¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Throughout the last few examples of DeLillo’s representations of the objectifying power of the photographic image, the transformation of the real into spectacle, has run an unmistakable thread of violence: the photograph of a photograph of the war, in Americana; Brita’s “shooting” Bill Gray in Mao II, as the Post photographers “shot” Salinger; the photographs of bomb makers and gunmen; the photographer at work on the dead city. Barthes’s suggestion of the equivalence between the photograph and the death of its subject and Virilio’s exploration of the mutually reinforcing development of technologies of visuality and technologies of warfare both suggest the inevitability of such violence in a culture in which the image has replaced a significant portion of the real. This violence takes numerous forms–wars, both declared and undeclared, assassinations, and terrorism, as well as more subtle interpersonal violence–but each form in contemporary culture exists through a kind of collaboration with the image.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Given this dangerously collaborative interrelationship between violent conflict and the spectacle, the cold war stands out in recent history as peculiarly image based, even more so than the Gulf War, despite Baudrillard’s insistence that the latter conflict did not take place except through its images (see Baudrillard). The peculiarity of the cold war, which was literally conducted in and through its images, is both that the images were the conflict’s most significant events, and that the media that conveyed those images developed in tandem with the events themselves. The televised Army-McCarthy hearings; Kennedy on television, announcing the Cuban missile crisis; the aftermath of Kennedy’s assassination; Nixon engaging Khruschev in the kitchen debate– the list of such cross-fertilizations of media and cold-war politics is plentiful. Even more, the technologies that made these events possible–television itself, most obviously, but also its conventions, including the live remote–are less mediators of, or even contributors to, than inventions of those events.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 In Underworld, Don DeLillo not only chronicles the cultural history of the cold war–a prodigious enough feat–but also along the way develops a theory of the twentieth-century forms of electronic media, particularly in their relationships to the cold war itself. His use of radio in the novel, in the form of Russ Hodges’s broadcast of the Dodgers-Giants pennant game, has already been discussed. With regard to the Internet, I will here mention only that the novel may be read, as Adam Begley does in his review, as resembling “Mr. DeLillo’s idea of the World Wide Web” (38), in which cyberspace represents both the potential for post-cold-war revolution–“The real miracle is the web, the net, where everybody is everywhere at once” (DeLillo, U 808)–and the ominous, containing corporate order that may in fact have brought the era to its conclusion: “It is all about the enfolding drama of the computers and fax machines. It is about the cell phones slotted in the desk chargers, the voice mail and e-mail–a sense of order and command reinforced by the office itself and the bronze tower that encases the office and by all the contact points that shimmer in the air somewhere” (806). What I would like to linger over momentarily is the novel’s suggestion of the distinction between film and video in their relations to the period.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Part 2 of Underworld, entitled “Elegy for Left Hand Alone” and set during the period spanning the mid-1980s to the early 1990s, opens with a meditation on a videotape: “It shows a man driving a car. It is the simplest sort of family video” (155). Taken by a twelve-year-old girl on a vacation with her family, the video was intended to be a silly joke “recorded by a child who thought she was doing something simple and maybe halfway clever, shooting some tape of a man in a car” (156). Instead, the girl’s videotape captures the man’s murder at the hands of the Texas Highway Killer. The images, like those of the Rodney King beating, immediately enter the public lexicon, played over and over on the national news. And as with the Rodney King incident, this murder becomes news, and thus only really “happens,” because of the coincidence of the videotape, because there happened to be a camera trained on the events.
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 In fact, the connection of child and camera and murder seems inevitable, despite its equally apparent randomness. The incident becomes metaphorized as a fairy tale, on the one hand, a cautionary tale for children about the dangers of playing with images: “She wandered into it. The girl got lost and wandered clear-eyed into horror. This is a children’s story about straying too far from home. But it isn’t the family car that serves as the instrument of the child’s curiosity, her inclination to explore. It is the camera that puts her in the tale” (U 157). On the other hand, the story is a grown-up one as well. ThatÂ this murder could not have “happened” without the camera, that the camera puts the child in the tale, profoundly implicates the camera as weapon in the murder itself. In fact, as the narrative voice muses, the video camera may, in this murder, have found its true form:
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 And there is something about videotape, isn’t there, and this particular kind of serial crime? This is a crime designed for random taping and immediate playing. You sit there and wonder if this kind of crime became more possible when the means of taping an event and playing it immediately, without a neutral interval, a balancing space and time, became widely available. Taping-and-playing intensifies and compresses the event. It dangles a need to do it again. You sit there thinking that the serial murder has found its medium, or vice versa–an act of shadow technology, of compressed time and repeated images, stark and glary and unremarkable. (159)
¶ 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Thus, the novel suggests, serial playing becomes serial killing; the repetition of images becomes, without metamorphosis, the repetition of murder. The easy exchange in this passage between murder and medium–“or vice versa”–suggests an interrelationship so profound as to be almost casual, and certainly wholly causal.
¶ 8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 If the ultimate Aristotelian form of the videotape can thus be imagined to be the serial killing, Underworld posits the ideal form of film to be the assassination. Klara Sax, a conceptual artist, finds herself in 1974 at a secret exhibition, watching a film loop running in different sequences on a wall of television sets. The film loop is, of course, the finally leaked Zapruder home movie; this film, rather than calling attention to itself as a piece of history or as evidence of conspiracy, becomes for Klara a theory of itself:
¶ 9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 She knew she’d hear from Miles at dinner about the secret manipulation of history, or attempts at such, or how the experts could not seem to produce a clear print of the movie, or whatever. But the movie in fact was powerfully open, it was glary and artless and completely steeped in being what it was, in being film. It carried a kind of inner life, something unconnected to the things we call phenomena. The footage seemed to advance some argument about the nature of film itself. The progress of the car down Elm Street, the movement of the film through the camera body, some sharable darkness–this was a death that seemed to rise from the steamy debris of the deep mind, it came from some night of the mind, there was some trick of film emulsion that showed the ghost of consciousness. Or so she thought to wonder. She thought to wonder if this home movie was some crude living likeness of the mind’s own technology, the sort of death plot that runs in the mind, becauseÂ it seemed so familiar, the footage did–it seemed a thing we might see, not see but know, a model of the nights when we are intimate with our own dying. (495″“96)
¶ 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 The association of film with death–and particularly this most famous, most contested death of the cold-war era–again implicates the medium, the camera, in this shooting. The impossibility of clarifying the images on the one hand connects to the videotape viewer’s impossible struggle to nudge the frame a little to the left to see the killer. On the other hand, given DeLillo’s comments in “The Power of History,” we are meant to sense that the poorer the image quality, the more “real” the event–though for Klara this very reality causes the film to leave the world of the phenomenal and become connected to “the ghost of consciousness.” The film is “artless,” and thus most completely itself in recounting this assassination. The “argument about the nature of film itself “ advanced by this loop–or, rather, advanced by its representation in this novel–irrevocably connects the image with murder. Film is in Underworld murder made historical, conspiratorial; given its “openness,” film is in fact, as the Times likewise suspects, the murder of history, that which renders impossible any unmediated understanding of the real. Videotape is by contrast murder robbed even of its facile historicity, become utterly random, sickeningly repeated. But in both instances, the camera, for DeLillo, is the gun. Baudrillard’s conception of the “murderous power of images” is here literalized; the images are not of violence, but rather are violence itself.
¶ 11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 This connection of camera and gun surfaces most literally in Pynchon’s Vineland, as both the mission and the undoing of 24 fps. This group, formed from the remnants of the Death to the Pig Nihilist Film Kollective (described as a “doomed attempt to live out the metaphor of movie camera as weapon”), incorporates the concept into their manifesto: “A camera is a gun. An image taken is a death performed. Images put together are the substructure of an afterlife and a Judgement” (197). What the collective misunderstood, however–what doomed it to failure–was that these metaphysics of the image do not account for the image’s material (or, rather, immaterial) properties; in any sense that an image can be “taken” and made revolutionary, it can also be taken back. Which is exactly what happens: the power of 24 fps’s images is co-opted by precisely the hegemonic force they’re trying to fight, as Brock Vond first appropriates copies of their footage and then gradually begins directing Frenesi on what to shoot. And then, finally, fatally, whom to shoot. Brock, in persuading Frenesi that her colleague Weed Atman must be killed, plays on her conviction of the interrelationship of camera and gun. When she protests, saying, “I can’t bring a gun in the house,” Brock counters: “But you can bring aÂ camera. Can’t you see, the two separate worlds–one always includes a camera somewhere, and the other always includes a gun, one is make-believe, the other real? What if this is some branch point in your life, where you’ll have to choose between worlds?” (241). Brock thus counters Frenesi’s fears of the gun with her comfort with a camera, finally convincing her that the two are mirror images of one another, and that the gun is real, while the camera is mere reflection.
¶ 12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 In rendering the scene of the Kennedy assassination in Libra, DeLillo repeatedly cuts back and forth between these two vantage points, that of the man (men, that is) with the gun(s) and that of the onlookers, the picture takers, the people with cameras. In these images, as in the Zapruder film, the inevitable connection of the two kinds of shooting is made evident, mushrooming outward into not only a regress of watching, as in the scene of the Most Photographed Barn in America, but an infinite regress of violence:
¶ 13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 A woman with a camera turned and saw that she was being photographed. A woman in a dark coat was aiming a Polaroid right at her. It was only then she realized she’d just seen someone shot in her own viewfinder. There was bloodspray on her face and arms. She thought, how strange, that the woman in the coat was her and she was the person who was shot. She felt so dazed and strange, with pale spray all over her. She sat down carefully on the grass. Just let herself down and sat there. The woman with the Polaroid didn’t move. The first woman sat on the grass, put her own camera down, looked at the colorless stuff on her arms. Pigeons spinning at the treetops. If she was shot, she thought, she ought to be sitting down. (401)
¶ 14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 The woman’s response does not simply enact a kind of dissociation in response to the unreality of the moment; it also betrays the glimmering awareness of the relationship of camera and gun. Having taken a picture of someone who was in the process of the taking–“in her own viewfinder”–struck with a bullet, then on turning to find herself being photographed, the conclusion that she has been shot as well makes the kind of sense that the spectacle encourages: shooting is shooting, with whatever weapon. In this sense, the liminal space between Baudrillard’s disappearing profound reality and the images that are overtaking it is the space in which the image and the bullet become one.
¶ 15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 Throughout Libra, the reader is given the hazy sense that the bloody end of the novel’s rendition of the Kennedy assassination comes about precisely because of the tenuousness of the distinction between image and reality in the cold war. The plot that spins out of control in the novel–the second time inÂ DeLillo’s work that we are reminded of the “tendency of plots to move toward death” (221) –is not a conspiracy to assassinate the president, but a conspiracy to commit the image of the president’s assassination, a mere attempt on his life, a “spectacular miss” (51) that would have the effect of galvanizing the administration and its secret operatives into direct action against Cuba. “We want to set up an event that will make it appear they have struck at the heart of our government” (27, emphasis mine), Win Everett tells his supporters in setting the plot in motion. What goes wrong is not simply indicative of the secret life of plots in contemporary culture, but also the secret life of images; in their representations, both are uncontrollable, both are agents of death. In attempting to create an appearance, Everett unwittingly unleashes the image’s violence on reality.
¶ 16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 By the time of Mao II, the relationship described between the spectacle and violence has become more literal, as terror is conducted in no small part through its representations. As George Haddad, the political scientist spokesperson for the novel’s terrorists suggests, the point of terror is the spectacle it creates and the attention that spectacle draws: “The more heartless, the more visible” (158). The point of kidnappings such as are enacted in the novel, the point of murders, is the images that can result from them; as Haddad tells Bill Gray, on suggesting that he might be used to take the place of the current hostage, such an exchange would enable the kidnappers to “[g]ain the maximum attention. Then probably kill you ten minutes later. Then photograph your corpse and keep the picture handy for the time when it can be used most effectively.” Bill’s print-oriented obsessions, however, lead him to miss the point: “Doesn’t he think I’m worth more than my photograph?” (164), he asks, failing to understand that, for Abu Rashid (as, one might speculate, for Brita, who suggests early in the novel that “[t]he writer’s face is the surface of the work” ), Bill’s picture is worth all of the words he could possibly write. The picture is the act of terror, with a claim to visibility both literal and metaphoric that the writer, and his product, can never match.
¶ 17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 Throughout Mao II these images of violence are replicated, most channeled through the television and its closest viewer, Karen. These images, as I discuss in the next chapter, are largely those of mass death, mass hysteria, mass destruction: the Sheffield soccer-stadium riot, the crushing of the revolt in Tiananmen Square, the Ayatollah Khomeini’s funeral. Karen watches these images in a most literal sense; she leaves the sound on her set off and relies wholly upon its visuals: “It was interesting how you could make up the news as you went along by sticking to picture only” (32), she thinks. But her interaction with these images is not really an invention of the news of the day; it is,Â rather, a merging with their violence on a visceral level. Such is her experience of photography, as well; she looks through books of photographs in Brita’s loft, “amazed at the suffering she found. Famine, fire, riot, war. These were the never-ceasing subjects.” The photographs, in fact, threaten to “overwhelm her” (174), a danger from which she is saved only by their contextualizing captions. The images themselves, in both photographs and television broadcasts, produce a horror that seems to absorb her:
¶ 18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 There were times she became lost in the dusty light, observing some survivor of a national news disaster, there’s the lonely fuselage smoking in a field, and she was able to study the face and shade into it at the same time, even sneak a half second ahead, inferring the strange dazed grin or gesturing hand, which made her seem involved not just in the coverage but in the terror that came blowing through the fog. (117)
¶ 19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 By novel’s end, however, after being exposed to the unmediated spectacle of human suffering in Tompkins Square Park, Karen begins to speculate that, if she is so drawn in, so involved in the images of violence, maybe others are as well. Watching the funeral of the Ayatollah Khomeini, she wonders whether, “[i]f other people watched, if millions watched, if these millions matched the number on the Iranian plain, doesn’t it mean we share something with the mourners, know an anguish, feel something pass between us, hear the sigh of some historic grief?” (MII 191). In this connection experienced between those watching and those watched, in the sympathies thus created, might perhaps lie an end to the violence.
¶ 20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 This vision of unity through watching is undermined by the novel, however, in two regards. First, this moment immediately precedes Karen’s return to preaching the Moonie gospel and is thus posed as a sign not of a radical interconnectedness with the world but of a misguided evacuation of self. And second, the novel demonstrates repeatedly, through its orientalized images of otherness, the ways that such watching functions not to create intersubjective understanding but to heighten the divisions between individuals and their worldviews. As Karen’s father notes during the mass wedding at Yankee Stadium, “I see a lot of faces that don’t look American” (MII 5), thus suggesting that the unions these marriages will create cannot ultimately compete with the divisions of racial and national difference. That Karen later tells Brita that the marriages were arranged entirely via images–“The day before the ceremony Master had looked at photographs of members and he actually matched us by photograph. So I thought how great, I have an Instamatic husband” (183)–only exacerbates the difficulty for the novel of imagining unity through spectacle: human difference is first apprehended visually, and the objectifying force of the photograph and other such visual technologies serve to reify those differences.
¶ 21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 Such a link between visuality and the xenophobic sense of a dangerous otherness plays a key, if underconsidered, role in White Noise. The novel’s title concept is most commonly read as a representation of the static created in contemporary U.S. life by technology, primarily in terms of the electronic media that pervade the novel, endlessly intruding upon its action, a broadcast hum that serves as another “airborne toxic event” at the novel’s center. This is the reading on the surface of the anxiety of obsolescence, which suggests that some essential element of our human nature is under constant assault by the images and technologies of late twentieth-century electronic life. But the repeated surfacing of a set of repressed anxieties about race and ethnicity in the novel suggest that this “white noise” may be fruitfully read as the noise, just out of the range of conscious hearing, made by the novel’s white males as they are surrounded and displaced by members of other races.
¶ 22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 This noise largely comes from Jack Gladney, whose self-proclaimed “invention” of Hitler studies in March 1968 points directly to this sense of the dominant white male under siege: at a moment filled with the possibility of genuine social change, manifested in the United States in the civil rights movement, Jack retrenches himself in the most virulent forms of white supremacy. This shocking representation of what would in the early 1990s have been labeled “white male anger” is of course a backlash against the changes produced by identity politics, and is thus wholly symptomatic of the time: March 1968 was the center of the Prague Spring; in five months, Soviet tanks would roll through the streets of Czechoslovakia. Just as Stalin moved in this historical moment to reign in a freedom that posed a threat to Soviet order and control, so Jack’s specific turn to Hitler is an unavoidable echo of a specific type of European imperial domination, a reassertion of hegemony through military invasion and genocide. But perhaps more pointedly, given the too-apparent nature of the identity politics being asserted in presenting Hitler as an image of white male protest, in March 1968 the country was less than a month away from the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., one attempt at the reassertion of hegemonic control over the discourses of race in the United States. Jack, perhaps unconsciously, frames the very nature of his turn to Hitler during the “airborne toxic event,” when he follows closely behind a pickup truck with extremist bumper stickers: “In situations like this,” he helpfully advises, “youÂ want to stick close to people in right-wing fringe groups. They’ve practiced staying alive” (WN 157). This desire to “stay alive” is an unspoken motive of Jack’s turn to Hitler in 1968, and thus, unavoidably, questions of race, ethnicity, and domination become the subtext of the novel.
¶ 23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 These questions of race and ethnicity in White Noise manifest themselves as a morbid curiosity on Jack’s part about the ethnic backgrounds of those he sees around him. Many of the characters he meets throughout the novel appear “foreign” to him in some undefined sense, and thus become not only the object of speculation about their origins, but also the locus of some vaguely sensed threat. He feels this threat emanating, for instance, from the Sentra-driving “middle-aged Iranian” who delivers his newspaper, though he tries to discount his fears, claiming that it’s the car that makes him nervous: “I tell myself I have reached an age, the age of unreliable menace” (184). The deliberate inscrutability of this comment points precisely to the gentility of Jack’s racism: on the one hand, it sounds as though he is willing to admit that his sense of “menace” is “unreliable,” that, given his age, it arises from an inanimate object, that any threat is his own paranoid construction. On the other hand, the newspaper-delivery man seems himself, in Jack’s eyes, to represent an unreliable menace; given this age, an Iranian driving a Japanese car, delivering a U.S. newspaper, produces a threat that cannot be pinned down.
¶ 24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 Pinning down the nature of the threat, and thus the nature of the other, is one of Jack’s central preoccupations. The threat, for Jack, can potentially be read through the visual characteristics of the other. As he thinks to himself upon finally meeting Willie Mink, a.k.a. “Mr. Gray,” whose indeterminate ethnicity makes his pseudonym appear all too appropriate: “His nose was flat, his skin the color of a Planter’s peanut. What is the geography of a spoon-shaped face? Was he Melanesian, Polynesian, Indonesian, Nepalese, Surinamese, Dutch-Chinese? Was he a composite?” (WN 307). The shape of Mr. Gray’s nose and the color of his skin combine for Jack into a full-fledged but undefined “geography” that foments in him a desperate need to locate, pin down, and contain. “Asian” more generally thus becomes a threat, one that must be controlled by being exoticized. The other option is the complete reification of “Asianness” itself as a quality that wholly defines the outlines of the individual in question, as seen in one of the novel’s many grocery-store encounters:
¶ 25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 The woman waved at Babette and headed toward us. She lived on our street with a teenage daughter and an Asian baby, Chun Duc. Everyone referred to the baby by name, almost in a tone of proud proprietorship, but no one knew who Chun belonged to or where he or she had come from. (39)
¶ 26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 Asianness is here nonthreatening, at least in part because the subject in question is literally an infant. But the baby’s ethnicity, as represented by its name, is something to be owned, something toward which the adults of Jack’s neighborhood can behave in a fashion that masks its orientalizing tone with broad-mindedness. And that ethnicity is acceptable, on some level, because it is the baby’s only aspect; no one knows where the baby “belongs” (clearly not here), where it came from (ditto), or even, apparently, whether it’s a boy or a girl. Otherness is in this case something to be proud of, but only insofar as it has been purchased and displayed in a wholly white context.
¶ 27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 That there remains a clear connection between these racialized concerns and the more apparent concerns about the media in the novel–and thus that the media provides an ideal location for burying the novel’s fears about race and ethnicity–is suggested in a conversation between Jack and his step-daughter Denise, who wants to know why he named his son Heinrich. Jack first claims that Heinrich was born just after he’d started the department of Hitler studies, and thus that “a gesture was called for.” He then admits that he thought the name “forceful,” that it might help make his son “unafraid”:
¶ 28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 “There’s something about German names, the German language, German things. I don’t know what it is exactly. It’s just there. In the middle of it all is Hitler, of course.”
¶ 31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 Hitler–and thus the most virulent form of ethnocentric violence–is at the heart of the electronic media and its participation in images of terror; television, as the primary purveyor of the dominant ideology, carries his message of whiteness and maleness twenty-four hours a day. But it is important to note that, for Jack, who ordinarily locates his “outer torment” in the television set, Hitler somehow justifies television’s existence. Hitler makes it possible for the novel’s characters to blame their “fears and secret desires” (WN 85) on television, rather than being forced to acknowledge their difficult, often inappropriate origins in human difference.
¶ 32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 But the particular nature of the connection between the anxiety of obsolescence–in this case both the obsolescence of the white male in the face of this ethnic onslaught and the obsolescence of the writer in the age of the image–and Jack’s obsession with race and ethnicity becomes especially clear when he meets his son’s friend Orest:
¶ 33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 What kind of name is Orest? I studied his features. He might have been Hispanic, Middle Eastern, Central Asian, a dark-skinned Eastern-European, a light-skinned black. Did he have an accent? I wasn’t sure. Was he a Samoan, a native North American, a Sephardic Jew? It was getting hard to know what you couldn’t say to people. (WN 208)
¶ 34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 This suggests another threat that lurks in visually perceived but uncontained otherness: not knowing what you can’t say to someone of indeterminate ethnicity–the assumption being that what Jack would say might cause offense. This concern might not be based on the desire to make a racist remark, but instead might derive from the fear of “accidentally” saying something offensive. In either case, Jack feels the need to guard his words, a stifling of language that adds to the sense that visuality, and in this case, visually perceived human difference, is among the forces undermining the power of verbal representation.
¶ 35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 The realm of the visual, then, is accused of doing violence both to cultural systems of representation and to the culture’s sense of the human, making such desires to visually categorize and classify people inevitable. The supposed inevitability of this desire to classify serves, however, as a foil for an underlying desire to retain the privilege of whiteness. Of course, as Richard Dyer points out, the visual perception of difference works only through the suppression of whiteness’s visuality: “We are seen, we do not (and could not possibly) actually inhabit the realm of the unseen, observing subject without properties–but because we are seen as white, we characteristically see ourselves and believe ourselves seen as unmarked, unspecific, universal” (45). This belief in the unmarked status of whiteness results in an appropriation of the powers of looking by the white subject; the unmarked universal functions to control the process of marking itself. Thus, in Mao II, some part of the image’s violence arises from its attempts to mark the other as other, to reify difference as dangerous. But there is also a countertendency glimpsed in White Noise, in which television’s distribution of images makes whiteness itself visible. In Jack’s confrontation with Willie Mink, for instance, Mink is able to call attention to what is otherwise suppressed:
¶ 36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 I took another step toward the middle of the room. As the TV picture jumped, wobbled, caught itself in snarls, Mink appeared to grow more vivid. The precise nature of events. Things in their actual state. Eventually he worked himself out of the deep fold, rising nicely, sharply outlined against the busy air. White noise everywhere.
¶ 41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 Mink, as I explore further in the next section, is too intimately connected with the television set, drawing a kind of life from its images, which (along with Jack’s visual assessment of his face) deepens the sense of his otherness in this scene. Despite Jack’s own assumption of a kind of otherness–in which it is suggested that he has only become “visible” because he is dying–Mink’s ability to see his whiteness has deeper implications. From the vantage point of his marginalization, usually relegated to the watched and not permitted to be the watcher, and from his resulting understanding of the image’s manipulations, Mink is able to comment on the novel’s very suppressions.
¶ 42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 The link, then, between the spectacle and violence may not be inevitable, because such a connection requires a particular viewing position for it to be complete. In this manner, in Mao II, while Karen’s father can see only “faces that don’t look American” (5), Karen is able to envision a bond of understanding between those watching and those watched. But these representations repeatedly suggest that the possibility of an intersubjective viewpoint, one that evades the hegemonic determination of the image, requires the subject’s own partial erasure–by the processes of the media, in the case of Mink; by the mass consciousness of the cult, in Karen’s case. Without that erasure, it seems, the viewer is always led to identify with the objectifying perspective of the camera–the camera that bears such a resemblance to the gun.
¶ 43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 0 At the end of Mao II, however, we return to Brita, agent of the image’s spread. With her turn from reifying the writer into commodity form to thinking about bomb makers and gunmen, one wonders if her photographs will similarly defuse their cultural influence, removing them from the real and absorbing them into a specular realm. There is some evidence to suggest that it may; upon Brita’s arrival in Beirut, her cab driver informs her that two rival militias have taken to “firing at portraits of each other’s leader,” a new form of warfare that has resulted in a “new exuberance” (227) among the fighters. Such a turn of events suggests that, if images are a kind of violence, they may also be able to channel violence by diverting everyone’s attention from the real. On the one hand, there’s a perverse sort of optimism in this suggestion, which hints that the photographer at work on the “dead city” may in fact contribute to its continued life by containing its destruction on film. On the other hand,Â there is simultaneously the sense of another threshold being crossed, of a much deeper destruction of the real, in which the image so effaces the real that, paradoxically, it becomes the real.