Don Delillo, Point Omega
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. This is when we sat and watched in silence.
Today I finished reading “Point Omega” by Don Delillo. I have wanted to read one of his novels for a while and though this is a slip of a novella, I certainly enjoyed it. I accidentally came across it when I looked at the wikpedia page for Pierre Teilhard de Chardin last week as part of research for another post that I am writing. “Point Omega” seemed short and in keeping with what I wanted to write about, so I used my usual quick-draw finger on amazon and bought the thing.
First, who is Pierre Teilhard de Chardin anyway? Well it won’t harm the other post to tell you a bit about him: he was a French Jesuit pastor who wrote and thought about the evolution of ideas. Specifically he developed the concept of the noosphere (building on earlier work by Vernadsky, who to my shame I know nothing about), a space in which knowledge and philosophies exist as tangible objects. The classic example is the one that is sampled on the Orb’s track O.O.B.E that opens their album “U.F.Orb”: if civilisation were destroyed but people and their knowledge remained, the world could be reconstructed pretty much as it was before, but if all the knowledge were destroyed (say the written and digital records of humanity’s great achievements) then perhaps the world as it was could never be reconstructed, at least not until the contents of the noosphere were re-discovered.
Teilhard de Chardin also proposed the concept of the so-called “Omega Point”, a point of ultimate knowledge and inter-connectedness to which humanity might evolve that would be a fixed point for the species. It is this concept that underpins the short and puzzling novella by Don Dellilo. The first task is to unravel exactly how it all pertains to the plot, not that there is much of one. A film-maker goes into the desert to try to convince a US apparatchik (Richard Elster) of the 2003 invasion of Iraq to discuss his role in sugar-coating the war in a bizarre interview-cum-art-film. After a while Richard’s daughter Jessie shows up and then she disappears. The action (such as it is) is bookended by two short episodes sent in front of an art installation featuring the film Psycho slowed to a pace that causes the film to last for 24 hours.
“We’re a crowd, a swarm. We think in groups, travel in armies. Armies carry the gene for self-destruction. One bomb is never enough. The blur of technology, this is where the oracles plot their wars. Because now comes the introversion. 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.”
In some ways the slowed down version of Psycho is the Omega Point alluded to in the title, human actions slowed down to a glacial pace and stripped of meaning. The sensational deaths in the film (like the infamous shower scene) are put into a context where they no longer have any sense of emotional connection for the viewer. The person watching the installation in both episodes fixates on other details that are unseen, just as Elster focussed on things that did not matter while glossing over the war for his masters (declaring that he wanted a “haiku” war, of all things). The film maker also lets things slip between the frames and cannot observe everything, cannot make sense of Jessie’s disappearance.
The writing is spare with short empty sentences. It’s all pretty inscrutable. Yet somehow it satisfies with its tease of an ending and its pretension. It’s short enough for me to reread it again some day and in the mean time I will start looking into reading one of Delillo’s longer novels. If you have any suggestions as to which one, I would love to know in the comments!