Thursday, November 6, 2008
Don Delillo: Players (1977)
"We knew we would do something. Rafael wanted to disrupt their system, the idea of worldwide money. It's this system that we believe is their secret power. It all goes floating across that [Stock Exchange] floor. Currents of invisible life. This is the center of their existence. The electronic system. The waves and charges. The green numbers on the board. This is what my brother calls their way of continuing on through rotting flesh, their closest taste of immortality. Not the bulk of all that money. The system itself, the current. That's Rafael. The doctor of philosophy approach to bombing. 'Financiers are more spiritually advanced than monks on an island.' Rafael. It was this secret of theirs that we wanted to destroy, this invisible power. It's all in that system, bip-bip-bip-bip, the flow of electric current that unites moneys, plural, from all over the world." New Yorkers Lyle and Pammy Wynant lead a well off but empty existence, increasingly spending their leisure time locked in their home watching television. Pammy works in one of the World Trade Center towers for a firm called the Grief Management Council, which profits from the flow of grief across modern society. Lyle works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. The first third of the novel describes their affect-less and alienated lives, in particular singling out television as both responding to and contributing to the emptiness of their existences. Lyle obsessively switches channels while watching television, and dreads the minutes that pass between turning off the set and falling asleep. Pammy hangs out with her two gay friends, latching onto their dream of moving to Maine because it provides the image of her life being on the verge of changing. Delillo's style throughout is cold and distant, an icy modernist detachment that reflects his character's (lack of) personality. The narrative shifts, however, when someone is murdered right next to Lyle on the Stock Exchange floor. Lyle begins a personal investigation and comes across a terrorist group interested in attacking the "system" of global finance. He contacts the group and begins to prepare to help them carry out a second attack, though he may actually be working to gather information for the police. Pammy finally travels to Maine with her gay friends, but becomes too psychologically and sexually involved in their domestic difficulties. Ultimately, both Lyle and Pammy fall out of the "pattern" of their normal live, which points them towards a deeper meaning that remains a step beyond their grasp. Delillo is eerily prescient about terrorism and world trade. Pammy accidentally goes up the wrong World Trade Center tower on her way to work, and to her, "the towers didn't seem permanent. They remained concepts, no less transient for all their bulk than some routine distortion of light." At the same time, terrorists in the novel are striking at the Stock Exchange because it remains one of the few remaining material sites of world trade that can function as a target, a place where somehow the system of money might be disrupted. One of the terrorists fears there "is a master plan to eliminate prominent targets. To go underground. Or totally electric. Nothing but waves and currents talking to each other. Spirits. So, the thing should be hit to whatever extent, now." What Delillo has done is compellingly diagnose a logic of terrorism grasping to adapt itself to the functioning of global finance. With the de-materializing of the flows of capital, terrorism turns to symbols as targets, with ambiguous results. Terrorism seems to mimic its adversary, becoming a decentralized and finally unknowable global network.