What seems beautiful to me, what I should like to write, is a book about nothing, a book dependent on nothing external, which would be held together by the internal strength of its style, just as the earth, suspended in the void, depends on nothing external for its support; a book which would have almost no subject, or at least in which the subject would be almost invisible, if such a thing is possible. The finest works are those that contain the least matter; the closer expression comes to thought, the closer language comes to coinciding and merging with it, the finer the result. I believe the future of Art lies in this direction.
I read Underworld last year, and recently finished White Noise, and when I came across this quote from Flaubert I wondered about what Delillo might think about these notions of beauty and style. I wondered how it might be possible that a massive novel like Underworld could make its subject invisible. Whether such a thing is even necessarily desirable. Whether Delillo was consciously working against it by writing to such excess.
I turned to the idea of waste, which is excess matter that we try to make invisible. Underworld is full of it. It seems expressly to be a book about things, about stuff, more than we need, and the urge to get rid of it, and the matching compulsion to hoard it. The protaganist works for a waste management company, as a sort of emmisary in charge of the controlled disposal of radioactive waste, among over things. Waste in the novel becomes a symbol of the pyschological state of twentieth century America, all its suppressed desires and fears, and it seems intractable and horrible and unavoidable.
And then it occured to me that Underworld is already an old book. I realised how quickly our conception of waste has changed, or my own, at least. To give an example: 20 years ago, I might have written you a note in the margin of a book, or on a piece of paper, you would have held it in your hands and once you had finished with it you would have folded it and put it your pocket, or in the drawer of your desk, or you could have crumpled it into a ball and thrown it away, or burnt it, depending how strongly you felt, etc. Either way, the act of reading involved an object, established an artifact, and was substantial. But consider what you’re reading now. You just click a button, back or forward, and all trace of this moment has been expunged. No wastage, nothing. It may never have even happened.
That little “trash can” icon on your desktop is the perfect symbol of this new age of the immaterial. It even simulates the crumpling noise you used to enjoy as the data you no longer need is deleted.
Have you ever been working distractedly on the computer and glanced at a phone number in a book on your desk, or at a strange phrase on a passing bus, and suddenly without thinking, before thinking, wanted to copy and paste it onto your screen? What follows is a brief but engulfing disorientation, a sense of disconnectedness, .
The material world resists duplication, just as it resists deletion.
“Copy and paste”? It’s a fantasy. As if the process requires an old brush.
Something into nothing.
And the logical conclusion of all this is not, as you might suppose, a world without waste. It is a world in which waste is ignored.You are sitting with your laptop, accessing data, destroying it, you are voracious, unstoppable. You a are black hole