Nutshell: Nazi nostaligist post-ironically exposed to death-gas and very rationally thereafter obsesses his alleged sexual property claim to his wife’s genitals.
Opens with reference to Jameson’s arguments in [b:Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism|204011|Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism|Fredric Jameson|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1347983283s/204011.jpg|2288972], regarding the Westin Bonaventure, which “aspires to being a total space, a complete world, a kind of miniature city” (loc. cit. at 40), but “does not wish to be a part of [Los Angeles] but rather its equivalent and replacement or substitute” (id.)--i.e., Derrida’s supplement--and is satisfied with “no larger protopolitical Utopian transformation” (loc. cit. at 41-42), as “confirmed by the great glass reflective glass skin,” no mere “thematic of reproductive technology” (43), but rather “the glass skin repels the city outside, a repulsion for which we have analogies in those reflector sunglasses which make it impossible for your interlocutor to see your own eyes” ((id.) (that last is Foucault’s dissymmetry of vision in [b:Discipline and Punish|80369|Discipline and Punish The Birth of the Prison|Michel Foucault|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1347748211s/80369.jpg|1946946].).
Delillo’s opening concerns not the Los Angeles supplemental skyline, but the university campus at the beginning of the Fall semester: “The students greet each other with comic cries and gestures of sodden collapse. Their summer has been bloated with criminal pleasures, as always. The parents stand sun-dazed near their automobiles, seeing images of themselves in every direction. The conscientious suntans. The well-made faces and wry looks. They feel a sense of renewal, of communal recognition” (3)--is that last the protopolitical Utopian project, or the foucaultian repulsion, or are they the same thing now?
Manifestly in Benjamin’s “Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” with comments on “the most photographed barn in America” (12), which has an “aura” in the benjaminian sense, “a religious experience, like all tourism” (id.). The same chapter equates narrator’s successful Hitler Studies program with new professor’s proposal: “The college is internationally known as a result of Hitler studies. It has an identity, a sense of achievement. You’ve evolved an entire system around this figure, a structure with countless substructures and interrelated fields of study, a history within history. I marvel at the effort. It was masterful, shrewd and stunningly preemptive. It’s what I want to with Elvis” (11-12).
The connection of Hitler to US mass culture is made more than implicit thereafter: “He’s always on. We couldn’t have television without him” (63). It’s a matter of Adorno’s authoritarian personality to some extent, as “we were otherwise silent, watching houses slide into the ocean, whole villages crackle and ignite in a mass of advancing lava. Every disaster made us wish for more, for something bigger, grander, more sweeping” (64). Book explains this mass culture of disaster as "because we’re suffering from brain fade. We need an occasional catastrophe to break up the incessant bombardment of information” (66). On the one hand, this is very plainly the source of RSB’s cunuroi’s addiction to atrocity, with which he combined Swift’s Struldbruggs for a memorable inversion of Tolkien. On the other hand, it is very much toothing on Baudrillard’s conception of semiurgy, radical semiurgical overload. Both ideas are profoundly pessimistic, rightwing, protofascistic--the thesis is essentially that there can be too much information, over-communication, a confusing babel--for which the remedy is the imposition of monologic space, Bakhtin’s one single tone of seriousness, a device to reduce the labor of interpretation. Not saying that the novel endorses this thesis, but it certainly presents it. There’s an upside for one character, who is proud to be an “American” because “the infant’s brain develops in response to stimuli. We still lead the world in stimuli” (189). But: “were people this dumb before television?” (249).
Chapter 15 (70-74) is likely the center of gravity of Hitler/Elvis dialectic, presenting a joint lecture of Hitler studies and inchoate Elvis studies, alternating in presentation between parallel points of the two mass culture lodestones.
The point of disaster/Hitler mass culture is the audience: “the family is the cradle of world’s misinformation” (81), and the novel oft presents narrator’s blood relations as bearers of very bad misinformation.
Center of gravity of the narration is nevertheless part 2, regarding “the airborne toxic event,” the release of “Nyodene D.,” a concoction “of things thrown together that are byproducts of the manufacture of insecticide. The original stuff kills roaches, the byproducts kill everything left over” (131). The official response to the release is to engage SIMUVAC, “simulated evacuation. A new state program they’re still battling over funds for” (139). Even though the evacuation in the story is genuine (and for which I was moved by real pathos, as a Katrina evacuee), SIMUVAC “thought we could use it as a model,” “a chance to use the real event in order to rehearse the simulation” (id). It’s doubly or triply Baudrillard’s hyperreality argument. The evacuation ultimately rendered narrator “part of the public stuff of media disaster” (146), so that’s a silver lining, aye? (“There was no large city with a vaster torment we might use to see our own dilemma in some soothing perspective” (176)--sadly, no longer true.)
Central irony of novel is that, after airborne toxic event, and narrator’s lethal exposure thereto, life in consumer society simply goes on, with narration developing a combined domestic erotic potboiler alongside industrial espionage thriller.
Recommended for those who note that the world is full of abandoned meanings, readers who can’t think of a car crash in a movie as a violent act, but as a celebration of traditional values and beliefs, and persons who surrender their lives to make your nonbelief possible.