Don DeLillo’s Point Omega

Point Omega
Don DeLillo
Picador, 2010, 9780330512381
(buy Aus, US/Kindle)

I’ve been ‘doing’ a few American writers of late. Loved my first encounter with Michael Chabon, in A Model World – he’s a master of beginnings and endings in those short gems – and will follow-up someday with The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and Wonder Boys (as I love the film). But I’m not here to talk about him today.

Don DeLillo is one of those writers you’ve ‘heard of’, and I’ve always liked the sound of his books, though I hadn’t read any until this latest, slim little intellectual ride Point Omega. The opening was my favourite part – an anonymous man in a dark screening room at an art gallery, watching Psycho slowed-down and stretched over 24 hours. He watches the screen intensely, the same movements over and over, the curtain rings pulling. He watches the people moving through the room, pausing at the door, he watches how long they stay. He watches. ‘Nobody was watching him.’

The narrative part, through the centre of the book, is about a filmmaker who wants to film an interview with Richard Elster – ‘about his time in government, in the blat and stammer of Iraq.’ Elster doesn’t really want to make the film, but the filmmaker gets involved in his life anyhow – staying with him in the desert, fascinated by his surroundings: ‘The desert was outside my range, it was an alien being, it was science fiction, both saturating and remote, and I had to force myself to believe I was here.’

Elster’s daughter also comes to stay, and there is an odd little dynamic between the three – one of watching, again, and perception. Perception on events, on moments, on motivations, all tying in with Elster’s past. Elster says to the filmmaker: ‘Human perception is a saga of created reality’. The filmmaker is trying to convince him that the film will purely be Elster standing against a wall, talking. But Elster knows that each viewer will perceive it differently.

Besides perception, there are ruminations – by the narrator and by Elster – on power, emptiness, right and wrong, invasion, isolation, time and transience, fear, violence, secrecy, marriage, transformation, and grief packed into this slim book. I didn’t like the characters so much, but I loved the ideas that challenged, and of course (as why do we read?) the ones that confirmed. For example:

‘It’s all embedded, the hours and minutes, words and numbers everywhere, he said, train stations, bus routes, taxi meters, surveillance cameras. It’s all about time, dimwit time, inferior time, people checking watches and other devices, other reminders. This is time draining out of our lives. Cities were built to measure time, to remove time from nature. There’s an endless counting down, he said. When you strip away all the surfaces, when you see into it, what’s left is terror. This is the thing that literature was meant to cure.’

And there’s a wonderful section on observation in a marriage – ‘…the whole long spectacle… one head turning, the other head oblivious.’ Though the end – the end I perceived as too constructed, for the philosophical meandering expansiveness of the rest of the book. It certainly didn’t live up to the beginning.

But then the filmmaker fails at capturing a true representation. The novelist, too, offers little bits and pieces, details about people – not their whole lives, never their whole lives. And it can never be a true representation – maybe the ending would be perceived differently, for someone else. I’d rather go back and slowly drag out those sections, those challenging bits, than have come to that ending, where there is a closing off; where time is measured.

8 thoughts on “Don DeLillo’s Point Omega

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Don DeLillo’s Point Omega – LiteraryMinded -- Topsy.com

  2. Currently struggling through Don DeLillo’s ‘Underworld’ (for the second time). He often busts out some insightful and brilliant prose, which almost accounts for an incoherant plot. 2 examples spring to mind:

    On fueds –
    “It’s not enough to hate your enemy. You have to understand how the two of you bring each other to a deep completion”

    On poverty and crime (high speed pursuits) –
    “If you know you’re worth nothing, only a gamble with death can gratify your vanity”

    Awesome.

  3. i read DeLillo’s ‘Falling Man’ at uni, comparing it as a post-9/11 novel to Safran Foer’s ‘Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close’, and from this blog post and the comments it seems that DeLillo is definitely consistent in his approach. ‘Falling Man’ was a labourious but ultimately a very satisfying read, but it took work as a reader to get to that point – work i mightn’t have done if it wasn’t preparation for a lengthy essay. the narrative was splintered, the characters rich and colourful, but after some slow re-reads, i loved it.

    Ange – you have hit the nail about DeLillo when you say, “The novelist, too, offers little bits and pieces, details about people – not their whole lives, never their whole lives.” He does this better than most.

  4. I find De Lillo a fascinating writer if a little obtuse. His post 9/11 novel “Falling Man” was interesting but fell (no pun intended) well short of greatness. I too have wrttien aq post 9/11 novel called “London’s Falling” which shall be published by caffeine Nights Publications in August this year. The world has changed since the twin towers attack and the UK changed today in an election not uneffected by it. I think the harshness of the new austerity programs will seep into the literature as well. Here’s to post modernism and the post-apocaqlyptic angst of the New Millenium.

  5. I been a fan of Delillo ever since finding “End Zone”, one of his earlier works ostensibly about football but with an incredible zero-sum game theory cold war nuclear subtext. Any author that can get me to enjoy a text about a team sport, which I like about as much as the jocks that tormented me through most of my high school career, is brilliant in my book.

    I think “Underworld” will stand the test of time and become one of the legacy masterpieces of the late 20th century. Obviously, I’m a huge fan so the first thing I did after I finished writing my last term paper was go to the library and get out his latest, “Point Omega”; it did not disappoint. I wrote a blog about it if you’re interested:
    abraccess.blogspot.com

    The following is an excerpt from that post:

    Delillo is a master at incorporating other media into his narrative. I, now more than ever, want to visit the Museum of Modern Art in New York, to see a videowork called “24 Hour Psycho” used as the setting for the beginning and ending of “Point Omega”. As the title suggests, this exhibit is the film “Psycho” stretched and slowed to fit it’s running time to one day. The character that opens the book spends immense swathes of time in the room where it is screened, his cogitations caught on the page as they weave from one side of the film to the other, in sinister time with the silent screen showing images meant to be building a suspense familiar to an entire generation but impotent in this regard as each frame lingers, a discrete swathe of imagery. There is an irony here, showcasing Delillo’s exquisite artistry, as these celluloid picture chunks, drained of their original neurotic foreboding, are used to help fabricate the creepy consciousness of the anonymous character, the resulting blanket of text smothering, swaddling the reader in the very same sort of suspense that stalked the audience with the shrieking violins of the shower scene in the original movie.
    Delillo is a master at incorporating other media into his narrative. I, now more than ever, want to visit the Museum of Modern Art in New York, to see a videowork called “24 Hour Psycho” used as the setting for the beginning and ending of “Point Omega”. As the title suggests, this exhibit is the film “Psycho” stretched and slowed to fit it’s running time to one day. The character that opens the book spends immense swathes of time in the room where it is screened, his cogitations caught on the page as they weave from one side of the film to the other, in sinister time with the silent screen showing images meant to be building a suspense familiar to an entire generation but impotent in this regard as each frame lingers, a discrete swathe of imagery. There is an irony here, showcasing Delillo’s exquisite artistry, as these celluloid picture chunks, drained of their original neurotic foreboding, are used to help fabricate the creepy consciousness of the anonymous character, the resulting blanket of text smothering, swaddling the reader in the very same sort of suspense that stalked the audience with the shrieking violins of the shower scene in the original movie.

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