In 1996, a physicist at New York University named Alan Sokal
submitted an article to Social Text, an academic journal devoted to
something called "poststructuralism." His essay, "Transgressing the
Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum
Gravity," argued that Western science - with notions like, say,
"gravity" - is merely a social construction, a fabric of political
and philosophical Enlightenment dogma.
As soon as the editors at Social Text published this riff of
poststructural erudition, Dr. Sokal revealed that his article was a
hoax, a parody of the kind of gobbledygook that regularly passes for
intellectual analysis of language and culture.
It's tempting to hope Don DeLillo delivers a similar revelation
soon after the publication of his latest "novel."
His previous works, most recently "White Noise" and "Underworld,"
were enormous critical and popular successes. He's won the National
Book Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award, the Jerusalem Prize, and the
American Book Award.
But where those novels are sprawling with wit and insight, "The
Body Artist" is claustrophobic and affected. Very smart professors
of French literature and diehard fans of "Twin Peaks" will find
"The Body Artist" fascinating. (I half expected a midget to dance
through the wall and whisper, "My log had a dream about you last
night.") But these fit readers may not be enough to recoup the $1
million Simon & Schuster reportedly paid for this little book.
The story opens in a large rented house on a remote beach along
the East Coast. Lauren Hartke has been married to Rey Robles for
only a few months, but already things are strained.
In the late 70s, Rey was director of avant-garde films that
briefly developed a cult following in art houses in the US and
abroad. He's spent the last 20 years in a haze of alcoholism and
Lauren, his third wife, calls herself a "body artist." She
bleaches, sands, cuts, and contorts her body into odd shapes while
the robotic voice of a telephone answering machine repeats the
standard greeting for 75 minutes. Sophisticated theatergoers, we're
told, eat this stuff up.
DeLillo presents their last quiet breakfast in a stark, super-
sensory narrative: "She crossed to the cabinet with the blueberries
wet in her hand and reached up for the cereal and took the box to
the counter, the mostly brown and white box, and then the toaster
thing popped and she flipped it down again because it took two
flips to get the bread to go brown and he absently nodded his
acknowledgement because it was his toast and his butter and then he
turned on the radio and got the weather. …