk fell from my face onto the pages of the book. Around halfway through the gallon of milk I began reading faster and faster, desperately trying to finish the chapter before I had to drink more, distend my stomach more. I finished reading with only a sliver of milk left. At the end of the performance, someone from the audience, completely unprompted, ceremoniously placed a trash can in front of me. I sat in exasperation for a few minutes, very nauseous, awaiting the moment until the urge was unstoppable and the milk would come pouring out of me, the same way it went in. The audience was unsure if the performance was still happening. Some attempted to engage me while others talked amongst themselves. Finally I realized that I was experiencing vomit anxiety. I could not bring myself to vomit in front of the audience. I walked out of the room and down the hall to a bathroom. I stopped, looked at myself in the mirror, stood over the toilet, punched myself in the stomach, and projectile vomited a white pillar of milk and stomach acid and a little of what I had eaten earlier that day (I had eaten little in preparation for the performance). The sheer amount of it was incredible. It pushed my head back with force. My glasses went flying off. It all came out of me in one heave. Not all of it made it into the toilet bowl. I flushed the toilet and washed my face. I returned to the room with the audience. I told them I had vomited. They seemed satisfied.


Barrett White is an artist and writer currently based in Seattle. He serves as an editor for Tagvverk, and edited LENSES, a journal of the digital abject. He is pursuing an MFA in writing at the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts - Bard College. More @ payattentionto.me

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