Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reading Cosmopolis Through Joyce's Ulysses, Freud, Hamlet,Proust, Moby Dick etc

Don DeLillo reading in NYC
Cosmopolis has been interpreted as a modern day James Joyce Ulysses by reviewers. It seems that any novel that takes place in one day gets covered by the Ulysses template. The last one I remember was Ian McEwan's Saturday, a marvelous novel taking place in London during one day with some back story in the thoughts of the main character. Or maybe it was just plain backstory, I can't remember now. So it seems that the Dominating Literary Discourse for a novel that occurs in 24 hours is a self-referencing footnote to Ulysses. And yes it can
certainly be interpreted this way.

Eric Packer begins his journey to get a haircut, to get shorn, just after sunrise. His triplex faces the water on the east side by 1st Ave and 47th Street. He will go West through Hell's Kitchen all the way to the west side, sunset and then darkness and night, where he will meet Death waiting there for him. It is April - Easter.

Eric Packer has been married 22 days. The moon is in the 22nd day of its phase. Eric wants a haircut. To be shorn. Lorn. Delilah betrays Samson who loses his strength when his hair is cut. When it grows out he tears down the pillars of the temple. Eric gets an asymmetrical haircut.

"The disciple of a Sufi of Baghdad was sitting in the corner of an inn
one day when he heard two figures talking. From what they said he
realized that one of them was the Angel of Death.
"I have several calls to make in this city during the next three
weeks," the Angel was saying to his companion.
Terrified, the disciple concealed himself until the two had left. Then
applying his intelligence to the problem of how to cheat a possible
call from death, he decided that if he kept away from Baghdad he
should not be touched. From this reasoning it was but a short step to
hiring the fastest horse available and spurring it night and day
towards the distant town of Samarkand.
Meanwhile Death met the Sufi teacher and they talked about various
people. "And where is your disciple so-and-so?" asked Death.
"He should be somewhere in this city, spending his time in
contemplation, perhaps in a caravanserai," said the teacher.
"surprising," said the Angel; "because he is on my list. Yes, here it
is: I have to collect him in four weeks' time at Samarkand, of all

from: 'Tales of the Dervishes' by Idries Shah
Spencer Tunick Installation Montreal

Again following Ulysses:

We have Hades with all the naked bodies, and Orpheus leading Eurydice back out to the world, only he can't look at her for her to return safely. Samson married only 22 days to his Delilah, his hair growing back, and Eric is shorn, but only half of his head, but he does pull the pillars of the temple down. On top of him. The bicyclist at the end with his arms spread wide, balanced, riding no handed, the winged messenger Mercury/Hermes signaling to him his message.



 The made up words spinctered, prousted. All Joycean signs, dissimulating. Enchanted cookie crumbs _ madeleine cookies? -  leading to the enchanted cottage in the forest where indentured servitude awaits or being roasted in the oven and eaten by the witch.

Remembrance of Things Past

It can be interpreted through Proust. Eric says his limo is prousted. He tells Elise that it is cork-lined. He is journeying all day to return to his childhood, the past. Elise smells sex on him. But it doesn't smell like a madeleine, that famous cookie whose smell brought back all Proust's memories  - involuntary memory  -  and started him on A La Recherche du Temps Perdu. So anyone in the know about Proust will pick up this reference of the quiet limo, and the return to an earlier time that moved very slowly, where there was time for intimacy and contemplation.

By Kenneth Rexroth 1905–1982 Kenneth Rexroth

Somebody has given my
Baby daughter a box of
Old poker chips to play with.   
Today she hands me one while   
I am sitting with my tired   
Brain at my desk. It is red.   
On it is a picture of
An elk’s head and the letters   
B.P.O.E.—a chip from
A small town Elks’ Club. I flip   
It idly in the air and
Catch it and do a coin trick   
To amuse my little girl.
Suddenly everything slips aside.   
I see my father
Doing the very same thing,   
Whistling “Beautiful Dreamer,”   
His breath smelling richly
Of whiskey and cigars. I can   
Hear him coming home drunk   
From the Elks’ Club in Elkhart   
Indiana, bumping the
Chairs in the dark. I can see   
Him dying of cirrhosis
Of the liver and stomach
Ulcers and pneumonia,
Or, as he said on his deathbed, of   
Crooked cards and straight whiskey,   
Slow horses and fast women.

Many girlfans go for the Freudian. His relationship with his mother, watching films after his father had died so they could learn how to be together. The gangster ones where doors got kicked in and victims/victimees  got killed. Carry this thought to  Didi, the older woman perhaps a mother figure,  who gets out of bed when he talks about wanting the entire Rothko Chapel. Or the fact his wife doesn't have sex with him, and so on. Eric feels insecure etc etc etc in the psychological swamp of never ending interpretation.

Following Lacan and Monty Python how about Moby Dick and Ahab's search for the great White Whale Moby Dick. Eric rides in a huge white whale of a  limo and gets tail _ not whale _ all day. What a fluke!
Moby Dick

These are all fun games. Interpretation is accepted literary discourse, in fact it is the Dominating Discourse for lit crit. And it really makes you feel so with it and smart that you know how to decode it. And you can use all of them if you want in a glorious mishmash of erudition. And don't forget Deleuzian flux as Torval lies inert (no flux and flow anymore) and Eric's dead body inert and smelling foul. There's smelling again.

So DeLillo throws out all these signs that distract and send your well conditioned mind to its well traveled rut. These signs dissimulate, they act as masks, to both reveal and conceal DeLillo's secret.

Or we can read Cosmopolis  through Hamlet  by way of doubt. Hamlet's doubts and search for "truth" bring about disaster after disaster.  Didi tells him that he is doubting, an interpretation that Eric denies, (there is no such thing as doubt anymore)and then Vija denies Doubt to him (using the same rationalization) when talking about the yen going up but that it has to come down. With doubt comes ambivalence, and ambivalence is how Marc Schuster organizes his reading of Cosmopolis through Baudrilard.
Marc Schuster
Again that quote from The Foucault Reader: Knowledge is not for knowing;knowledge is for cutting.

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