Monday, 28 November 2011

Don Delillo, Point Omega (2010)

Oh, and you think the title's poynt OHmega, but actually it's pwanto MAYgar ('because now comes the introversion. Father Teilhard knew this, the omega point. A leap out of our biology.' 52). And as it goes, the novel is a riff upon Douglas Gordon’s video installation artwork 24 Hour Psycho (originally screened in 1993 in Berlin and Glasgow; now in New York’s MOMA), in which Hitchcock’s famous film is projected at a speed such that it takes 24 hours to run its course. The novel opens and closes with scenes describing this installation, the eerie slowness of it. The middle bit is a three-actor set-up: the old man (Richard Elster) who had a job advising government, at the highest level, on matters of war, rendition and torture, and who has retreated to a hut he owns in the middle of the American desert; the young man, Jim Finley, who wants to make a sort of avant-garde film interview/documentary about the old man; the old man’s daughter Jessica, who visits. The three pose around the shack in a series of wearyingly ‘meaningful’ unspoken constellations of desire and disappointment. The film is not made, no connections are established. Then Jessie disappears. Has she been abducted by a stalker-ish old boyfriend? Has she wandered off into the desert to commit suicide? The police find a knife. Allusions to Psycho are sounded, gong-like, throughout the book.  Here Jim spies on Jessica.  Here he pulls back a shower curtain sharply. Here -- a knife.

The prose is how might you say? The prose is the standard repetitious, offkilter Delilloese. It bears the same relationship to Delillo’s earlier brilliance that strenuous, autopastiche late Pinter has to early Pinter’s exquisite, studied inarticulacy. I missed the extraordinary comedy of White Noise. The prose is ponderous and weak.

I quite like the last paragraph, mind.

This feels like a worn out book, in a good and a bad way. It is worn out because it is about the end of empire, about things running down, about a nation coughing up a palmful of green phlegm and then staring hypnotised at what is in its hand. It is about people sailing past moral and social engagement, past their fullest human-ness, at an oblique angle. Delillo has been here before. He has been here before, and he adds nothing by coming here again. It is brief, but drags. It is a short story. It feels too long.

Let me tell you, Psycho, at whatever speed, is a poor way of conceptualising the American response to 9-11, war, rendition and horror. Really.

But then I’m increasingly a stick-in-the-mud. The mud, that’s where I’m stuck. Me, I might like a writer of trustworthy and rigorous prose (‘Delillo is the most trustworthy and rigorous prose writer of our age’, John Burnside) to know what the words he uses actually mean—to know, for instance, the difference between ‘enormousness’ and ‘enormity’ [‘it was hard to think clearly. The enormity of it, all that empty country’, 76]. It might be nice for a novel named after Teilhard de Chardin’s ‘omega point’, which references Chardin, and has characters discussing the concept at length, actually to understand it, and not to confuse it with Freud's thanatos (‘back now to inorganic matter. This is what we want. We want to be stones in a field’ 53). This is what we want: Delillo to write better books again. Not the same books, not this book. Better. Better than this. That's the point.


David Duffy said...

"Delillo to write better books again. Not the same books, not this book. Better. Better than this. That's the point"

It is a long time since I read _Ratner's Star_, which I think is DeLillo's sole SF novel (Google tells me of at least one SFnal short story). Maybe I should reread that instead.

PMG said...

Yes, he's tired, or he's not revising and rewriting as much as he used to. The self-analysis I committed to memory (as a fan and aspiring write) from a DeLillo interview was that he wrote to find out what he wanted to say. Perhaps he's more confident that his early drafts say what he wants to say exactly how he wanted? Or editors are challenging him less on how he's said it?

Falling Man's the only post-Underworld book I'd even vaguely rate with the earlier stuff. But who am I to pontificate thus...

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