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“[It’s] the absence of surprise to life that harrows the head of everybody American you know…”

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 Noisepostmodern 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.

Margaret Soltan, April 20, 2021 11:05AM
Posted in: delillo

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3 Responses to ““[It’s] the absence of surprise to life that harrows the head of everybody American you know…””

  1. Greg Says:

    The anti-boredom, thrill-seeking, thesis also explains a significant chunk of Trump’s popularity – his fans among among people with little other than that part of their brains intact. I.e. people who are happy to stumble upon, or arrange, a good bar fight, dumpster fire, bear baiting etc. DT was a roller coaster. Sadism, of course, is a technically different, but often accompanying, overlapping, major factor.

    By the way, my Congressional staffer wife and I went to that game many years. Fortunately missed that particular one. Back then it was clear that no one in attendance would have rooted for the gunman.

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Greg: Yes – it’s probably a sign of late capitalism (or whatever you want to call it) that bread and circuses, with an all-American overlay of violence, is the clear direction. Biden represents a dull well-meaning re-set. Our next president will be former wrestler Jim Jordan.

  3. University Diaries » Make New Friends, but Keep the Old… Says:

    […] mystery of the awful 2021 Tesla crash, about which I wrote here, has been […]

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