reading notes for Point Omega by Don Delillo
Then again it was not like or unlike anything.
But it was impossible to see too much. The less there was to see, the harder he looked, the more he saw. This was the point. To see what’s here, finally to look and to know you’re looking, to feel time passing, to be alive to what is happening in the smallest registers of motion.
The original movie had been slowed to a running time of twenty-four hours. What he was watching seemed pure film, pure time. The broad horror of the old gothic movie was subsumed in time. How long would he have to stand here, how many weeks or months, before the film’s time scheme absorbed his own, or had this already begun to happen?
adepts of film, of film theory, film syntax, film and myth, the dialectics of film, the metaphysics of film,
the kind of rare fellowship that singular events engender
They had to think in words. This was their problem. The action moved too slowly to accommodate their vocabulary of film.
He wanted to see the film screened start to finish over twenty-four consecutive hours. No one allowed to enter once the screening begins.
Twenty-four hours. Who would survive, physically and otherwise? Would he be able to walk out into the street after an unbroken day and night of living in this radically altered plane of time?
It takes close attention to see what is happening in front of you. It takes work, pious effort, to see what you are looking at.
He began to think of one thing’s relationship to another. This film had the same relationship to the original movie that the original movie had to real lived experience. This was the departure from the departure. The original movie was fiction, this was real. Meaningless, he thought, but maybe not.
The true life is not reducible to words spoken or written, not by anyone, ever. The true life takes place when we’re alone, thinking, feeling, lost in memory, dreamingly self-aware, the submicroscopic moments. He said this more than once, Elster did, in more than one way.
These are the unsorted thoughts we have looking out the train window, small dull smears of meditative panic.
our perceptual arrangement of light and space into elements of wonder.
He was there to conceptualize, his word, in quotes, to apply overarching ideas and principles to such matters as troop deployment and counterinsurgency.
the chatter of the resident experts, the metaphysicians in the intelligence agencies, the fantasists in the Pentagon.
He’d exchanged all that for space and time.
There were the distances that enfolded every feature of the landscape and there was the force of geologic time, out there somewhere, the string grids of excavators searching for weathered bone
I keep seeing the words. Heat, space, stillness, distance. They’ve become visual states of mind. I’m not sure what that means. I keep seeing figures in isolation, I see past physical dimension into the feelings that these words engender, feelings that deepen over time. That’s the other word, time. I drove and looked.
and I stood on promontories in punishing sun, stood and looked.
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
Extinction was a current theme of his. The landscape inspired themes. Spaciousness and claustrophobia. This would become a theme.
alive to the protoworld
somewhere south of nowhere in the Sonoran Desert or maybe it was the Mojave Desert or another desert altogether.
First he said no. Then he said never. Finally he called and said we could discuss the matter but not in New York or in Washington. Too many goddamn echoes.
Just a man and a wall,” I told him. “The man stands there and relates the complete experience, everything that comes to mind, personalities, theories, details, feelings. You’re the man. There’s no offscreen voice asking questions. There’s no interspersed combat footage or comments from others, on-camera or off.”
“What else?” “A simple head shot.” “What else?” he said. “Any pauses, they’re your pauses, I keep shooting.” “What else?” “Camera with a hard drive. One continuous take.” “How long a take?” “Depends on you. There’s a Russian film, feature film, Russian Ark, Aleksandr Sokurov. A single extended shot, about a thousand actors and extras, three orchestras, history, fantasy, crowd scenes, ballroom scenes and then an hour into the movie a waiter drops a napkin, no cut, can’t cut, camera flying down hallways and around corners. Ninety-nine minutes,”
“It’s healthier to reject certain cautions than fall in line. I assume you know that,” he said.
“Is this exile? Are you in exile here?” “Wolfowitz went to the World Bank. That was exile,” he said. “This is different, a spiritual retreat.
Time slows down when I’m here. Time becomes blind. I feel the landscape more than see it. I never know what day it is. I never know if a minute has passed or an hour. I don’t get old here.
Do you have a job, something you do between projects?”
“I seem to eat. I do eat. But all the energy, all the nourishment gets sucked up by the film,” I told him. “The body gets nothing.”
I didn’t want to call it a documentary, although it was assembled completely from documents, old film footage, kinescopes of TV shows from the 1950s. This was social and historical material but edited well beyond the limits of information and objectivity and not itself a document. I found something religious in it, maybe I was the only one, religious, rapturous, a man transported. The man was the one individual on-screen throughout, the comedian Jerry Lewis. This was Jerry Lewis of the early telethons, the TV shows broadcast once a year to benefit people suffering from muscular dystrophy, Jerry Lewis day and night and into the following day, heroic, tragicomic, surreal.
the footage resembling some deviant technological life-form struggling out of the irradiated dust of the atomic age
It wore me out, beat me down, I became Jerry’s frenzied double, eyeballs popping out of my head. Sometimes a thing that’s hard is hard because you’re doing it wrong. This was not wrong.
“I’ll tell you this much. 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.”
“They become paralyzed by the systems at their disposal. Their war is abstract. They think they’re sending an army into a place on a map.”
“There were times when no map existed to match the reality we were trying to create.”
“This is something we do with every eyeblink. Human perception is a saga of created reality. But we were devising entities beyond the agreed-upon limits of recognition or interpretation. Lying is necessary. The state has to lie. There is no lie in war or in preparation for war that can’t be defended. We went beyond this. We tried to create new realities overnight, careful sets of words that resemble advertising slogans in memorability and repeatability. These were words that would yield pictures eventually and then become three-dimensional. The reality stands, it walks, it squats. Except when it doesn’t.”
Finally he said, “Haiku.” I nodded thoughtfully, idiotically, a slow series of gestures meant to indicate that I understood completely. “Haiku means nothing beyond what it is. A pond in summer, a leaf in the wind. It’s human consciousness located in nature. It’s the answer to everything in a set number of lines, a prescribed syllable count. I wanted a haiku war,” he said. “I wanted a war in three lines. 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.” “You used this word. Haiku,” I said. “I used this word. That’s what I was there for, to give them words and meanings. Words they hadn’t used, new ways of thinking and seeing. In one discussion or another, I probably used this word. They didn’t fall out of their chairs.”
We can’t let others shape our world, our minds. All they have are old dead despotic traditions. We have a living history
rueful introspection, somewhere between self-pity and self-accusation.
a man who needed to live in a protective hollow, womblike and world-sized, free of the leveling tendencies of events and human connections.
What lay between these sentences was a study of the word rendition, with references to Middle English,
The essay concentrated on the word itself, earliest known use, changes in form and meaning, zero-grade forms, reduplicated forms, suffixed forms. There were footnotes like nested snakes. But no specific mention of black sites, third-party states or international treaties and conventions.
There were no mornings or afternoons. It was one seamless day, every day, until the sun began to arc and fade, mountains emerging from their silhouettes.
Every project becomes an obsession or what’s the point. This is the one right now
“Hates to be alone but also comes here because there’s nothing here, no one here. Other people are conflict, he says.”
Time that precedes us and survives us.
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. The epic poem, the bedtime story.
“Footsteps in movies.” “Footsteps.” “Footsteps in movies never sound real.”
“They’re footsteps in movies.” “You’re saying why should they sound real.” “They’re footsteps in movies,” she said.
“He told me it was like watching the universe die over a period of about seven billion years.”
Little whispers,” he said. “I’m telling you, this will change. Something’s coming. But isn’t this what we want? Isn’t this the burden of consciousness? We’re all played out. Matter wants to lose its self-consciousness. We’re the mind and heart that matter has become. Time to close it all down. This is what drives us now.”
Look at us today. We keep inventing folk tales of the end.
“Whoever was there. That’s who was there.”
Father Teilhard knew this, the omega point. A leap out of our biology. Ask yourself this question. Do we have to be human forever? Consciousness is exhausted. Back now to inorganic matter. This is what we want. We want to be stones in a field
“Why is it so hard to be serious, so easy to be too serious?”
If we don’t get swept away in a flash flood. If the heat doesn’t kill us. We’ll want to have binoculars handy to see detail.
Something was being subverted here, his traditional language of response. Stillborn images, collapsing time, an idea so open to theory and argument that it left him no clear context to dominate, just crisp rejection.
Every lost moment is the life. It’s unknowable except to us, each of us inexpressibly, this man, that woman. Childhood is lost life reclaimed every second, he said.
I used to sit through the credits, all of them, when I went to the movies. It was a practice that worked against intuition and common sense.
The landscape began to seem normal, distance was normal, heat was weather and weather was heat. I began to understand what Elster meant when he said that time is blind here.
I wasn’t using my cell phone and almost never touched my laptop. They began to seem feeble, whatever their speed and reach, devices overwhelmed by landscape
I’m talking about being yourself. If you reveal everything, bare every feeling, ask for understanding, you lose something crucial to your sense of yourself. You need to know things the others don’t know. It’s what no one knows about you that allows you to know yourself.”
They were as normal as people could be and still be normal, she said. A little more normal, they might be dangerous.
“Time falling away. That’s what I feel here,” he said. “Time becoming slowly older. Enormously old. Not day by day. This is deep time, epochal time. Our lives receding into the long past. That’s what’s out there. The Pleistocene desert, the rule of extinction.”
“Think of it. We pass completely out of being. Stones. Unless stones have being. Unless there’s some profoundly mystical shift that places being in a stone.”
listed a few categories of people in distress, ending with those who come to the desert to commit suicide.
The silence was complete. I’d never felt a stillness such as this, never such enveloping nothing.
I thought of his remarks about matter and being, those long nights on the deck, half smashed, he and I, transcendence, paroxysm, the end of human consciousness. It seemed so much dead echo now. Point omega. A million years away.
She told him she liked the idea of slowness in general. So many things go so fast, she said. We need time to lose interest in things.
She said, “Where are we, geographically?” “The movie starts in Phoenix, Arizona.”
“You’re sure this isn’t a comedy?” she said. “I mean, just looking at it.”
Real time is meaningless. The phrase is meaningless. There’s no such thing
24 Hour Psycho, a videowork by Douglas Gordon, was first screened in 1993 in Glasgow and Berlin. It was installed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in the summer of 2006.