#18 Leveraging the Void, part 4
The concluding part.
More sirens here, day and night. The cars are faster, the advertisements more aggressive. This is wall-to-wall prostitution. And total electric light too. And the game - all games - gets more intense. It’s always like this when you’re getting near the centre of the world. But the people smile. Actually they smile more and more, though never to other people, always to themselves.
Jean Baudrillard, America
That title: Cosmopolis. City as cosmos, as universe. The teeming city with a life so rich and vast you could never know it all, never get to the end of it. It’s a romantic idea, one in keeping with Harold Bloom’s assessment of DeLillo as a High Romantic Transcendentalist1.
DeLillo evokes a sense of the deep life of New York with glimpses of ‘archaic business’, a potent phrase suggesting the survival of ancient patterns, activities, ways of life in the modern city:
He stood at the window and watched the great day dawn. The view was across bridges, narrows and sounds and out past the boroughs and toothpaste suburbs into measures of landmass and sky that could only be called the deep distance. He didn’t know what he wanted. It was still nighttime down on the river, half night, and ashy vapors wavered above the smokestacks on the far bank. He imagined the whores were all fled from the lamplit corners by now, duck butts shaking, other kinds of archaic business just beginning to stir, produce trucks rolling out of the markets, news trucks out of the loading docks. The bread vans would be crossing the city and a few stray cars out of bedlam weaving down the avenues, speakers pumping heavy sound.
There’s more in this vein later in the book when Packer’s stretch enters the diamond district:
..he lowered the window to a scene that was rocking with commerce. Nearly every store had jewelry on display and shoppers worked both sides of the street, slipping between armored bank trucks and private security vans to look at fine Swiss watches and eat in the kosher luncheonette.
Cash for gold and diamonds. Rings, coins, pearls, wholesale jewelry, antique jewelry. This was the souk, the shtetl. Here were the hagglers and talebearers, the scrapmongers, the dealers in stray talk. The street was an offense to the truth of the future. But he responded to it. He felt it enter every receptor and vault electrically to his brain.
“An offense to the truth of the future”. Packer, and DeLillo, know the future will be pared down, minimalist, homogenised. And online. The future will take its leave of the material world to the fullest extent possible. What, then, will happen to those whose livings are earned through archaic business, those for whom ‘address’ will always mean a street and a gate and a front door, not an IP address? Is the fate of such people even an afterthought for the architects of our collective future?
Writers must oppose systems. It's important to write against power, corporations, the state, and the whole system of consumption and of debilitating entertainments.
We have a rich literature. But sometimes it's a literature too ready to be neutralized, to be incorporated into the ambient noise. This is why we need the writer in opposition, the novelist who writes against power, who writes against the corporation or the state or the whole apparatus of assimilation. We're all one beat away from becoming elevator music.
The book which shows DeLillo at his most oppositional is arguably Libra—indeed, one conservative reviewer condemned the novel as “an act of literary vandalism and bad citizenship” for the way DeLillo seemed to be trying to lend credence to JFK assassination conspiracy theories. That assessment of the author’s motives may have been accurate. Nevertheless, DeLillo has never claimed Libra to be anything but a novel. On the book’s final page there is an ‘author’s note’:
This is a work of imagination. While drawing from the historical record, I’ve made no attempt to furnish factual answers to any questions raised by the assassination.
Any novel about a major unresolved event would aspire to fill some of the blank spaces in the known record. To do this, I’ve altered and embellished reality, extended real people into imagined space and time, invented incidents, dialogues, and characters.
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