The Blue Raccoon

Saturday, September 20, 2008


Don DeLillo explained it all for you

"We want to think about the art of money-making," she said.
She was sitting in the rear seat, his seat, the club chair, and he looked at her and waited.
"The Greeks have a word for it."
He waited.
Chrimatisktiós," she said. "But we have to give the word a little lee way. Adapt it to the current situation. Because money has taken a turn. All wealth has become wealth for its own sake. There's no other kind of enormous wealth. Money has lost its narrative quality the way painting did once upon a time. Money is talking to itself."
She usually wore a beret but was bareheaded today, Vija Kinski, a small woman in a button-down business shirt, an old embroidered vest and a long pleated skirt of a thousand launderings, his chief of theory, late for their weekly meeting.
"And property follows of course. The concept of property is changing by the day, by the hour. The enormous expenditures that people make for land and houses and boats and planes. This has nothing to do with traditional self-assurances, okay. Property is no longer about power, personality and command. It's not about vulgar display or tasteful display. Because it no longer has weight or shape. The only thing that matters is the price you pay. Yourself, Eric, think. What did you buy for your one hundred and four million dollars? Not dozens of rooms, incomparable views, private elevators. Not the rotating bedroom and computerized bed. Not the swimming pool or the shark. Was it air rights? The regulating sensors and software? Not the mirrors that you tell you how you feel when you look at yourself in the morning. You paid the money for the number itself. One hundred and four million. This is what you bought. And it's worth it. The number justifies itself.

Don DeLillo's 2003 Cosmopolis came to mind in the financial fury and panegyrics during the past few days. The narrative is far more relevant today than when DeLillo wrote it. The protagonist lives atop an 89-floor building in a massive penthouse filled with color field art and a giant dead shark in a tank. That's right, the same kind of Damien Hirst that sold for $21 million the same day Lehman brothers went belly up.

Here in his cool, sculpted language, is a New York suffused by the cold blue light of affluence and a Manhattan of smoke grey glass towers that represent power yet seem vacant. The protagonist is a 27-year-old billionaire Eric Packer, an assets manager who thinks he needs to go cross town to get his hair cut.

He rides in a long white limousine, armored, cork-lined, jammed with screens and monitors and gizmos, a floor of Carrara marble: "
He wanted the car because it was not only oversized but aggressively and contemptuously so, metastizingly so, a tremendous mutant thing that stood astride every argument against it" ... “He thought about the partition behind the driver. It had a cedar frame with an inlaid fragment of ornamental Kufic script on parchment, late tenth century, Baghdad, priceless.”

Packer is a grotesque, emotionally stunted, yet by turns charming, erotic and murderous. He is Late Stage Capitalism, and gets a physical every day. He is counterposed with a Unabombereseque lunatic named Benno Levin who describes his condition:
“When I try to suppress my anger, I suffer spells of hwa-byung (Korea). This is cultural panic mainly, which I caught on the Internet.”

A cultural panic transmitted through the, that sounds familiar.

Read more about the novel here and here.

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