Aldrin's Reviews > Point Omega

Point Omega by Don DeLillo
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Read 2 times. Last read October 10, 2011 to October 12, 2011.

One of the two narrators of “Point Omega,” the latest short novel by Don DeLillo, is an experimental filmmaker currently, quote, unquote, working on his second film. “Working,” actually, is too generous a word to describe what he is doing; to use it is to view the aggregate of his efforts in a way that is only too encouraging. Work is force times the distance through which it is enforced, the idiom of physics dictates, and while there may be considerable, albeit mostly verbal and psychological, force exerted by Jim Finley, the filmmaker, one gathers that he is at a standstill. Jim is “working” “here, somewhere south of nowhere in the Sonoran Desert or maybe it was the Mojave Desert or another desert altogether,” in a secluded house owned by Richard Elster, a former secret war adviser. Jim wants Elster in his “second” film—but it’s not really his second if his first, an assemblage of old footages of the comedian Jerry Lewis doing all kinds of things during his numerous fund-raising telethons, no more, no less, is less a film than “an idea for a film,” is it? Jim intends to shoot a one-take, unedited, unadorned full-length film showing Elster’s talking head, alone against a bare wall, under an austere light, sharing anything and everything he has to say about anything and everything. One suspects that Jim hopes the film will be spoken of in the same breath with Aleksandr Sokurov’s grandiose 2002 film, “Russian Ark,” which depicts centuries of Russian history in a single sequence shot that runs for all of 99 minutes. (The story of “Point Omega” takes place in 2006, predating last year’s “Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria,” Remton Zuasola’s marvelous minimalist epic-in-one-continuous-take showing various facets of the Filipino dream.) Preproduction—if it can be called that—for Jim’s “second” film consists mainly of him persuading Elster to play that crucial role—the only role, in fact, as there will be no second party to pose questions or add commentary. And so the two men talk. They drink. At times they revel in silence. They wax Profound and Philosophical amid the desolation afforded by the desert, where Elster chose to retire for its supposed abundance of space and time, “things he seemed to absorb through his pores.” They reside in an ivory tower, in—to borrow a recurring phrase in DeLillo’s 1988 novel, “Libra”—”a world inside the world.”

In presenting the pair’s everyday encounters, DeLillo once again saturates his prose with the relentless sterility he committed to in his last few novels, most notably “Falling Man.” As in that hypnotic 9/11 novel published in 2007, DeLillo’s words in “Point Omega” float delicately on the page, procuring a hallucinatory quality that is at once disconcerting and inviting. They appear to be subdued in the service of a novel that is decidedly more taken with elevating ideas than developing plot and character. They are words in a book about words, which, ironically, Elster says are “not necessary to one’s experience of the true life.” “I’ll tell you this much,” he says to Jim, off the record still, “War creates a closed world and not only for those in combat but for the plotters, the strategists. Except their war is acronyms, projections, contingencies, methodologies.” 

Elster was hired by the backers of the so-called So-called War on Terror on the strength of a polemical scholarly essay he wrote. The essay, which for all its apparent brilliance is lamentably absent in the book even in excerpted form, purportedly presents an etymological analysis of the word “rendition” (yielding various meanings, including plaster, surrender, interpretation, and performance) and arrives at a point where it all but mentions governmental guilt, thereby arousing the interest of military bigwigs in search of an intellectual to help “conceptualize” the war effort. Probably his most significant contribution was the concept of a haiku war. “I wanted a war in three lines,” he says, “This was not a matter of force levels or logistics. What I wanted was a set of ideas linked to transient things. This is the soul of haiku. Bare everything to plain sight. See what’s there. Things in war are transient. See what’s there and then be prepared to watch it disappear.” 

Evident in Elster’s pronouncements and, to a slightly lesser degree, elsewhere in the book is DeLillo’s knack for cold detachment vis-à-vis the gravity of the matters in question. DeLillo, an old soldier of postmodern literature, stands in the face of such sensitive subjects as armed strife and dubious bureaucracy with his signature laconic brevity that typically bookends his otherwise thematically heavy paragraphs, filled as they usually are with abstract appositives and imperatives, as his chief weapon. Although his characters at times speak with what can only be designated as authorial authority, he comes through without resorting to mere truthiness and distortion.

Complexity and consciousness, after all, are the main concerns of “Point Omega.” The title of the novel is a reversal of “omega point,” the term coined by French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, one of Elster’s primary influences, to refer to the apex of complexity and consciousness towards which all matter is moving. “Point Omega,” then, suggests a devolution, a backward movement away from those two material properties. This path is approached in the novel shortly after the arrival of “someone else, a face and voice,” in the person of Elster’s daughter, Jessie. She is aptly described as an “otherwordly” entity, setting off latent sexual desires and a sense of companionship in Jim and parental pride and responsibility in Elster. But just when she appears to have connected with the others, something happens to her, causing a disturbance to the two men’s shared inertia, their own tendency towards complexity and consciousness derailed and pushed back. Thank God for that, one may think after reading through so much where nothing much has happened, even when that something that happens is dangerously close to being a nonevent. But what was the point, Jim and Elster seem to ask, of all that talk and prognostication if in confrontation with real loss their thoughts can only shrink and be simplified to the brink of senselessness?

“Point Omega” starts and ends with the accounts of its other narrator, a fly-on-a-wall type looking down on a man against a wall in a gallery. The man sees Jim and Elster, visiting the gallery pre-desert isolation. He sees Jessie, too, the day following. They’re there to watch “24 Hour Psycho,” an art installation, created by Douglas Gordon, screening a version of “Psycho” stripped of sound and slowed down and stretched to a running time of 24 hours. “He told me it was like watching the universe die over a period of about seven billion years,” Jessie later says of his father in conversation with Jim. “We were there ten minutes,” Jim replies. Viewed in such modified condition, the classic film by Alfred Hitchcock (who also directed “Rope,” a film that was edited to appear as though it were shot in one take) effects an altered state of consciousness of some sort. It is a rendition, as it were, of horror made into something beautiful and nothing at the same time. Something, nothing, whatever.

Originally posted on Fully Booked .Me.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
October 9, 2011 – Shelved
October 10, 2011 – Started Reading
October 12, 2011 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-3 of 3 (3 new)

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message 1: by Monique (new)

Monique For just one day, I'd love to deconstruct that brain of yours.

And that is a compliment. :)

message 2: by Apokripos (new)

Apokripos Beautiful. Just... beautiful!

Aldrin I live and die by only a handful of authors, one of whom is DeLillo.

Thank you, gurls. Hehe. :p

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