… wins the Don DeLillo Death Contest.
Man Jumps to his Death off
Mickey and Friends parking lot
For more Don DeLillo, postmodern, deaths, go here.
At the bar, a man who described himself as “someone who invests in things” explained that the reason the hotel could charge $28 for a cocktail is that because, after Sept. 11, many in the finance industry moved here from the Wall Street area.
This article about a new obscenely expensive hotel in New York City is echt-Don Delillo, with occult NYT argot only subscribers can understand (UD subscribes and — come to think of it — she doesn’t really understand the above sentence).
I approached two men in suits — one maybe 55, the other half his age…
What did they think of the hotel?
“Off the record, it’s fantastic,” said the older man.
When I asked for his name, he gave me a smile-smirk that seemed to imply that I should know who he was.
And this is a NYT reporter, so either she’s remarkably out of it not to know who he is, or she’s talking to someone who’s a legend in his own mind, someone with a deep need to say “off the record.” I’m thinking it was Devin Nunes.
But you see the theme in all the remarks – a paranoia which makes the elation of hiding out at a silent, closed, hotel with a servile staff the main feeling the place achieves in you. The people at the Aman New York don’t want anyone to know they’re there. People hate them because they’re obnoxiously rich; or law enforcement agents are after them because they’ve broken insider trading laws; or vindictive ex-mates have lately been showing up unannounced at charity events … Think Steven Cohen, Jacqueline Kent Cooke, Ron Perelman. New York’s clinically berserk billionaire class. The place takes their frenzied convoluted vileness, rolls it up into a ball, and transmutes it into a many-petaled temple offering.
Even if you haven’t read the novel, you’ve learned a lot about it, and DeLillo’s world view, just from reading this blog, which after all has a whole category devoted to DeLillo. The Noah Baumbach production opens August 31 at the Venice Film Festival.
A Bronx-born son of Italian immigrants, DeLillo is an entirely urban animal, yet he knowledgeably sets his novel in a small midwestern “village” (I’ll explain the quotation marks in a moment); a writer who has never had children, he sensitively places at the heart of the book the character and fate of many children in a blended family (their parents are much-divorced). As with many of my posts on the postmodern way of death, the novel first establishes the enviably, pleasantly, eventlessly “immune” life of affluent Americans, and then throws a lethal environmental catastrophe (“the airborne toxic event”) right in their faces. And lungs.
So DeLillo locates the Gladney family (glad; bland) in the cute village of Blacksmith, with its preserved nineteenth century main street and vernacular library and town hall and churches…
From its sweet pre-industrial name to its charming brick storefronts, Blacksmith could convince you you really are living a pre-modern life, before advanced technology, massive shopping malls, and endless ubiquitous streaming media; but, as White Noise makes hilariously clear, it’s all a simulacrum, a Truman-show facade behind which lies, like it or not, the late twentieth century.
When the disaster hits, Gladney’s first response is total denial:
“These things happen to poor people who live in exposed areas. Society is set up in such a way that it’s the poor and the uneducated who suffer the main impact of natural and man-made disasters. People in low-lying areas get the floods, people in shanties get the hurricanes and tornadoes. I’m a college professor. Did you ever see a college professor rowing a boat down his own street in one of those TV floods? We live in a neat and pleasant town near a college with a quaint name. These things don’t happen in places like Blacksmith.”
The filmmakers chose Wellington, Ohio for their Blacksmith – a heartland town whose preserved main street has won national awards.
Don DeLillo deaths – postmodern deaths – happen (you recall) when you’re having fun in a sought-after setting and something goes wrong. Here’s another one:
[An elderly woman] fell into a pond located at Boca Royale Golf and Country Club before [multiple] alligators grabbed her as she struggled in the water.
There’s also the universally expressed shock that lurking under your smooth luxe golfy world are – should you take one false step – multiple woman-eaters.
“I mean it’s pretty horrible and it’s shocking to think that that could actually happen,” John Whitworth, a resident told WBBH. “We see alligators from time to time but never thought that anything like that could happen.”
Which is odd because franchement down there you see alligators all the time; and you certainly know lots of them lurk just under the surface. But that’s the whole DeLillo thing – the fascinating coincidence of affluent highly secure absolute eventlessness AND total catastrophe very near to one another. It’s a very strange headspace to be in, strolling the sweet paths of your immunity even as a small part of your consciousness registers alligators, hurricanes, red tide, tsunami, sea level rise, heat wave…
Read White Noise for details.
As you know, this blog tracks the postmodern American way of death – described and discussed most vividly in DeLillo novels like White Noise – which takes place when something goes wrong while you’re having fun in a sought-after setting. Visual technology almost always plays a part.
This latest close-to-death is another entry:
A 23-year-old American tourist fell into Mount Vesuvius while taking a selfie and dropping his cellphone inside the volcano.
Italian police had to rescue the tourist after he climbed up without a ticket and fell inside, but authorities are now charging him and his family for trespassing.
The man and three of his relatives had decided to bypass the visitor entrance, ignoring the turnstile and taking a forbidden route to the crater at the top of the volcano that looms over the Italian city of Naples.
He scrambled down inside the crater at the top of the volcano, which is active but has not seen an eruption for almost 80 years, seemingly to try and get better photographs.
UD likes the additional frisson, here, of cretinous American arrogance.
‘Kings Pointer Robert Levine, 74, fired five shots at an unfamiliar fellow condo resident, Herbert Merritt, 64, while he was walking his dog near the 15th hole of the golf course at Kings Point early one evening last month, according to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.
Levine, driving a golf cart, pulled up to Merritt, and confronted him about walking his dog too close to the golf course, according to the arrest report.
The verbal confrontation took a potentially life-and-death turn when Levine pointed a handgun at Merritt, who then ran, as Levine pursued him around a tree in the cart while shooting at the fleeing dog owner, the arrest report said.
One of the shots hit Merritt in the left ankle, wounding him and dropping him to the ground. Levine wasn’t done, according to the report. An eyewitness told deputies that the golfer kicked Merritt in the head, then went to golf cart, pulled out a club and began hitting the fallen dog owner with a club, while still holding the handgun in his other hand.’
November 22nd 1963 marked the real beginning of the 1960s. It was the beginning of a series of catastrophes: political assassinations, the war in Vietnam, the denial of Civil Rights and the revolts that occasioned, youth revolt in American cities, right up to Watergate. When I was starting out as a writer it seemed to me that a large part of the material you could find in my novels – this sense of fatality, of widespread suspicion, of mistrust – came from the assassination of JFK.
And baby, look at us now.
“It was America that drew their fury. It was the high gloss of our modernity. It was the thrust of our technology. It was our perceived godlessness. It was the blunt force of our foreign policy. It was the power of American culture to penetrate every wall, home, life and mind…
[T]here is no logic in apocalypse. They have gone beyond the bounds of passionate payback. This is heaven and hell, a sense of armed martyrdom as the surpassing drama of human experience.
He pledges his submission to God and meditates on the blood to come…
There are the doctors’ appointments that saved lives, the cellphones that were used to report the hijackings. Stories generating others and people running north out of the rumbling smoke and ash. Men running in suits and ties, women who’d lost their shoes, cops running from the skydive of all that towering steel…
When the second tower fell, my heart fell with it…
[W]hatever great skeins of technology lie ahead, ever more complex, connective, precise, micro-fractional, the future has yielded, for now, to medieval expedience, to the old slow furies of cut-throat religion…
It is possible to pass through some checkpoints, detour around others. At Chambers Street I look south through the links of the National Rent-A-Fence barrier. There stands the smoky remnant of filigree that marks the last tall thing, the last sign in the mire of wreckage that there were towers here that dominated the skyline for over a quarter of a century…
When we say a thing is unreal, we mean it is too real, a phenomenon so unaccountable and yet so bound to the power of objective fact that we can’t tilt it to the slant of our perceptions. First the planes struck the towers. After a time it became possible for us to absorb this, barely. But when the towers fell. When the rolling smoke began moving downward, floor to floor. This was so vast and terrible that it was outside imagining even as it happened. We could not catch up with it. But it was real, punishingly so, an expression of the physics of structural limits and a void in one’s soul, and there was the huge antenna falling out of the sky, straight down, blunt end first, like an arrow moving backwards in time…
The writer begins in the towers, trying to imagine the moment, desperately. Before politics, before history and religion, there is the primal terror. People falling from the towers hand in hand. This is part of the counternarrative, hands and spirits joining, human beauty in the crush of meshed steel.”
In the Ruins of the Future
Thomas Pynchon was very big on boredom, very big on the idea that postmodern Americans are just really bored, and that a lot of their behavior can be understood as a reaction to boredom.
UD’s favorite pomo novelist, Don DeLillo, features, in several of his novels – but especially White Noise – postmodern American deaths, which typically occur when someone is having expensive, boredom-suspending, fun: surfing in Hawaii, skiing in Austria. Many such deaths, in DeLillo, add high tech to the fun: In Players, well-heeled golfers are suddenly mowed down by a group of terrorists who use sophisticated weaponry against them. Visual technology also may make an appearance in these scenarios — they may be filmed, and go viral to tens of millions of bored voyeurs. Pomo death headlines are like Malfunction at Dreamworld. Explosion at the Gender Reveal Party. Superbowl Blimp Goes Down.
Think back to the congressional baseball game interrupted by a madman with a rifle who almost killed the majority whip. That had all the DeLilloesque elements: a sudden assault with lots of techno-weaponry (SKS rifle, 9mm Smith & Wesson handgun) while affluent, high-profile Americans are out having fun …and of course someone with a camera to film it all for Youtube.
In the news today appears another variant on the postmodern American way of death. This one has many pertinent elements: Boredom, affluence, cutting edge technology, videotape. I have in mind the wealthy Texas doctor who, at 11:30 on a Saturday night, decided to drive his $80,000 Tesla onto a private road in his gated community, take a seat in the back, rev it up to a million mph or whatever, and see how its driverless feature functioned.
At least that’s the speculation – he was found burned to death (along with a friend in the front seat), and no one was in the driver’s seat. Witnesses report they’d barely gotten out of his driveway, going at high speed, when the car drove straight into a tree and burst into flames. Rescue squads were unable to get anywhere near the car because (another high-tech pomo ingredient) the Tesla’s state of the art battery kept reigniting.
The Capitol-Trasher cult; the ultraorthodox cult; the integralist Catholic cult. Their leaders: Marjorie Taylor Greene; primitive authoritarian rabbis; Pater Edmund Waldstein. These groups are violent; they don’t recognize laws and institutions; they are irrational; they are primitive.
Everyone is so surprised that it turns out a significant minority of the Cap-Trash cult didn’t even vote in a presidential election whose result caused them to try to overthrow the government of the United States. They didn’t vote for Trump.
Why are you surprised? Cultists don’t vote. Or if they vote, it’s in robotic blocks, obeying commands from the cult leader.
Get with the program and perceive their world long enough to defend yourself.
They are trying to kill you and kill your world, and you totally need to defend yourself against them.
They’re not cute. Okay? Waldstein thinks burning non-cultists at the stake is a good idea. Greene wants to put a bullet through the head of Nancy Pelosi. Israeli haredim teach fifteen year old boys to burn down city buses and attack police. Why do you cling to the idea that because these people present themselves as god-fearing they deserve your respect?
Read Don DeLillo’s Mao II, his novel about cults, if you’d like to pause and understand the deep reasons people join cults. Or don’t bother learning the deep reasons. The imperative is to fight them with all you’ve got. With all we’ve got.
An interview with Don DeLillo, who has just released a new novel, The Silence.