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Impure Spaces

Local places are not simply always the victims of the global; nor are they always politically defensible redoubts against the global. For places are also the moments through which the global is constituted, invented, coordinated, produced.

—Doreen Massey, “Geographies of Responsibility”

As Packer proceeds on his journey towards his personal inferno, the novel offers previews of his fall, intimately intertwined with the global economic cataclysm he unleashes. Over and over again, his readings fail, and his confidence that the yen could go no higher, as he repeats over and over again, and that he could recoup his losses in a market swing, constantly fail. Symbolically, this gradual disconnection between his readings of the new meta-narrative of money surfaces as the limo approaches the financial district, the actual location where the global space of flows is orchestrated. Although initially dismissed as theatrical, the anticapitalist demonstration outside the NASDAQ Center has a way of interfering with this abstraction of reality, for it is the power of place, of the space of places, that seems to puncture the smooth surface of the space of flows. As the protesters advance towards the limo, Packer and his chief of theory realize that the protest made more sense on TV. Both the capitalist and his aide see the demonstrators, yet their ontological quality is held in abeyance, as if caught in the loop of time before proper digitalization. What they see out of the window has the status of another semblance, simply because, as Zizek explains, it is real. That is, “on account of its traumatic/excessive character, we are unable to integrate it into (what we experience as) our reality, and are therefore compelled to experience it as a nightmarish apparition” (2002, 19). In being unable to decipher the “locally real” when they see it, both characters seem to embrace Baudrillard’s definition of the real as “that of which it is possible to give an equivalent reproduction” (1983, 146). The issue, however, is how “equivalent” the digital reproduction is. The conventional waves, the novel reveals, cannot accommodate the image of horror that the protest generates, for, as Zizek claims, “the ultimate truth of the capitalist utilitarian despiritualized universe is the dematerialization of ‘real life’ itself” (2002, 14). What happens, however, when an insistent reality refuses to be dematerialized? Such is the encounter with the real that DeLillo anatomizes in the financial district. The “Prousted” limo is stalked by the angry anticapitalist demonstrators who occupy the premises of capitalism. Unlike Packer’s metastatic occupation, the protesters’ is site- specific and works as a reminder that the local has a role in the global and that places and buildings are also agents in the production of the global. Unable to confront their materiality, Packer finds that their location outside the car is less significant than their actual presence on the screen, for as Vija Kinski assures Packer, they are “a fantasy generated by the market. They don’t exist outside the market” (90). The reason for this impossibility is that “there is nowhere they can go to be on the outside. There is no outside” (ibid.). This is the core belief underlying the fluid, metastasizing reality Kinski talks about. Reality is the market, and there is no way to escape it, for resisting it confirms involuntary belonging. The protesters enact a form of controlled subversion that ensures the market’s power of containment. In their ignorance, Kinski explains to Packer, they do not know that the market culture dominates everything and it breeds people like them: “They are necessary to the system they despise” (ibid.). That is the only reason why they exist, “to invigorate and perpetuate the system” (ibid.).

However, there seems to be a glitch in the system. The vision of the cars in flames, the rubber bullets, the barricades, the desecration of the limo, as well as the detonation of a bomb outside an investment bank, and the storming of the building insistently provide a different version of a reality and a space outside the market. It is the vision of the man on fire, aptly described as “a break in space” (96), that changes Packer’s perception. He had not been moved by what he calls the theatrics of the protest and was happy to think of it as “a form of systemic hygiene, purging and lubricating” (99), but the digitalized man on fire proves Kinski wrong: “The market was not total. It could not claim this man or assimilate his act. Not such starkness and horror. This was a thing outside its reach” (99-100), Packer ponders. The incident is significant because it breaks the purified space of the limo. Packer shows empathy for the man on fire as he asks Kinski to “imagine the pain. Sit there and feel it” (100). For the first time in the novel, Packer is able to locate meaning in the physicality of the body. The power of personal space, the space of all spaces, erupts into the global and the space of flows. The body shows that it is not inert. It acts and reacts, and generates “what is new, surprising, unpredictable” (Grosz 1994, xi). It is the return to the space of the body in the midst of the abstract body-in-space, to return to Lefebvre’s terminology. The burning body will turn into a fixture, a lingering presence that will haunt Packer just like Bar- tleby haunted the lawyer. Packer will, in fact, repeat this self-immolation when, ejected by the very system he has contributed to creating, he faces his own death as another man outside the market. Pain breaks through the armored sense of the virtual and becomes an index of the real. The vision of the self-immolation stands as another hysteron proteron of Packer himself. It also anticipates the waves of protests that, starting in Tunisia, would manage to shake the foundations of political and economic systems in countries such as Argentina, Spain, and the U.S. with the OWS movement.

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