The insistent realism of
Don DeLillo’s ‘Falling Man’
and Paul Auster’s ‘Man in the Dark’
During the last decade, many theorists and writers have remarked the peculiar fictionalisation of the facts of 9/11. For instance, as Salman Rushdie explains, “we all crossed a frontier that day, an invisible boundary between the imaginable and the unimaginable, and it turned out to be the unimaginable that was real” (Rushdie 2002: 436-437). Martin Amis pointed out that September 11 “marked the apotheosis of the postmodern era – the era of images and perception” (Amis 2001: G2). Similarly, in relation to the September 11 attacks, Slavoj Žižek argued that “in contrast to the Barthesian effet du réel, in which the text makes us accept its fictional product as ‘real’, here, the Real itself, in order to be sustained, has to be perceived as a nightmarish unreal spectre” (Žižek 2002: 19). The Western perception of reality was abruptly disturbed by the fall of one of the symbols of late capitalism operated by terrorist attacks that looked as if they appeared from another, external and exotic, dimension. As Žižek states,
We should therefore invert the standard reading according to which the WTC explosions were the intrusion of the Real which shattered our illusory sphere: quite the reverse - it was before the WTC collapse that we lived in our reality, perceiving Third World horrors as something which was not actually part of our social reality, as something which existed (for us) as a spectral apparition on the (TV) screen - and what happened on September 11 was that this fantasmatic
9/11/2011 – 11/2011
screen apparition entered our reality. It is not that reality entered our image: the image entered and shattered our reality (i.e. the symbolic coordinates which determine what we experience as reality) (Ibid.: 16).
On the literary side, many U.S. novelists such as Jonathan Safran Foer (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, 2005), Jay McInerney (The Good Life, 2006), Ken Kalfus (A Disorder Peculiar to the Country, 2006), Don DeLillo (Falling Man, 2007), John Updike (The Terrorist, 2007) and Paul Auster (Man in the Dark, 2008) attempted to confront the events of 9/11 and its aftermath. The aim of this article is to understand how Don DeLillo’s Falling Man and Paul Auster’s Man in The Dark tried to find a way to present the uncanny events of 9/11 and the subsequent horrors of the Iraq war through a complex recourse to realism. Both Auster and DeLillo have been defined as two of the most relevant authors of the postmodernist American literature of the last decades. DeLillo has been often considered “the pre-eminent analyst of the age of the spectacle, the poet laureate of the simulacrum, of the depthless image floating above a social vacuum” (Evans 2006: 104), while, at the same time, since the publication of City of Glass (1985), “Paul Auster was hailed as the latest in a series of American authors who could be labeled ‘postmodernist’” (Brendan 2008: 1). The works of fiction published by these two authors seem to share what Hans Bertens defines as the “common denominator” of all the numberless definitions of Postmodernism, namely “a crisis in representation, a deeply felt loss of faith in our ability to represent the real, in the widest sense” (Bertens 1995: 11). However, if we can still notice the attitude to diagnose this crisis of representation in their latest works of fiction, such as DeLillo’s Underworld (1997) or Auster’s Oracle Nights (2004), we can undoubtedly remark “a restoration of access to the real” (Evans 2006: 104) and an attention “to the transient nature of human existence” (Brendan 2008: introd., x).1
In Falling Man and in Man in the Dark this double tendency towards the crisis of representation results particularly linked to the uncanny nature of the WTC attacks and the Iraq war and the subsequent traumas turning character’s lives and behaviours upside down....
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