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falling man

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Don DeLillo’s Falling Man is the first bit of American fiction that I’ve read in quite awhile that I didn’t despise. It’s subtle and sharp, but blunted at the same time (did I promise anything other than impressionism here?), just what the times require. Nearly devoid of action (a husband comes home, an extremely arid affair takes place, kids huddle anxiously, a parent dies, someone finds a new line of work). The characterization is extremely abstract – we catch these people in the middle of things, and we are given very little save for the dry little actions and situations that we watch them march through, and still, in a very deep sense, we totally know who these people are. We live with them everyday – the backstory, as with our neighbors, is redundant. Delillo leaves the landscape out – we are all too familiar with it, and, really, it’s too boring to describe anyway: the upper west side apartment, the community center, the streets of the east side. Why bother?

No chatty kids, no superheros, no invention of funk, no flipbook reversal of the collapse of the towers – what a gloriously dessicated work, just what our desiccated times require if we are not going to lie to ourselves, pretend its all still vivid and colorful and interesting just to cheer ourselves up. I am being a bit perverse, I know, but taste is taste, and my taste is and has long been fixed up those works that defy the generic mandate to vivification during a period when it is hard to believe that anything can be brought back to life.

It’s wonderful to find that Americans once in a while can write a good book, even today, after all the oxygen seems to have been sucked up by the harrowing tragic cycle crashing itself out daily on the news. But… despite the fact that Delillo has written a fine novel, it is one that, alternately subtly and not, repeatedly announces the terminal status of American culture, and in particular the culture of American novel writing. I won’t bore you with transcribed notes from the back of my book, but any work of fiction fixated upon a community center writing activity for Alzheimer’s patients and televised poker games (storytelling about a past that is fizzling away as the brain cells rapidly die off / Constant! Action! that is meaningless and boring and anti-programed by the empty randomness of the carddraw). And on the level of form, the novel delivers a similarly bleak message about the life in the US today by breaking the entire novel into a sort of montage of empty epiphanies. As it draws upon media images (per the title, but elsewhere as well) it strains to announce the fact that it is shuffling them, these photographs and scenes, recombining them randomly in order to render vividly the disjunction of the era.

In fact, he even seems to head into Eliot territory with this tactic, annoncing the image of the “falling man” to be just one card among many that might have been pulled:

She thought it could be the name of a trump card in a tarot deck, Falling Man, name in gothic type, the figure twisting down in a story night sky.

The tarot deck is deployed in Eliot’s The Waste Land as an image of social and epistemological breakdown. Rather than writing a poem that is narratively organized, that follows the parameters of gradual, progressive revelation, Eliot’s conceit is that he is pulling cards (images and scenes) randomly off the deck, thus the disjunctive style of the piece, because there is no principle of social organization arranging the world into the image that he would like to see and believe in. And in a sense, to my mind, Delillo’s project runs in a parallel direction…

 

Written by adswithoutproducts

June 22, 2007 at 2:30 am

Posted in modernism, novel

2 Responses

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  1. Did you despise The Road and Against the Day?

    Jasper B

    June 28, 2007 at 1:29 pm


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