literature and philosophy reviews

Point Omega: exhaustion and scales (2010)

Published in blog 11/02/2011

Two men are the protagonists of Point Omega. The first one (in the chapters that frame the novel as a prologue and epilogue and are entitled "Anonymity") observes and tries to dive into the work of an artist. The second (in the four central chapters), is observed and accompanied by another artist. The first artist, Douglas Gordon, creates an installation after Hitchcock’s movie Psycho, slowing down its projection so that it lasts 24 hours; the first protagonist, a nameless man, spends hours leaning against the wall, watching. In the four central chapters, the artist is also an experimental filmmaker who tries to make a film about a man against a wall, but in this case the man speaks and tells his experience (these four chapters, in which the narration runs for several weeks, are paradoxically framed by the other two dated respectively 3rd and 4th September, ie, compressed to 24 hours). The two protagonists, the two men leaning against the wall, try to rest from their individuality, to give up thinking, to renounce to their consciousness. The first one tries to accommodate the film’s slow time, letting himself be taken by the images; the second one retires to the desert, trying to identify with the permanence of the landscape, the stones, to abandon himself to the cyclical rhythm, the blinding sun, the heat that burns his body.  We know nothing about the first man; the second, we know he is a conservative intellectual who was closed for two years in a room at the Pentagon with other military and intellectuals, building on the fiction that served as a basis for the Iraq war and to design the postwar . This second man has published an essay titled ‘Rendition’ and lectured in Switzerland on ‘The dream of extinction’. At one point in the novel he reflects on the ‘point omega’, a turning point in human being’s evolution, when the motion of matter to consciousness is interrupted by a conscious desire to return to the matter.

This thought, which justifies the desire to annul individuality and to get lost in the slow time or the empty space, is offset by other need that never goes away –the need for relationship. Elster does not bear to be alone; that’s why he accepts the company of the young filmmaker although he’s not interested in his project; that’s why his second ex-wife, knowing her, sends their daughter Jessie to visit him. And the anonymous man imagines in the first part of the novel to find a woman to talk to, a woman who he finally meets (in the last chapter) and manages to get her phone number. Young people are given the hope of a relationship that may eventually turn into a sexual or emotional relationship. For old people that relationship is nothing but a comfort. However, in the novel’s approach, any relationship, both four younger and older, it is merely a postponment.Both tensions, toward annihilation and toward relationships, are balanced in the novel. In the anonymous character, a desire of relationship prevails, but at the end he is actually absorbed by the film. In Ester’s speech, annihilation tension prevails, but he surrenders to the cares of the young. Thought and affection intersects without the characters realising that they operate in different scales.

Affection is reduced to an organic relationship (the narrator’s dream with Jessie, or his physical relationship to Elster) The consciousness gets radical and it becomes mathematics. The crystalline structure of the novel, the ruthless treatment of narrative, where logic commands above time, the (fictional) talent of the anonymous character for multi-digit multiplications, they all point a fascination with mathematics as a means of knowledge and domination of reality. Elster’s desire for a return to organic matter involves the thought of a world without consciousness, but still obeying to the laws of mathematics. Is it not the hyperconsciousness the nearest state to the absence of consciousness? What remains in the middle is the field of life, since mathematics is by definition beyond organic, beyond the limit of experience. The excess of consciousness produces a desire for non-consciousness. Hyperconsciousness and non-consciousness are inhumane. They create a space where life is impossible.

Elster’s nihilism leads him to claim that ‘all government is a criminal enterprise’, while he collaborates with his own government to draw a new map, which in its translation to reality implies domination and assumes ‘collateral damages’. But real death is not like imagined or projected death. Death, which in mathematical game is the condition of infinitude, in life’s real game, discovers the shock of finitude. In the scales transfer a mistake happens that announces chaos. Jessie’s death opens the space of complexity. The reality of human beings resists the reality of philosophical abstraction as well as the mathematical abstraction. The exhaustion of hiperconsciousness, the desire to return to matter are silenced by the real, individual death, by the imagination of blood, the body losing its warmth. And the radical intelligentsia is disrupted by an episode caused by the passion and the brutality of an unknown outside of any constructed fiction.

The exhaustion of hiperconsciousness appears then as fear to complexity, not the mathematic complexity, but that one that escapes to its logic. The renounce or rejection to take into consideration the multiplicity of human reality hidden laziness, that of facing a chaos that cannot be so easily formalized as the one that mathematics allow to think. Elster projects his individual, physical and biographical tiredness on the whole humanity. He also project the tiredness of a white conservative western intellectual. The success of his thesis would not only snatch lives, richness and culture from other people, but also would deny the possibility of hope to millions of children and young humans, depriving them of the right to think alternatives for happiness and meaning. Elster formulate his devastating reflections with the same conviction that he designed the fictions for the war, a conviction that offers a justification for cynicism.

The anonymous character in search of his annihilation in 24 Hour Psycho is inoffensive (actually he likely will come back from the abyss of the screening and will get a date with the unknown woman). The one in search of his annihilation in historical reality is highly dangerous and in any case guilty. No transcendent power will judge him, but he is guilty in front of people’s morality.

Philosophically, Elster’s ideas may be indisputable and be understood as the negative version of the postulates of the sustainers of new realism, although by their there is no exhaustion, but a titanic will of thinking a world without thought. It is, as Quentin Meillaxous proposes, to go beyond the correlationist circle and recover for the rationalisth though the ability of thinking the absolute, so that this can be thought in alternatives way to the sacred absolute, a monopoly of religions (although the philosophical absolute may not be represented by the figure of God, but by the non-figure of Chaos). The enterprise of new realist philosophers finds its justification in the necessity of facing the return of religions in the political arena by occupying the field of absolute that philosophy abandoned more than two centuries ago. However, the horizon that comes out of their proposal may be as distressing as the one devised by Elster.

Don de Lillo produces what his character denies: a new fiction whose categorical structure and the relentless run of words that compose it are only held by the presence of two men who look at other men. In a by science radically disenchanted universe, literature cannot exploit anymore fantasy or mystery niches – these have been thrown away. Only religions insist in exploiting that non-space conceived as outside space to create the absolutes that allow them to exercise their annihilating task on freedom and subjectivity. Literature places then itself very close to philosophy, taking the function of constructing non-idealist and non-idealising fictions, from where to answer both the dreams of extinction and the submission to anachronic trascendences. In the tension between a mathematizable reality and a conscious fiction resides the possibility of thinking a complexity in which one can only survive by managing correctly the scales. The wife of the narrator (the experimental filmmaker) is right when asking him: ‘Why is it so hard to be serious, so easy to be too serious?’ A simple problem of scales.

José A. Sánchez

London, January 2011


Don de Lillo, Point Omega, Scribner, New York, 2010

Quentin Meillassoux, Après la finitude. Essai sur la nécessité de la contingence, Seuil, París, 2006.