'Point Omega' Explores Complexity and Consciousness
'Point Omega' by Don DeLillo (Scribner)
One could easily consume Don DeLillo’s “Point Omega” in a single sitting. Constructed of deliciously clear prose, the deceptively short fifteenth novel from the award-winning author of “White Noise” clocks in at a mere 117 pages, each of which gives the impression of a schoolboy’s essay that fell too far below page count; the line spacing feels tampered with, the sheets seem to contain a curiously low ratio of text to paper. Between each of the six sections lies a blank page—more space, another pause.
It’s as though the book is working against an inclination to condense—a reasonable concern for a story that, despite its size, centers itself around big questions, such as the unknowable power of space and time to erase, restructure, recreate. As usual, DeLillo’s concern for the shadow of self-consciousness falls over this work, altering the gravity of his story’s simple plot.
On September 3, a man visits a small dark room in New York’s Museum of Modern Art to witness “24 Hour Psycho”—a video installation by Douglas Gordan exhibited during the summer of 2006—as he has supposedly done every day. As Gordan’s title implies, Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal film has been slowed, and the man relishes the new perspective, the ability to circle the projection screen, scrutinizing and observing in a typically unattainable way. Two men—one old, one young—walk in, and he imagines them to be kindred spirits, sorely interpreting their departure ten minutes later as a personal snub. He wishes for a female companion to discuss with him the black-and-white, soundless film in this quiet, dark room, hidden inside the busiest museum in the busiest city, a tangle of manmade structures and concepts.
In decided contrast to this shadowy room is the location of the bulk of the story’s chapters, in which the aforementioned pair of men reappear as Richard Elster, a former scholar employed by the military to “conceptualize,” and Jimmy Finley, the young filmmaker who wishes to record Elster’s account of his experience in one, long take. After initial resistance to the idea, Elster invites Jimmy to stay with him in the vast remoteness of a Western desert—“Not a long visit, he’d said.” But the arbitrariness of such adjectives becomes apparent as days turn to weeks and then, presumably, into months. When Elster’s daughter Jessie comes to stay, at the behest of her mother who worries about Jessie’s new male companion, her presence offers Jimmy a new way to see Elster and her father a point of focus. However, we learn that all such points fade in and out of focus.
The first chapter opens: “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.” This, the abstract framework, is the most important aspect of DeLillo’s novel, more so than a development of characters or the lack thereof, the progression of plot or its absence altogether.
For DeLillo, the tension between individual consciousness and history, inner reality and outer reality, is at the core of his characters’ existences. “We’re a crowd, a swarm,” Elster says. “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.”
The omega point is the ultimate development of complexity and consciousness, toward which all intellectual evolution must be heading, a position free from the constraints of space and time.
Somewhere between the overwhelming structure of the city and the natural expressions of time manifested in the desert, between the two, exact days that mark the beginning and end of the book and the melting of months that comprise its body, DeLillo tries to grasp the blend of individual and society. There exists a communal desire to understand others while trying to maintain one’s sense of self.
The novel’s final section takes place on September 4. A woman arrives on this day, stands beside the man to watch the film. “She said, ‘What would it be like, living in slow motion?’ If we were living in slow motion, the movie would be just another movie. But he didn’t say this.’” By this day, the movie’s slowness no longer lends him clarity; he can’t be certain of the details he’s witnessed, is unsure of the number of times he’s watched a particular scene. On any scale, then, things begin to blur after a while, one becomes unsure of one’s self.
Minutes later, the man tells the woman that as a young child he would often multiply numbers in his head. She responds that she would watch the ways lips formed words, and could decipher their messages without hearing: “The face had brightened slightly when he talked about the numbers he did in his head as a kid. Not brightened but sort of loosened, her eyes showing interest. But the story wasn’t true. He did not multiply large numbers in his head, ever. This was something he said sometimes because he thought it would help explain him to others.” Between these two, an understanding is exchanged, a balance between individual thoughts and interactions with the rest of the world. Its brevity does not diminish its seeming importance. “Point Omega” demonstrates that DeLillo is a master of his craft, not simply because he understands what it can do, but because he also feels its restraints.
—Staff writer Beryl C.D. Lipton can be reached at email@example.com.