by Don DeLillo
First Edition: 117 pages / Paperback Reprint: 128 pages; $12 Buy from Amazon
Sometimes, things are just complicated… A lot of Point Omega, or, a good portion of the book, I feel I did not understand. Sure, I’ve only read it once, so I guess I sort of expected this, but at the same time, I quickly realized that this was a different sort of “I did not understand.”
Basically, Point Omega was challenging. I paid attention to what was being said (for the most part) and yes, I even took notes, but still, I don’t think I get Point Omega, or, I don’t think I get all of Point Omega. But this is a good thing because I like how I am feeling right now: dumb, confused and (for some reason) mediocre/inferior—all at the same time. Of course, this is (still) my (initial) reaction to Point Omega, since I have only read it once (though I’m not sure I will be reading it again anytime soon) but this, in general, is a new type of feeling for me. It’s a feeling of deep-rooted confusion, weakness and extreme anxiousness. Usually, I’m more into books that make me feel powerful and strong and happy but, sometimes, I guess I like the mind-fucks too. And I’d like to think I am able to understand most things, and conceptually, I (think I) understood most of what was going on in Point Omega but also, not really. But that’s the point I think! Let’s develop this.
The way I see it: Point Omega is about the things that are around us, and (then, also,) the things that aren’t. Or, the things that we can see and then, the things we cannot.
For example, here is how the book opens, more or less:
I feel like this part of the book is a meditation on something that has to do with society and the idea of what it means to be anonymous, but then again, maybe not. And I’m not a sociologist and I have never taken a class on philosophy (and I am not against those subjects) but this section wasn’t that long and served (I think) as a sort of faux-introduction-type foreword before the “real book” anyway so… onto the story itself.
In Point Omega, there is no real story to speak of. Or, you could summarize most of what happens in a single paragraph—if you really wanted to, and it’d be super reductionist to do that—but, there is a story, sort of, but also, not really.
There’s Jim Finley and then there’s Richard Elster. Jim lives in the city and Richard lives out in the desert. Jim is the film maker and Richard is the “defense intellectual.” Jim wants to make a film about Richard and Richard’s experience with war but Richard is not interested in doing that (and I guess this is a conflict, so maybe there is a story after all). Eventually, Jim travels to the desert to stay with Richard and Richard seems to be okay with this. Naturally, Jim and Richard begin to have conversations. They build a relationship and they talk about life, they ask each other questions, they become used to the idea of having each other around, et cetera, et cetera.
And then introspective stuff happens.
“He usually said “Seat belts” when he started the car. I sat up straight and rolled my shoulders. I looked at the grit under my fingernails… We went past a spindly creek bed and I wanted to pound the dashboard a few times, tom-tom-like, to get the blood pumping. But I just closed my eyes and sat there, nowhere, listening.”
“I went in for ice. When I returned he was pissing off the deck, standing on tiptoe to get the emerging stream to clear the rail. Then we sat and listened to animal cries somewhere off in the thickets and we remembered where we were and didn’t speak for a time after the sounds died away. He said he wished he had remained a student, gone to Mongolia, rue remoteness, to live and work and think. He called me Jimmy.”
It’s like there is a meaning to everything… Hmmm.
When I finally got to the ending, I thought a few things and looked at my notes and then realized that in Point Omega, it’s not about what you get and what you don’t get, I don’t think. It’s more that there’s so much to get that it’s impossible to understand everything. Like, the book is supposed to feel overwhelming. And I think DeLillo tried to show that here, with Point Omega.
The writing is fantastic—brilliant, even. The prose—every sentence is perfectly constructed and beautifully crafted. It’s poetry that reads like a book. Point Omega is probably as high-concept as they come and it’s also super deep. Given the page-length, it looks like a novella and you’d think “Wow, this one’s definitely going to be a quick read,” but no, it’s not. It’s quite the opposite. Point Omega may take several days to finish (depending on how fast, or slow you read).
And in the end, something funny happens. That faux-introduction-type foreword from the beginning? It continues and becomes a faux-conclusion-type afterword. The anonymous man meets a woman and the woman tells him things that are super philosophical.
And I don’t think normal people speak like this in real life (which I’ve gathered—from reviews written by other people—seems to be a common theme in DeLillo’s writing, the way the characters all start to sound alike after a while). And DeLillo even alludes to this in the book:
But everything is just a fragment of something else. And I think I get why DeLillo wrote Point Omega with two overlapping stories that seem unrelated. He does this to show that something else is always happening at the same time as what you are doing. That things are always moving and there is no stopping time, per se—because it is all relative. And I think that’s the point… Something about how now, today, we are always trying to keep up with something that is new. And how now, with everything we have, and all of the technology, and all of the other types of social media, and ways of interacting we have with each other; we never stop to just sit and think, maybe about the things that came before.
This is us: we are obsessed with the future, we are dissatisfied with the present and we are wholly uninterested in the past.
The title even, Point Omega, is a reference to Omega Point, a term coined by French philosopher and Jesuit priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin sometime during the 20th century.
So maybe we’ve finally reached a peak—the apex—in our intellectual capacity and “moving forward” has devolved into a sort of regression, rather than an improvement on the way we live our lives? Perhaps it’s time we take a step back and look at everything we’ve accomplished so far? Maybe take some time to pat ourselves on the back a little, or not?
Or maybe everything in Point Omega went over my head. Maybe that was supposed to happen, I don’t know, but my head hurts now. And this was my first experience with Don DeLillo.