Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Writerly use of language

Below, I've quoted Don DeLillo with some good, naturalistic language from Falling Man. It's an odd novel. Parts of it are very telling, parts so-so and parts are pretty awful. In particular, the description of Mohammed Atta, one of the terrorists, is unconvincing. It feels very measured, controlled. It feels like someone writing about detachment, rather than genuine detachment. For example:

The weight loss had come in Afghanistan, in a training camp, where Hammad had begun to understand that death is stronger than life. This is where the landscape consumed him, watefalls frozen in space, a sky that never ended. It was all Islam, the rivers and streams. Pick up a stone and hold it in your fist, this is Islam. God’s name on every tongue throughout the countryside. There was no feeling like this ever in his life. He wore a bomb vest and knew he was a man now, finally, ready to close the distance to God.

Don DeLillo. Falling man. p. 172

It doesn’t come close to striking the right tenor. It doesn’t feel remotely like the mind of a fanatical religious fundamentalist. Parts of it feel as though they have been taken from Islamist texts, and could therefore feel realistic, but they are followed by writerly, impressionistic ideas quite at odds with the stark-eyed certainty of those sections. For example, the notion that he might come to understand that ‘death is stronger than life,’ is good, feels realistic. But it is immediately followed by an image of ‘waterfalls frozen in space, a sky that never ended,’ which is the voice of a writer. Even the final notion, that he ‘was ready to close the distance to God,’ does not feel genuine: it feels like a writer pretending. You can see the joins.

No comments: