Andrew O'Hagan places the novel Falling Man in the trajectory of Don DeLillo's writing, suggesting that it is the novelist's "interest in the conjunction of visual technology and terrorism that really sets DeLillo's mentality apart— a setting apart which also put him on the road to having September 11 as his subject long before the events of that day happened." DeLillo has written elsewhere: "Some stories never end."
Even in our time, in the sightlines of living history, in the retrieved instancy of film and videotape, there are stories waiting to be finished, open to the thrust of reasoned analysis and haunted speculation. These stories, some of them, also undergo a kind of condensation, seeping into the texture of everyday life, barely separable from the ten thousand little excitations that define a routine day of visual and aural static processed by the case-hardened consumer brain.
As DeLillo pressed the keys (and returned the carriage) to create the following passage, Atta was on American soil and in daily contact with his fellow conspirators while training on flight simulators at a rented house in Florida:
"His future is not under construction. It is already there, susceptible to entry.
She had it on tape.
She did not want to believe this was the case. It was her future too. It is her future too.
She played the tape a dozen times.
It means your life and death are set in place, just waiting for you to keep the appointments."
All these passages, written over the course of a career, could be understood to evoke something very like a terrorist's trajectory toward an encounter with the twin towers, but they also describe the journey made by a singular American novelist toward the day of days for his preoccupations as an artist and his brio as a stylist. If the twin towers could be said to have stood in wait for the Mohamed Attas of the world, then the Mohamed Attas of the world were standing in wait for Don DeLillo. To have something exist as your subject before it happens is not unprecedented in the world of literature—consider Kafka and the Nazis, Scott Fitzgerald and the Jazz Age— but the meeting of September 11 and Don DeLillo is not so very much a conjunction as a point of arrival, and a connection so powerful in imaginative terms that it instantly blows DeLillo's lamps out.
Reading Falling Man, one feels that September 11 is an event that is suddenly far ahead of him, far beyond what he knows, and so an air of tentative rehearsal sounds in an empty hall. What is a prophet once his fiery word becomes deed? What does he have to say? What is left of the paranoid style when all its suspicions come true?
Yet in the way he frames his critique, perhaps O'Hagan makes the case that both this review and the novel, in the context of the DeLillo's life's work, are essential reading if we hope to make sense of the post-9/11 world, and what it has wrought. Perhaps O'Hagan has asked, and answered, the question, "What is a prophet once his fiery word becomes deed?"
For O'Hagan's full review (recommended) click here.