DeLillo tunes out · LRB three December 2020
Dlighting DeLillo has been so dangerous for so long that we only rejoice when life’s tragedies go beyond what they foretold. This happened on 9/11, when the attack on the Twin Towers and their fall during the day made his sudden warnings seem unreasonable and few. His next fictional story, Falling Man, appears from the front page as a snapshot by a sandwich preacher who has just learned about the Bowls of Wrath. DeLillo is not just going through the motions: his great ingenuity, all the time, has been predicting horrific events before, people who could have done it before he was born, and seem to know where he came from in our group and our secret dreams. He observed this culture with an interest that makes readers feel that they did not participate in modern life until they picked up his books. His judgments are with you, sounding what will happen to everyone.
There is no innocent electronic device. ‘The little radio made a noise,’ we are told on the Great Jones highway, ‘as horrible as a baby, unconscious. These were American American words, her puppet words, coughing words until dawn, self-examination of a sudden collapse, a standing position behind her moved and hurt by the national anthem. The same is true of mechanical, automotive, or electronic devices. In Zero K, the characters are carried in a ‘veer’, a ship that travels sideways, bringing about the strangeness of ‘low circles, the feeling that we have been stripped of our mental resources, and spinning in a way that was more imaginative than physical’. DeLillo loves to promote. In Cosmopolis, 28-year-old Eric, the superintendent of a bag, is able to travel from the top of the $ 104 million triplex by choosing private ferry; one runs at a quarter speed and plays Satie on a downhill track. At Underworld, machines are ‘the core’, not just machines. ‘And this made my rental car look more like the place I was going to,’ he writes. Later in the book, a flying airplane is ‘too loud to be ignored’. And, after all, a child’s video camera, which happens to be shown by Texas Highway Killer, proves to be a state-of-the-art machine. ‘You know about families and their video cameras,’ DeLillo writes. You know how kids get involved, how the camera shows them that any story can be charged, a million things they can’t see with the naked eye. They analyze the meaning of meaningless things and the speechless animals and talk about family secrets. They learn to see things twice. ‘It may be part of the jewelry industry – the main theme of the 20th century – but DeLillo can’t see the machine without being surprised by its experience. If our machine now tells us who we are, this is not an issue for him. ‘Our newspaper is delivered by an Iranian middle-aged man driving a Nissan Sentra,’ says Jack Gladney in White Noise. ‘Something about the car makes me unhappy – the car is waiting for the headlights on, in the morning, when the person puts the newspaper in front of it. I tell myself that I have reached adulthood, a horrible age of unbelievable. The world is full of meaning. ‘
In The Silence, all the electronic devices – yes, all the energy sources – just blink. Jim Kripps and Tessa Berens are on their way from Paris to Newark. Jim makes a snapshot of the window; His wife writes down what he did on their vacation. He works to replace the insurance company. He is a poet. Flying Business. She travels 476 kilometers an hour. They have a day to watch the Super Bowl at their friends’ house when they arrive in New York. When things get tough at DeLillo, as it always is, it just says it for the first time. The two crossing the Atlantic have both been somewhat comforted by the anxieties of life. ‘All I want to do is get home and look at the empty wall,’ he says. Then the plane started to crash, then shook, and I knocked hard on the car. Suddenly, out. (Not his words, but it seems to be good for me.) The veil does not fade. Pulling out a blank canvas is not the same as looking at an empty wall. ‘Are we scared?’ Tessa says, and the answer, yes, is that we are all scared, if we put it right, and DeLillo is nothing if he is not a master at scaring your fears.
Diane Lucas and Max Stenner are waiting for them in New York. They have sat in front of the most iconic TV in their home on the East Side. It’s Sunday. Max is a gambler: he has some punches on the ball result. He also says: ‘Money is always there, the point is, the bet is the same …’ She and Diane have been married for 37 years. They have another Super Bowl guest – Martin Dekker, a former student of Diane who now teaches high school science in the Bronx . Martin is a little strange, a water drummer who utters an unintelligible voice and is conducting a compelling and ‘coercive’ manuscript by Einstein’s 1912 manuscripts on special related ideas. He’s worried he’ll get better for DeLillo fans – well-off, but not for them. Then the TV is funny, rectangular dance, triangle and squares, before you go in vain. Martin immediately has an idea: it is the Chinese, who are initiating the ‘selective apocalypse’. Disruption of any weapon failure results in the threat of silence due to the fabrication of the characters. This is odd. Martin talks about gravitational waves, supersymmetries, and talks more than Einstein. They use the term ‘extension theorem of velocities’. As Max shakes his chair and complains about its value, Diane goes on to say what kind of thing you think would make her ex-student happy. ‘Is this a cohesive embrace that confirms the collapse of civilization around the world?’ He asks as he looks out the window.
The plane will be damaged. Jim cuts his head off. Their phones are dead. They go to a strange hospital where people talk, comments that seem hurtful, as if DeLillo is talking about uttering a word during a riot. (As if all of that is what is left.) The book has a real first-person epidemic – people are scared, people don’t know how to protect themselves – and it’s not clear that Jim and Tessa, after an accident, are still going to the Super Bowl. If you had just flown an airplane with a flaming wing, would you have wanted more nuts and alcohol? Their friends are looking out the window. Max poured himself out and speaks the language of the game, empty, to everyone. As the book moves (with less than a hundred pages), splutter, distraction, begins to be taken from DeLillo’s previous books: when a plane starts to jump and jump, we think of a four-mile fall from White White Sound, in a funny way near boarding a plane. (‘We’re going! We’re a bright-looking silver machine!’). The mention of the mysterious pills recalls Dylar, the psychopharmaceutical in the same book, and, while Martin is described as looking at the middle distance in a similar way, we remember the subway riders in Libra, not looking anywhere, ‘acting for years’. Like Wallace Stevens’ long and final poem, The Silence can be seen as his battle of calm and peace, something of self-control and repetition.
This should not be surprising. Forsaking the old stereotype brings fiction, we have already lived in a world where fiction brings fiction, and fiction brings reality. Don DeLillo did not set up the site but was one of the most influential, long-time observers, exploring how important the conspiracy and ideology were in the western part of the second half of the 20th century. He contributed to the interpretation of this tradition, and for two decades his, in the books not as original as possible but of those who add grace and innovation. The DeLillo brand represents another way of thinking about the American crisis, such as the deadly boom of unstable and volatile fiction. Last spring, the New Yorker wrote an article called Emma Cline’s ‘White Noise’, in which Harvey Weinstein lived at a friend’s house in Connecticut. It is the day of his judgment and he enters the field, where he sees his neighbor’s father, dressed in old clothes, taking his newspaper. By Don DeLillo. The two are exchanging pleasantries and Cline says his imaginative Weinstein is thinking about the need to make a film for the ‘unfilmable book’ White Noise, which is coming back soon. ‘Now is the BEST TIME to do this,’ he stands up for his phone: ‘we as a nation are hungry 4 mean.’ He later thinks of other neighbors, ‘sleeping citizens, dreaming in their beds, unaware that Harvey and Don DeLillo are shaking frequently’.
DeLillo has been broadcasting on a regular basis since 1971. The final conclusion, or lesser tragedy, is that The Silence is actually an argument to close the story, at the end or elsewhere, in favor of the digital static that appears at the end of his career with inevitable power. When Jim and Tessa arrive at their brothers’ empty-looking home, it is as if they came to the very end of a traditional cemetery, technically advanced. The high-pitched sound sounds like a weak signal from a lost satellite or distant planet. ‘Martin has started talking again for a while’ while Tessa speaks a dead language. Martin ‘sounds like an intellectual or an infinite’. Diane tells herself to keep quiet. ‘From one empty window in this house to the one that surrounds us,’ says Tessa. ‘What’s going on? Who is doing this for us? Has our mind changed digitally? Are we a test that ends, a plot initiated by those who did not consider us? ‘
The answer must be yes. In books up to Underworld, in addition to Underworld, DeLillo has provided an amazing portfolio of sophisticated rhetoric and humor, a screening machine for media coverage and an explanation of capitalist realities. In that old book, he had a strong belief in sentences to make sense. ‘Time binds on old age,’ says one author. Not that he had an old mind. But as a contradictory point, in assuming that, he wondered what we could learn by going deeper under the permanent form, under the quantum, less than a billion times more than the ancient Greek atom. ‘DeLillo had power, air and voice there. He saw, long before the writers saw, that the truth would not be changed and the secret. Well-known rock star Bucky Wunderlick, on Great Jones Street, has been hiding in a filthy house – ‘bringing a secret idea back to American life’ – after a reporter arrived. Bucky does not allow him to use the tape or write notes. ‘You want to be right, don’t you?’ the journalist complains. ‘Do it all. Go home and write down anything you want and send it on the wire, ‘says Bucky. ‘Make. Everything you write will be true. ‘
It seems that DeLillo has been finding a solution to this. Since 1971, he set up fire extinguishers in the darkest parts of America, massive explosions and potential explosions, and now, at the end, a tragic operation, we find him contemplating what is going on in one room, the book is probably in hiding. The silence of the head is not the result of the silent phone and dead viewers, but the internal silence, because the sound seems pointless. ‘What is happening tells us,’ says Max, ‘there is nothing we can say but what comes to mind, and none of us can remember it.’