The Most Photographed Barn in America

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Given the degree of influence attributed to television in U.S. culture–remember the Times‘s chronology, in which image culture was founded by television–it comes as a momentary surprise to reflect that the image need not move or employ sound to threaten the displacement of the novelist in his role as cultural producer. McLuhan, in claiming that “the step from the age of Typographic Man to the age of Graphic Man was taken with the invention of photography” (190), makes clear that the most basic technologies of image production were sufficient to create the circumstances of the novel’s undoing.[19] This is true at least in part because the production of the image in particular is tied to commodity production in general. As Fredric Jameson argues, ” ‘[t]he image,’ said Debord in a famous theoretical move, ‘is the final form of commodity reification’; but he should have added ‘the material image,’ the photographic reproduction” (125). The overt commercialism of network television, in other words, was not the necessary element in the absorption of signifying power within the corporate media machine; still photography itself already contains within it the mechanism for transforming the real into image, and thus into commodity.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 We might best begin to approach this connection between commodity reification and photography in DeLillo through a return to White Noise and “the Most Photographed Barn in America,” to which Jack Gladney takes Murray Jay Siskind. Murray is, as one might expect, a font of theories about the phenomenon of the barn. After an initial note-taking silence, during which he watches the orderly picture taking, the approved picture-taking locations, and the sale of official picture postcards and slides, he puts forth his first theory: “No one sees the barn. . . . Once you’ve seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn.” Murray here echoes Walker Percy on the impossibility of seeing the Grand Canyon; the real has been overcome by the process of signification surrounding it (see Percy). His second pronouncement invokes Benjamin’s argument about the destruction of “aura” by the technologies of mass reproduction, claiming that by some twist, in the contemporary, “every photograph reinforces the aura” (12) (see Benjamin 221). In contrast to the democratizing force Benjamin hoped for, the mechanical reproduction of the image has wound up having more in common with Horkheimer and Adorno’s sense of the culture industry, in which the functionalization of cultural experience leads to a fascistic meaninglessness. As Murray finally concludes, “We’ve agreed to be part of a collective perception. . . . We can’t get outside the aura. We’re part of the aura” (12″“13). The photograph solidifies a corporate ideology in such a fashion that the entire cultural experience becomes commodified; the picture takers, taking pictures of one another taking pictures, ultimately become part of the spectacle itself.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 As does Murray, it appears, in finding himself “immensely pleased” (WN 13) with his own pronouncements: Murray’s mobilizations of cultural theory appear at first to further the novel’s desire to expose the fraudulence of the barn’s claims to provide an enlightening visual experience, but that those mobilizations involve a number of crucial inversions in the theories he references seems finally to shift focus from the barn to Murray, from the spectacle proper to the academic approach to that spectacle. One of those inversions, that in the concept of “aura,” has already been mentioned; that inversion undermines Benjamin’s suggestion that the mechanically produced and reproduced image could democratize art by removing it from its ritual function and broadening access to its representations, allowing for a revolutionary displacement in intellectual hierarchies. Instead, in its postmodern inversion, this broadened access has deprived art of meaning, has reinforced its ritual value through its commodification and thus made it the tool by which the willing masses aid in their own oppression.[20] Is this shift from liberation to fascism, from the Benjaminian revolutionary proletariat to the Adornoan fascistic mass, meant to suggest that Murray, as a member of the intellectual elite, fancies himself immune to the forces by which the poor dupes taking and buying the pictures of the barn are so swayed? Or is it the novel, which controls the force of the image by recasting its representations into language, and which, as we’ll explore further in the next chapter, ostensibly escapes the fascistic urges of the crowd by promoting the individualist experience of reading, that declares itself so immune?

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 This interpretation could probably be resolved in either direction–but for the inversion buried in Murray’s first pronouncement: “Once you’ve seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn” (WN 12). I suggested a moment ago that this was an echo of Walker Percy’s analysis of the modern inability to truly see the Grand Canyon–except that for Percy it was the postcard snapshot of the Grand Canyon that made its material existence invisible. The proliferation of images of an object, such as we see surrounding this barn, renders the reality of the barn inaccessible; everyone looking at the barn is doing so through a mediating lens. For Murray, by contrast, it is the signs that render the barn unseeable, the five road signs that directed Murray and Jack to this place, textual signs announcing “THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED BARN IN AMERICA.” Thus, in Murray’s revision, reading inhibits or disrupts the visual experience; rather than images destroying text, text undermines the image. In his implied nostalgia for a lost visual experience, Murray moves outside the novel’s own perspective to become the object of its critique. Thus we might reencounter his final pronouncement on the barn:

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 “What was the barn like before it was photographed?” he said. “What did it look like, how was it different from other barns, how was it similar to other barns? We can’t answer these questions because we’ve read the signs, seen the people snapping the pictures. We can’t get outside the aura. We’re part of the aura. We’re here, we’re now.”

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 He seemed immensely pleased by this. (13)

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Murray’s pleasure ambiguously suggests a willingness to join the aura, to participate in the endless replication of the spectacle, or a satisfaction with his own analysis, an interpretation of the spectacle that ends with the meaninglessly tautological assertion of hereness and nowness. In either case, while Murray understands the act of sign reading to have undermined the production of meaning from the barn, shifting it from its previously (one assumes) functional existence to its new status as event, the novel suggests that the type of reading Murray performs equally obscures the meaning of the scene. Thus the novel gets to have its cake and eat it too, in a sense, both critiquing the barn as event and critiquing the critique, suggesting that in its transformation of the experience of text into an obstacle to seeing, cultural theory has done as much to undermine the act of reading as has the image. By this reading, the image may commodify objects, but cultural theory further commodifies the image, wrapping it in a new intellectual aura.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Another, younger, postmodern novelist, David Foster Wallace, connects this scene to the “metastasis of watching” he claims has been created by television, pointing out in it an infinite regress of spectators: “not only are people watching a barn whose only claim to fame is being an object of watching, but the pop-culture scholar Murray is watching people watch a barn, and his friend Jack is watching Murray watch the watching, and we readers are pretty obviously watching Jack the narrator watch Murray watching, etc.” (“Pluram” 48). But one must note that, with this enumeration, Wallace eliminates the novelist from the regress of watching; DeLillo is somehow exempt from this chain of spectation. Moreover, Wallace, in linking Jack and Murray into the chain, conflates the critic with the audience, which amounts to an equation of watching and critical interpretation. Wallace reduces Murray’s interpretation of and commentary on this popular event to “watching the watching,” erasing the writing that Murray performs within the scene, both literal (as he is throughout “scrawling some notes” [WN 12]) and figurative (recasting the event in theoretical terms). Our own reading of this text is turned into watching as well, as though there were not experiential or interpretive differences between a novel and a film. Reading, interpreting, theorizing–all of which comprise the work of the critic–are by this argument reincorporated by and contained within the spectacle. In fact, Wallace derides Murray’s academic attempts to remove himself from the role of spectator:

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 most of the writing’s parodic force is directed at Murray, the would-be transcender of spectation. Murray, by watching and analyzing, would try to figure out the how and whys of giving in to collective visions of mass images that have themselves become mass images only because they’ve been made the objects of collective vision. The narrator’s “extended silence” in response to Murray’s blather speaks volumes. (“Pluram” 49)

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Murray’s analysis, his attempts to understand this “collective vision,” is thus transformed by Wallace into blather, while Jack’s silent observation inverts into commentary; in fact, Wallace suggests that Jack is “DeLillo’s alter ego” in the scene of the Most Photographed Barn in America, capable of “diagnos[ing] the very disease from which he, Murray, barn-watchers, and readers all suffer” (ibid.). Here again, the compression of the various relationships to the object of sight of narrator, critic, participant, and reader into one uniform, diseased perspective speaks more about the conflict between the novelist and the culture of watching (and, not incidentally, about the conflict between the novelist and the academic) than about the critic, the scholar, or the reader at all. In reducing Murray’s analysis to mere blather, Wallace recasts Jack as the novel’s silent diagnostician, the novelist’s stand-in. And in exempting the novelist from the regress of watching, in giving his writing “parodic force,” Wallace suggests that DeLillo is the only player able to escape, and thus to transcend, the threatening culture of visuality.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Jack’s silence in this scene, however, may be read more pointedly as commentary not on Murray’s blather but on his own compromised state within the novel, a state that hardly lends itself to the kind of diagnostic prowess Wallace suggests. Jack is after all an academic himself, chair of the department of Hitler studies at the College-on-the-Hill. The one salient detail that the novel provides of Jack’s academic life–that he “invented” Hitler studies in March 1968–is the key to White Noise‘s reduction of the critic and scholar in the age of television, for what Jack studies is not Hitler’s texts, not the political-historical significance of Hitler’s reign of terror through Europe, but Hitler as image. The only class he still teaches at the College-on-the-Hill is described in cataloguelike terms as “Advanced Nazism, three hours a week, restricted to qualified seniors, a course of study designed to cultivate historical perspective, theoretical rigor and mature insight into the continuing mass appeal of fascist tyranny, with special emphasis on parades, rallies and uniforms, three credits, written reports” (WN 25). The irony of “written reports” in such a class aside, the course description betrays in its concern with “parades, rallies and uniforms” a focus on the visual aspects of Nazism, a focus that transforms National Socialism into a series of snapshots. This reduction of the historical realities of fascism into its images becomes even more disturbing when Jack reveals that “as the most prominent figure in Hitler studies in North America, I had long tried to conceal the fact that I did not know German. I could not speak or read it, could not understand the spoken word or begin to put the simplest sentence on paper” (31). Not only, then, does Jack fail to examine the substance of Nazism in his scholarly life, he is incapable of doing so; this mortifying inability to engage with the textual materials of his field reinforces the reader’s suspicion that, for Jack, Hitler is about watching:

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Every semester I arranged for a screening of background footage. This consisted of propaganda films, scenes shot at party congresses, outtakes from mystical epics featuring parades of gymnasts and mountaineers–a collection I’d edited into an impressionistic eighty-minute documentary. Crowd scenes predominated. Close-up jostled shots of thousands of people outside a stadium after a Goebbels speech, people surging, massing, bursting through the traffic. Halls hung with swastika banners, with mortuary wreaths and death’s-head insignia. Ranks of thousands of flagbearers arrayed before columns of frozen light, a hundred and thirty anti-aircraft lights aimed straight up–a scene that resembled a geometric longing, the formal notation of some powerful mass desire. There was no narrative voice. Only chants, songs, arias, speeches, cries, cheers, accusations, shrieks. (25″“26)

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 These visual materials in their “geometric” quality suggest that “formal notation” in contemporary culture has come to be connected with a distinctly nonnarrative, nontextual form of inscription, inchoate collections of image and sound. Jack’s role in producing this documentary pointedly fails to account for the political import of these images; he merely “edited” them together, resisting analysis and interpretation by refusing to include a “narrative voice.” The inclusion of such narration, the novel seems to suggest, could appropriately contextualize these images in a way that would divorce them from their original purposes. Instead, in Jack’s reification of these images, he reinforces that mass desire. In Jack Gladney, then, we can see the end result not only of a culture that made its history visual–Nazi Germany’s–but also of a culture that learns its history, as the Times points out, not at the library but at the movie theater.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Worse, an academic culture that teaches history through the movie theater; sharing a building with the department of Hitler studies is Murray’s department, that of “American environments,” otherwise known as popular culture. According to Jack, these scholars “are here to decipher the natural language of the culture, to make a formal method of the shiny pleasures they’d known in their Europe-shadowed childhoods–an Aristotelianism of bubble-gum wrappers and detergent jingles” (WN 9). This “natural language” is clearly no longer textual, as these scholars have completely removed themselves from the study of typographic texts and instead now focus on the presumably empty images of packaging and advertising, utterly distracted from serious intellectual pursuits by the world’s “shiny pleasures.” Murray, in fact, first befriends Jack by suggesting his seriousness, his remove from the rest of the pop-culture crowd: “I understand the music,” he says, “I understand the movies, I even see how comic books can tell us things. But there are full professors in this place who read nothing but cereal boxes” (10). Murray’s presumed call for a return to text is of course disingenuous; as the multiple supermarket scenes throughout the novel reveal, Murray is an avid reader of food packaging.[21] Little wonder, then, that from DeLillo’s point of view, nothing revolutionary emerges from the College-on-the-Hill. As Jack says of the college’s home, Blacksmith:

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 We don’t feel threatened and aggrieved in quite the same way other towns do. We’re not smack in the path of history and its contaminations. If our complaints have a focal point, it would have to be the TV set, where the outer torment lurks, causing fears and secret desires. Certainly little or no resentment attaches to the College-on-the-Hill as an emblem of ruinous significance. The school occupies an ever serene edge of the townscape, semidetached, more or less scenic, suspended in political calm. Not a place designed to aggravate suspicions. (85)

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 It is entirely to the point that Jack here contrasts the college with television, as the novel throughout depicts a college besieged by the electronic media, an academia threatened with its own irrelevance. The College-on-the-Hill, in its serenity, in its abandonment of textuality as the object of study, in its denial of the politics that are inseparable from images of Nazism, has itself become “scenic,” an object of watching.[22]

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 The moment of photography in the relationship of spectator to barn, then, has ramifications that ripple outward from the photograph itself, creating a “collective perception,” an “aura,” that absorbs both the takers of the pictures and the critic of the scene of photography in an incorporating, reifying gesture. As David Bell thinks in DeLillo’s Americana, upon encountering a photographer in the lobby of his network’s building: “Such is the prestige of the camera, its almost religious authority, its hypnotic power to command reverence from subject and bystander alike, that I stood absolutely motionless until the young man snapped the picture” (86). The picture-taking apparatus is of a piece with the corporate authority of the television network within which it functions. It is interesting to note, however, reading this moment against “the Most Photographed Barn in America,” that the “subject” of the camera in this case is, in fact, another photograph, a huge enlargement of a prize-winning picture from the war. As Paul Virilio has noted, the codevelopment of the technologies of image production and of military domination has led each to be infused with the powers of the other; all photographs are, in some sense, photographs of the war (see Virilio, War and Vision Machine). Moreover, this image is displayed in the lobby of the television network that is growing famous for delivering real-time images of the war into U.S. living rooms; the prize-winning nature of this photograph, combined with the ratings success of the network, reveals the manner in which the photographic apparatus can commodify even the most extreme human suffering.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 This is accomplished in part through the objectification of the photographed subject, who appears delivered directly unto the viewer. Roland Barthes, seeing the photograph as “literally an emanation of the referent,” is led to muse about the enduring reality of this photographic subject:

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 From a real body, which was there, proceed radiations which ultimately touch me, who am here; the duration of the transmission is insignificant; the photograph of the missing being, as Sontag says, will touch me like the delayed rays of a star. A sort of umbilical cord links the body of the photographed thing to my gaze. (Camera Lucida 80″“81)

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 This umbilical cord declares a gestational relationship between viewing self and viewed object, made possible by the interconnected relationship of the camera’s gaze and the viewer’s. Barthes would thus understand David’s fear in Americana “that any small movement on my part might distract one of those bandaged children and possibly ruin the photograph” (86″“87) as one of the results of the direct connection between viewer and “photographed thing”; shifting the connection might disturb the image. David, however, understands that these “radiations” begin and end with the photographic apparatus itself. The power of the connection between viewer and viewed is not an equivalence but a dominance, one structured by the machine that creates the image. It is the camera that has “prestige,” that has an “almost religious authority”; it is the camera that commands him to be still. However, which photograph David’s movement might ruin is uncertain. The primary camera has already produced the commodity reification of which Debord writes, transforming suffering into prize-winning photographs; nonetheless, the secondary camera is apparently powerful enough to reach back through this commodified object to the original subject and reify it all over again.

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 More than any other of DeLillo’s novels, however, Mao II confronts this objectifying power of the camera head-on, particularly in its fraught relationship with the writer. While in White Noise, Jack Gladney claims that “[i]f our complaints have a focal point, it would have to be the TV set, where the outer torment lurks, causing fears and secret desires” (85), Mao II attempts to step back from the set, to seek the origins of this “torment” in the origins of the mechanically reproduced image, and thus discover how pervasive the “fears and secret desires” of the contemporary image-based culture are. The photograph is, in Mao II, the writer’s death; the image’s objectifying force dismantles the writer’s necessary connection to the abstractions of language.

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 Brita Nilsson is the novel’s photographer, the primary agent of the image’s reifying power; she comes, at the request of Bill Gray (and expressly against the wishes of his assistant, Scott) to take Gray’s picture. And “take” it she does; as the New Yorker wrote of the incident that inspired DeLillo’s musings on the subject (the New York Post‘s dispatching photographers to track down and shoot J. D. Salinger): “If the phrase ‘take his picture’ had any sense of violence or, at least, violation left in it at all, if it still retained the undertone of certain peoples who are convinced that a photographer threatens them with the theft of their souls, then it applies here” (Remnick 42). Though Gray has not been stalked or photographed against his will, this sense of violation appears to apply to his case as well; from the moment he is shoved, by the flick of a shutter, from writerly obscurity into the world of the image, he is unable to regain his balance. Brita, the producer of this ultimately disastrous transformation, has taken on as a life’s project the photographing of writers, pulling them into the image’s frame, as if preserving them against their own disappearance. There is something uncomfortably familiar about Brita’s work, something redolent of a dying breed: “I’m simply doing a record,” she says, but immediately follows it with the interpretation of one of her writer-subjects–“a species count” (MII 26). These photographs are an attempt on her part to save these disappearing writers from their own fated obscurity. As Gray comments during their photo session: “This is why you travel a million miles photographing writers. Because we’re giving way to terror, to news of terror, to tape recorders and cameras, to radios, to bombs stashed in radios. News of disaster is the only narrative people need . . . you’re smart to trap us in your camera before we disappear” (42). Gray immediately points out the tensions in Brita’s project: novelists need saving because their work gives way before news of disaster, but the photographer “saves” through capture. Once caught within the camera, once transformed into an image-object, the novelist is trapped–and may not escape.

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 “[T]he logic of the photograph,” claims McLuhan, “is neither verbal nor syntactical, a condition which renders literary culture quite helpless to cope with the photograph” (197). McLuhan’s intent here was to depict the inept literary critic attempting to write about the photograph, but read against Mao II, this description seems to correlate with the writer’s reaction to being photographed. For whether Bill Gray’s initial desire to have his photograph taken–as he describes it, “to break down the monolith I’ve built” (MII 44)–is already a sign of a turning to exteriors, a desire to move into the “official memory” (Libra 279) of his culture, or whether the experience of being photographed itself, as in the fears of those “certain peoples” (the use of “peoples” signifying, of course, people of the “primitive” sort; writers are now classified as “primitive” in contrast to the electronic culture), has actually stolen Gray’s soul, the result is the same. Gray relies upon the verbal and syntactical for his literary, not to mention his literal, life; as we saw in Chapter 1, his inability to cope with nontypographic visual cues leads to his being hit by an automobile. He is helpless in the face of the photograph; from the moment his picture is taken, the moment he becomes replaced by his own objectified image, his death becomes inevitable.

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 Scott recognizes this possibility right away as he ponders Gray’s disappearance, a disappearance both necessitated and made possible by the photographs taken of him. “Bill had his picture taken,” he thinks as he obsessively cleans Gray’s manual typewriter, “not because he wanted to come out of hiding but because he wanted to hide more deeply, he wanted to revise the terms of his seclusion, he needed the crisis of exposure to give him a powerful reason to intensify his concealment” (MII 140). In a sense, Gray has disappeared into his photographs; he is now his own representation. Scott begins here to connect the photographs taken of Gray with those taken of Chairman Mao, who dropped out of sight with the effect of intensifying his power. But there is a crucial distinction: “Mao used photographs,” Scott thinks, “to announce his return and demonstrate his vitality, to reinspire the revolution. Bill’s picture was a death notice” (141). And in fact these photographs are Gray’s obituary; to adopt Barthes’s language, the fact of Gray’s having emerged from his seclusion to allow his picture to be taken is mere studium. The punctum, the shock of these photographs is that

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 he is going to die. I read at the same time: This will be and this has been; I observe with horror an anterior future of which death is the stake. By giving me the absolute past of the pose (aorist), the photograph tells me death in the future. What pricks me is the discovery of this equivalence. . . . Whether or not the subject is already dead, every photograph is this catastrophe. (Barthes, Camera Lucida 96)

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 In Bill Gray’s case, the connection between the photograph and death is both more literal and more figurative. By the time Scott is able to see the proofs, Gray is dead. But his writerly death was effected long before his physical death; Gray’s capture within Brita’s camera forced him out of the abstractions of language and into the objectified world of the image, a world with which he was unable to cope. After Gray’s death, Scott at last sees the pictures, the object-traces that remain:

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 He took the magnifier to frame after frame and saw a photographer who was trying to deliver her subject from every mystery that hovered over his chosen life. She wanted to do pictures that erased his seclusion, made it never happen and made him over and gave him a face we’ve known all our lives.

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 But maybe not. Scott didn’t want to move too soon into a theory of how much meaning a photograph can bear. (MII 221)

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 Whatever Brita’s intent may have been, her pictures of Gray did erase his seclusion, did deliver him from the mysteries hovering over his life. Scott’s earlier connection of the photographs with Gray’s disappearance was valid; his only error lay in attributing motive and agency to the writer where in fact there was no such control. Gray’s finally completed disappearance was not a matter of choice, but the final vanishing of the writer in an image-driven culture. Thus, that these images would have “erased” Gray’s seclusion is the least of their violations. In delivering Gray from the mysteries of symbolic representation, in giving him a concrete presence, “a face we’ve known all our lives,” Brita’s photographs transform the writer into a trading card, something that can be owned rather than understood. And thus Scott’s final uncertainty about the photograph’s capacity to bear meaning is strangely valid; the photograph drains the world of meaning by erasing its connections to the real.

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 Yet the novel’s epilogue seems to suggest that the only meaning remaining in the world is now contained by photographs. This final section of Mao II follows Brita to Beirut, where she has come to photograph Abu Rashid, the militia leader responsible for holding the writer whom Bill Gray was en route to rescue; having transformed writers into images of writers, she has now abandoned images of writers for images of bomb makers and gunmen. It hasn’t been an announced shift but an anonymous one, like Gray’s death, like the cultural abandonment of the writer felt throughout the novel: “She does not photograph writers anymore. It stopped making sense. She takes assignments now, does the interesting things, barely watched wars, children running in the dust. Writers stopped one day. She doesn’t know how it happened but they came to a quiet end. They stopped being the project she would follow forever” (229″“30). The writers were captured on film, and now even their images are destined to remain unseen. They, like Bill Gray, have disappeared.

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 The jacket copy of the novel’s first edition claims that, “against this onslaught of images and cataclysmic events, DeLillo also tells an intimate story about faith, longing, and redemption.” But one must ask, given this altogether dismal view of the writer’s place in this world of terrorists, of bomb makers and gunmen–redemption for whom? The only possible answer appears to be for the photographer, ironically enough; if anyone can save the world from violence, it will be a person with a camera.[23] The very last moment of the novel reveals Brita standing on a balcony at 4 a.m., having watched a wedding party go past, now staring out at the darkness of the city. “There is a flash out there in the dark,” we read, expecting it to be an explosion. It isn’t:

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 What could it be then if it’s not the start of the day’s first exchange of automatic-weapons fire? Only one thing of course. Someone is out there with a camera and a flash unit. Brita stays on the balcony for another minute, watching the magnesium pulse that brings an image to a strip of film. She crosses her arms over her body against the chill and counts off the bursts of relentless light. The dead city photographed one more time. (MII 241)

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 Perhaps the city can be brought back to life by the photographer recording the images of its death and destruction. Or perhaps the photographer, by impartially recording these images, by assisting in the reification that turns ideas into commodities, by silencing the voice of the writer within the great corporate, violent hum of mediated culture–perhaps the photographer is responsible for the death of the city and is now hard at work on the corpse left behind. In either case, in DeLillo’s bleak vision of the world remaining, the creator of the visual image is the only cultural producer left standing.

  • [19] See also Roland Barthes: “It is the advent of the Photograph–and not, as has been said, of the cinema–which divides the history of the world” (Camera Lucida 88).
  • [20] See Green for an expanded reading of the Benjaminian moment.
  • [21] John Duvall reads this disingenuousness as a sign that Murray is in fact a malevolent force within the novel (Duvall).
  • [22] On this accusation of the political corruption of academia, one might also see Mao II‘s George Haddad, the Lebanese-born political scientist (about whom Margaret Scanlan says that “the resemblance to Edward Said as he might be imagined by George Will is striking” [240]) who lures Bill Gray toward his eventual demise.
  • [23] See Tabbi, Postmodern 199″“201 for a different reading of this “redemption.” Tabbi argues that Scott acts as a figure for the literary critic throughout the novel, and thus that Gray’s literal death is a blessing for Scott, the critic having longed for–and even announced–the death of the author for some time. For, as Tabbi writes: “[t]o extend Roland Barthes’s well-known formulation, the author’s death has served as the condition of birth not only of the reader but of the photographer, the social scientist, the terrorist, and the literary critic” (197).
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