Point Omega is a term that refers to the condition of maximum organized complexity, and Don Delillo's short book--it's not a novel, though it's sold that way for $24.00--pursues Point Omega by means of a meditative, brooding quasi-narrative wherein consciousness belongs either in a room where Psycho is being run slo-mo or in the searing desert of southern California or perhaps in the streaking mind of a thinker/strategist named Richard Elster, whom the protagonist, Jim Finley, wants to film in a nonstop commentary on his role in advising the U.S. government on the Iraq war. In the process, Elster's daughter Jessie somehow disappears...just flat out disappears. Got that?
We read DeLillo and presumably DeLillo writes DeLillo confident that we will be exposed to just such a mysterious fiction; yes, let's call it that, not a novel, not a novella, not short story, simply a fiction, a thing made up that probes ways in which it can tear itself apart by hanging together, or vice versa.
This fiction seems to borrow liberally from a few precedents. The lengthy, tedious opening and closing chapters draw on 24 Hour Psycho, a videowork by Douglas Gordon, reproducing the unlikely fascination of viewing Hitchcock's thriller at the rate of two frames a second (slow, very slow.) Going further back, however, one might think of Andy Warhol's 8 hour film study of the Empire State Building.
The idea, presumably, is that by looking at something with fierce and unremitting intensity one will encounter its explosive, meaningful innards. Or possibly the point is that such excruciating contemplation will turn on itself, rendering consciousness a kind of haiku. I'm not entirely sure. Are these angry propositions? Mocking propositions? Provocative propositions? All of the above? The answer probably depends on the reader more than the writer.
Beyond Psycho, Point Omega enters the narrative framework of unsuccessful filmmaker Jim Finley desperate to marry his lens to savant Richard Elster's face and voice and memory. He wants to get into the whole Iraq war debate, including Elster's role in advising on strategy. When I read this, I got interested, particularly because I have written a book on my own role advising on strategy in Iraq. But I was disappointed because Finley never really gets Elster to talk as Robert McNamara was enticed to talk in The Fog of War, a film about Vietnam and his memories thereof.
Instead, the fiction either occupies or is occupied by the southernmost desert of California where Elster has a house and is visited by his daughter Jessie, who undergoes the obligatory pass by Jim Finley, and then as I noted above, flat out disappears.
DeLillo's fictions are driven by ideas--ideas about consciousness, about conspiracy, about a lack of faith, and about the desperate ways in which really thoughtful people are made even more desperate and thoughtful about the meaninglessness of the human and material world they occupy. The streamlined and focused approach DeLillo takes to fictionalizing such ideas is not conducive to character, in any traditional sense, or denouement, in any sense at all. But they're still hypnotic, intriguing, and very, very effective in creating whole worlds of disenchantment; they render the flatness of prosaic reality (a seamy two room apartment) and the emptiness of poetic genius (riffs on geology, time, and evolution) with a skill that is almost serpentine. It's hard to take one's eyes off what DeLillo is doing on the page; the drama seems empty, but the descriptions are generally superb.
Cormac McCarthy writes books that are similar to DeLillo's; Paul Auster does, too. If you like them, you'll like DeLillo. If you like DeLillo, you'll probably like McCarthy and Auster, as well.
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