UD‘s favorite Don DeLillo novel, The Names, is being made into a film.

It took UD many readings to warm up to – to begin to understand – this moody broody beautifully written book. Indeed its hyper-seriousness means I think that the main problem the director will encounter is avoiding pretentiousness.

Then again, film isn’t such a great medium for big ideas (see for instance Kaufman’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being), so maybe the writer and director will opt to avoid the various philosophies of language in the book… a book which, now that I think of it, could have been titled The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

Both Kundera and DeLillo are interested in how people ground their lives and stop drifting about in the pleasant or unpleasant white noise of postmodernity. The Names is full of archeologists desperately digging under the earth for meaning, presence, authenticity, a sense of grounded existence; it is also full of international security consultants constantly up over the earth, flying from world capital to world capital as they write their reports for corporations wanting to know if it’s safe to do business in Karachi…

There’s a third existential location in the novel: Greece. That’s where the American narrator, James Axton, lives and works; and as a typically white noisy American, he gazes throughout the narrative at the achieved, grounded lives of the Greeks – neither low nor high, but simply here, on the earth.

Laundry hung in the walled gardens, always this sense of realized space, common objects, domestic life going on in that sculpted hush. Stairways bent around houses, disappearing. It was a sea chamber raised to the day, to the detailing light, a textured pigment on the hills. There was something artless and trusting in the place despite the street meanders, the narrow turns and ravels. Striped flagpoles and aired-out rugs, houses joined by closed wooden balconies, plants in battered cans, a willingness to share the oddments of some gathering-up. Passageways captured the eye with one touch, a sea green door, a handrail varnished to a nautical gloss. A heart barely beating in the summer heat, and always the climb, the small birds in cages, the framed approaches to nowhere. Doorways were paved with pebble mosaics, the terrace stones were outlined in white.

A good film could do a lot, visually, with the contrast between that sort of scene and this one:

At the boarding gate, the last of the static chambers, the stillness is more compact, the waiting narrowed. He will notice hands and eyes, the covers of books, a man with a turban and netted beard. The crew is Japanese, the security Japanese… He hears Tamil, Hindi, and begins curiously to feel a sense of apartness, something in the smell of the place, the amplified voice in the distance. It doesn’t feel like earth. And then aboard, even softer seats. He will feel the systems running power through the aircraft, running light, running air. To the edge of the stratosphere, world hum, the sudden night. Even the night seems engineered, Japanese, his brief sleep calmed by the plane’s massive heartbeat.

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2 Responses to “Cool.”

  1. Mr Punch Says:

    Fortunately, though, film is a fine medium for Lena Olin.

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Mr Punch: Yes. Pretty images.

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