I’ll be presenting a paper on “The Ruins of the Future: Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis, David Cronenberg’s Adaptation, and Gerhard Richter’s October 18, 1977,” at the conference on Melancholia: Imaging the End of the World, Philipps University, Marburg, Germany, June 5 to 7, 2013.
After the millennial apocalypse that went by the name Y2K fizzled, Americans felt secure in their leadership of the New World Order; but then the Towers fell, ushering in the twenty-first century for real as an age of terror and retribution. Don DeLillo’s novel, Cosmopolis (2003), probes the source of this catastrophe in the transnational forces of global capitalism and resistant terrorism. The novel chronicles a single day in April 2000 when the financial market suddenly loses its momentum and wobbles towards collapse. As billionaire currency speculator Eric Packer embarks on a crosstown odyssey in Manhattan, he is confronted by black flag anarchists at the NASDAQ Center, the funeral cortege of a murdered rapper, the President’s motorcade, and finally a lone assassin who resembles an amalgam of Lee Harvey Oswald and John Hinckley, Jr. DeLillo remarks that “the day on which this book takes place is the last day of an era.” The film adaptation of Cosmopolis (2012) by David Cronenberg evokes both the claustrophobic compression of a long day’s journey and a fatalistic inevitability as Packer and the country accelerate toward “the ruins of the future.” In a cotemporaneous short fiction by DeLillo, “Baader-Meinhof” (2002), strangers view the installation at the Museum of Modern Art in New York of Gerhard Richter’s cycle of fifteen canvases, October 18, 1977 (1988), that render in blurred grayscale images the suicides of German Red Army Faction terrorists, Ulrike Meinhof, Gudrun Ensslin, and Andreas Baader. Resistance to state corporatism and the origins of modern terror bring artist, novelist, and filmmaker to a vision of an apocalypse yet to come.
“The Multimodal Icon: Sight, Sound and Intellection in Recent Poetries.” Invited and forthcoming in Passage, University of Aarhus, Denmark.
This paper examines the shift from single to multiple semiotic modes in poetry during the age of digital media. While one can argue that in the history of poetry the text has always represented “sight, sound and intellection,” the propagation of digital media and the devolution of popular culture into a predominantly graphical regime have made an irrevocable impression on poetry-on-the-page. The production of multimodal poetry in print literature presents the hybridization of text and image, or typography and the visual arts. Modernist experiments in poetry largely confined themselves to the single semiotic mode of alphabetic typography. By century’s end, however, digital page composition enabled the use of index, icon and symbol in increasingly complex relations. In the multimodal poetry of Emily McVarish, Steve McCaffery and Geof Huth, the reader encounters two or more semiotic modes simultaneously. The relation between text and image is not one of dependency (illustration; annotation) or autonomy (catalog; artist book) but rather a bilateral interactivity that requires and stimulates a cognitive poetics. Such print works demand that readers pursue a multiplicity of reading paths and develop the interpretive skills required by multimodal metaphor in which signs are drawn from more than one mode.