Falling Man feels like White Noise stripped of its sometimes too-easy, too-clever satire, Underworld condensed and shot through with a stark immediacy, The Body Artist complicated and made resonant with a cosmopolitan awareness of an atrocious interconnectivity where “all life had become public,” all actions political. The consequence is bleak, dark, brutal, elegiac, beautiful, and wise in ways previous engagements with 9/11 simply haven’t been. (Jonathan Foer’s facile Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which also deals with the impact of the attacks on a single family, comes to mind.) DeLillo’s novel’s title comes both from the actual photo of an anonymous man plunging headfirst from one of the towers and from the invented performance artist known as The Falling Man. The latter, wearing a suit, tie, and dress shoes, appears unannounced at venues high above the city and throws himself off, coming to dangle upside down in a jerry-rigged harness before swarms of unnerved passersby below. His function is the same as that of DeLillo’s novel itself: to remind us of something about which we would just as soon try to put out of mind. He is 9/11 as ongoing spectacle, the rush of appalling memory that can erupt anywhere, anytime. He is mayhem turned art, art turned mayhem.
(Here’s that famous, awful image of the falling man:)
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