Wednesday, 26 October 2005

Don DeLillo, Pillow. Pillow, Don DeLillo; or (muffled screams) The popular press fête few novelists with the intensity which accompanies each new Don DeLillo "event." So before I crashed the party I decided I should see whether anyone else had. Thanks to Gale's Expanded Academic ASAP, I now know I'm not alone. Earlier Jonathan chided me for "an unfortunate and inaccurate comparison to Baudrillard [un]worthy of Dale Peck." My only (admittedly lame) defense consisted of a frank admission that I thought the comparison both obvious and apropos. So I delight in communicating that someone else considers the comparison equally apt: in his review of Cosmopolis, James Wood makes a strikingly similar observation: Eric [Packer] is given to riffing on contemporary culture and technology, in a Baudrillard-bruised language evocative of an assistant professor of cultural studies with, alas, an MFA: "He took out his hand organizer and poked a note to himself about the anachronistic quality of the word skyscraper. No recent structure ought to bear this word. It belonged to the olden soul of awe, to the arrowed towers that were a narrative long before he was born." Or: "He was thinking about automated teller machines. The term was aged and burdened by its own historical memory. It worked at crosspurposes, unable to escape the inference of fuddled human personnel and jerky moving parts. The term was part of the process that the device was meant to replace." He being James Wood and me being my lowly self, he trumps my bland comparison by coining the compound "Baudrillard-bruised" to describe Packer's language. Still, the fact that his impression of DeLillo-speak dovetails neatly with mine encourages me to perform even greater displays of brazen evaluation. But I need not bother, because Wood has already done the work for me: The difficulty of the book is working out how much of this is Eric's mildly satirized theory and how much of it is DeLillo's indulged and wanton theory. Eric would think just like this, one supposes. But as so often, DeLillo's language seems too complicit, in its scrabbling enthusiasm, with the subject of his protagonist's reflections. "Here was the heave of the biosphere" (whatever that means): alas, this sounds like DeLillo, not Eric. (But then we do not know what Eric sounds like, because he has no quiddity.) It is DeLillo who seems to be excited as he regards "the heave of the biosphere." Exactly! I too am unable to differentiate between DeLillo's voice and the voices of his various narrators. I took my copy of Underworld from the shelf to prove this, but Wood says it better than I can: Eric Packer's techno-incantations, his amorous ruminations on postmodernity, are continuous with Brian Glassic's in Underworld, the Brian Glassic who stood before the Staten Island landfill and reflected thus on garbage: To understand all this. To penetrate this secret. The mountain was here, unconcealed, but no one saw it or thought about it, no one knew it existed except the engineers ... a unique cultural deposit ... and he saw himself...

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