#12 Leveraging the Void, part 2
Continuing my essay on DeLillo, focusing on nihilism as a theme in his 2003 novel Cosmopolis.
Deep assignments run through all our lives. There are no coincidences.
Since I published the first part of this essay in November there’s been an upsurge of interest in DeLillo, for two related reasons. The first is Netflix’s release, in late December, of Noah Baumbach’s film adaptation of White Noise, starring the ubiquitous Adam Driver alongside Greta Gerwig. The second is the East Palestine, Ohio train derailment of February 3rd. That disaster is linked to DeLillo in a disquieting way: central to the plot of White Noise is an ‘airborne toxic event’ that results from the derailment of a train bearing a hazardous cargo. Yet there are more coincidences (which Ballard would say are no such thing): the White Noise film was shot in Ohio, with shooting for the airborne toxic event segment taking place pretty close to where the real derailment would take place. In a further surreal twist, a number of Baumbach’s film extras found themselves caught up in the real ATE, hurriedly evacuating their homes in much the same way as portrayed in the movie. CNN caught up with one such extra, Ben Ratner:
Ratner tried to rewatch the movie a few days ago and found that he couldn’t finish it.
“All of a sudden, it hit too close to home,” he said.
Ratner and his family – his wife, Lindsay, and their kids, Lilly, Izzy, Simon and Brodie – are living the fiction they helped bring to the screen.
“The first half of the movie is all almost exactly what’s going on here,” Ratner said Wednesday, four days into their evacuation.
The article quotes the president of the Don DeLillo Society, Professor Jesse Kavadlo, who, in that banal and conformist way typical of contemporary academics, dismisses as a nothingburger this weird example of life imitating art:
“The terrible spill now is, of course, a coincidence. But it plays in our minds like life imitating art, which was imitating life, and on and on, because, as DeLillo suggests in ‘White Noise’ as well, we have unfortunately become too acquainted with the mediated language and enactment of disaster,” Kavadlo said.
What CNN’s article on Ben Ratner notably fails to mention is that one of DeLillo’s early novels bears the title Ratner’s Star.
I think it must be obvious, to anyone not blinded by rationalism, that something very peculiar is going on here. What we’re to make of such ‘deeds of the devil’ (to quote Georg Christoph Lichenberg2) I’m not entirely sure: White Noise, black magic? But perhaps we can venture the beginnings of a theory.
Psychogeographer Iain Sinclair has occasionally written admiringly of DeLillo and his works. This from American Smoke:
My reading, outside immediate research, came down to a select group of authors: Louis-Ferdinand Céline (worked through in chronological order), Don DeLillo (backwards), Malcolm Lowry, Roberto Bolaño, Walter Abish.3
Sinclair, in command of an encyclopedic knowledge of literature (much of it accumulated during his years as a book dealer), knows better than most who ‘has it’ and who does not. And, by Sinclair’s account, the signs of 'having it' are not isolated to the work a writer produces. The Hackney author has remarked on the frequency of coincidences connected in some way to Ballard, one of the writers he returns to again and again in his own work. The greatest writers, the ‘magi’ as Sinclair has called Ballard and others, seem to be strange attractors (to repeat Baudrillard’s flagrant misuse of that term4), drawing into their orbits coincidental happenings, whether happy or baleful.
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