The Towering Symbols We See

During the Delillo group, which did an awesome job I must say, I was regaled with the images of the Tower of Babel, and the interesting viewpoint on the union of the signified and the signifier.  Since that was already explained, I will not go into that bit any further.  I wanted to explore another thought entirely that I feel links with a message that Don Delillo may have been displaying in his book.

Art, in its many forms can inspire us in many different ways.  Some art, like the still-art paintings in Nina’s collection, is domicile, yet still gives the examiner a certain feeling of unease, of emptyness, and perhaps grieving.  The Falling man, on the other hand, took a harsher hand, and was intrusive as you can get.

I feel that society trys in many ways to combine these two when they approach thier greatest forms of art via architecture: Towers.

The Twin Towers of course were a symbol for many people.  Other towers in other societies are also symbols that hold a strong place in many people’s hearts.  Below are some images of towers. Look at them, and imagine being under them and looking up.

( Tokyo Tower

( Eifel Tower


( Twin Towers

( Burj Dubai Tower

These images are wonderous!  These are works of art that are mighty reminders of the power of the great.  These towers are invasive. They are called skyscrapers for a good reason.  I have never heard them called the trailing fingers of the world within the clouds.  Why is this?  It is becuase they literally are piercing the sky like swords into the vast unkown, the sky, space, the unknown.

Why do we do this?  Towers tumble so easily. Could we not have really awesome art painted in some place that could be seen from space?  It is not the eyes of other worlds that the builders of towers care about, it is the eyes of the people who are under those towers, the eyes that even from afar, still can see that the tower in the distance is the prominant feature.  They are symbols. Symbols of might, wealth, and oppression.  We are forced to look at them, and yes, be in awe.

While I did not really like Don Delillo’s Falling Man, I do have to admit, that it was effective.  The Falling Man in his book was literally a man falling from a tower.  We were forced to look upon not a tower, but him.  This was a huge proclamation of defiance against those that look at towers and can only sigh with angst or awe.

The towers of the past, Babel, Pisa, and regretably the Twin Towers all fell.  They were either built too high, on ground that would not support it, or were a symbol of something that made them taller in people’s minds than what could be handled.

I think we should move beyond the growing of glass towers, tinkling and winking in the sky, and look beyond symbols of mightyness that need to grasp at the fleeting clouds. Get your head out of the clouds.  Instead of extending those huge unbending digits pointing accusingly at God, we should curl our own over the very real fingers of our brothers and sisters, who are very real, and very on the ground.  This is the message I got from Delillo. It was not just his words, rather is was our discussions that led to this, and this my fellow classmates, is true art.

Form of the Falling Man

I have read a few posts that deal with the unappealing nature of Delillo’s Falling Man.  I am sure it is on purpose, yet at the same time, we will say that everything we percieve in art is done on purpose.  Only those who are well versed in art history, or the blessed skeptics are the ones who will say, “yep, I think that was a mistake….it worked, but I don’t think they meant it too happen.”  Or you might hear the skeptic say, “Ya know, I think they were just trying too hard.  That’s why it is obvious, so of course they meant what they were doing, but they just did it badly.”

I would have to agree with the skeptic I just illustrated.  A few of my complaints are as such:

1.) Delillo’s articulation does not change much.  As such, the voices of the characters sounds eerily the same. Any children, or the less than fully cognizant, sound predictably like a  general cliche.

2.) Delillo constantly paints this surreal shades-of-grey scene of depression.  The only shake up is the sudden change in voice, or narration that forces the reader to track where they actually are in the book.  This makes it hard to really stay on track.  I would almost be grateful for the small shake-ups, since dwelling on one person’s greyer than grey life might make me want to cut myself, just to see if I am living, unfortunately, I am thrust into another scene of depression.  It is like going from one still-life of Giorgio Morandi to the next, each scene is an after-the-fact cup spilled empty that never seems to be refilled.  When I am subjected to this time and time again, I yearn for the Falling Man character again, just to keep myself from rasping my body with a multitude of papercuts.  This seems graphic, and powerfuly so, but this is how I feel when trudging through this book.

These two points are clearly enough to make me wonder why this author has such acclaim.  Sure his language is compelling, and he makes some good arguments about art, but I feel that his arguments are too transparent in this medium, and the story is dragged through the mud, so to speak, to try and make things more gritty.  More…’artsy’.

I do have to applaud his dichotomy between art and terrorism, where Morandi’s artwork was viewed as safe, and indicitive of the feeling of the people within the story with the Falling Man embodying terrorism as art being Morandi’s domestic artistic opposite.  Is the Falling Man art?  I think so. This is the most sucessful part of his text: The realization that art, even is not viewed as art can make someone think about something they would not usually think about.  The Falling Man character characterized terrorism as art, since his medium was intrusive, rather than the comfortable wall hanging of  style of Morandi.

Terrorism’s main goal is not to kill people, rather it is to shock people. This shock, like a spanking on an epic scale, is suppossed to make the shocked think and/or react.  I argue that art does the same thing. Thus, terrorism is the most terrible of art. It expresses ideas, it forces people to think and react, and most horribly, it is usually organized by people who are lauded as important people.  Let me save myself from a certain mob of people who will be willing to do nasty things to me with this: not everyone agrees on what art is, and this means that terrorism is not going to be art to everyone, as taste is purely subjective. I would say that terrorism then is art, in the worst of taste.

DeLillo’s Territory

Recently upon hearing a lesson on Don DeLillo, I’ve realized that Falling Man was just waiting to be written be DeLillo. Not only was this story meant to be told when it was told, but it was meant to be told specifically by this author. The cover of DeLillo’s 1997 Underworld showed a creepy prophetic glimpse of 9/11. The artwork contains a portrait of the towers and next to them in the distance one could spot a bird which could resemble an airplane if one is looking for it in mind. DeLillo’s other works such as Mao II are supposedly quite political and touch on the terrorist theme, perhaps more than Falling man itself although I cannot say so since I haven’t read the work. I think the reason these works have done so well is that they aren’t overly political. The subject matter is incredibly political, but the story of these works at heart really aren’t. The stories are about the people within them and how they react due to a set of given social circumstances which allows to reader to connect to the story. If the stories were only about the political events themselves, the readers just may as well read the news. So after already writing about the towers previously, and touching on terrorism, it only made sense that DeLilli be the man to write the novel everyone was waiting for.

Falling Man

The expression of the Morandi paintings and that of the Falling Man were debated thoroughly during class today.

A fantastic point was made when the question came about: Is the expression of the “Falling Man” a form of art?  The answer to this question overall seemed to be no. The Falling Man was not acting out in an original or poetic manner.  His actions were simply to mimic the tragedy which took place on the day of 9/11.  His actions did not take art into consideration before putting politics first.  Or…Were the people of the city forcing their political beliefs on to the Falling Man’s expression?

Overall my belief is that the actions were to simply replicate those who fell or were forced to jump out of the buildings on that day.  It may not be art in the terms of putting art first, although it does bring out the recent issue.  This is important, the city was forced to face their fears as their eyes locked onto this man’s display throughout the city.

Structure in Delillo

In reading “Falling Man”, I have a hard time following sequences of events within chapters. The narrator stops one story, mid chapter, to carry on another one without any prelude. For example, on page 100, the break in between the poker game and the trip to Utah talked about by Keith and Lianne. This is symbolic many ways of the chaos to which was experienced by the city on 9/11, however, it doesn’t do much for my reading. I understand the pattern Delillo is trying to set up, but personally, I find this frustrating.

In addition, I wanted to talk about the men playing poker, creating rules about everything. I see a comparison in this section between how the men respond to poker, and the Islamic extremists in several chapters prior, and as well to how the U.S reacted in the wake of the attack. Keith begins to think all the rules are stupid, and eventually the men break down, unable to continue playing with food and polish vodka versus their classic dark liquors, and beers without food. This is pertinent to my last post, where I talked about the national reaction to the 9/11 attacks. We see these reactions manifest themselves very early in everyday life through Delillo’s characters. Keith, Lianne and others – especially Lianne’s alzheimer’s group begin having extreme difficulties with everyday tasks like thinking and putting on watches. This relates heavily to my last post in which I talked about remembrance being burdensome and hindering any sort of movement forward.


“Weren’t the towers built as fantasies of wealth and power that would one day become fantasies of destruction? You build a thing like that so you can see it come down.” (DeLillo 116)

Martin’s view, as shocking to readers as the Falling Man is to Lianne, is the guilty voice in the back of everyone’s mind. What did the towers symbolize, if not human hubris and capitalistic fixation? Of course, to suggest that the World Trade Center was either of those things touches upon the fuzzy, all-encompassing taboo of Disrespect.

Why is it that tragedy sanctifies its circumstances? Why must collective grief add more entries to the list of things that don’t come up in polite conversation? I understand the existence of this process, but I don’t understand why it must be so. Respect for the dead, gravitas, what have you, are perfectly valid concepts which undeniably deserve their place in our social mores, it just seems odd to me that our society’s way of showing respect is to only speak of an event with extreme discomfort and a pressing need to find a new topic.

Granted, a lot of the stigma around 9/11 has dissapated, the taboo slightly eased, but assholes can still get just about anyone (who was alive and American in 2001) angry by telling a joke about the towers. Politicians can still invoke terrorists like bogeymen, putting the remembered terror in the bank and the ballot box. This is power, but whose power? Who’s using the power? Why are we letting them?

The Collective Personal in Art

Falling Man is a book about humans grieving, but it is also much more than that. It is the painstakingly accurate portray of a nation that needs to learn how to come to terms with what has happened and work through it together.

One of the more terrifying elements in the book comes from the idea that many people have no identities. It is important for us to know who has suffered, who has survived, and who is to blame. Many elements of the novel show us that becoming aware of the need to know is important; however, it is also important to realize that everyone involved with the tragedy is human.

DeLillo chooses to include moments at the end of each part when we see one of the men that will become a terrorist. It is important that we see him as a human before we see him as a terrorist. Without thinking of him as such, it is all too easy to pick up on characters and single those out, which as we know, has happened in the aftermath of the tragedy of 9/11. It is no secret that mass racism has spread because of the fear that Americans still hold in our hearts. It is the idea that there is some entity to blame- they are not humans. They are the enemy. This should not ever be the case when decided to wage war. This is the problem that Lianne has with her neighbor’s music. She has lumped in all into one category. The terrorists of 9/11, although from a specific group, are not descriptive of a whole group. 

Throughout the novel, and throughout a tragedy, people have the need to make  other people’s lives public. In part, this is good. This is how the collective public remembers that everyone is a human- that even though their are terrorist groups from the Middle East, not all Middle Easteners are terrorists. This is a difficult thing to do, however. People pick up on things that they are comfortable picking up on. This is why art is is important in the after-affects of a tragedy. Art is the public consciousness for remembering humanity. In Falling Man, the presence of art is in every page. The art is not always appreciated- the falling man’s performance art is intense and cruel and a solid reminder of volnerability; however, it is important to remember that after events of tragedy it seems like we are all falling: it is the importance of remembering what has happened. In response to the falling man’s dive from the train tracks, DeLillo writes, “This was too near and deep, too personal” (163). How is someone else’s fall personal? It has been felt by every single American who watched that day, and by those survived the falling towers, and by those who didn’t live past that day.

Other art in the novel draws attention, but is always reminding us of other things. I keep coming back to the passports hanging on Nina’s wall. A picture of someone you don’t know is a way to imagine what their life is like in relation to your own. By creating a story for those people, you find the threads that unite us all. In pertaining to Falling Man, it is aware to retreive the identity’s of people who are lost. As long as some remnaint of them remains– a picture, a briefcase, a falling article of clothing, it is possible to imagine that they have lived.

A very interesting scene is when Keith and Florence are at Macy’s, attempting to find a mattress. They are watching everyone else’s private opinions and lives, watching them lay down and relax. By having their private moments turned public, it is possible to experience the way that people live, the way that people’s lives go on even in the fallout after something as tramatic for the American people as 9/11.

As the city and nation comes to grips with the events that have unfolded around them, Falling Man shows how art and literature keep in the mind what it means to be human. It shows the pleasure and the pain and the fear and the normal and the unique and the haunting of what it means to be human, every day that we live.