Don DeLillo and 24 Hour Psycho

The artistic inspiration for DeLillo's new novel
Don DeLillo at his typewriter. Photograph: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

The New York Times has published another review of Don DeLillo's new book, Point Omega, this time focussing on the influence of Douglas Gordon's 24 Hour Psycho, an art installation based on the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock film:
[...] Mr. DeLillo got the idea for the book, he said recently, in the summer of 2006, when, wandering through the Museum of Modern Art, he happened upon Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho, a video installation that consists of the Alfred Hitchcock movie Psycho slowed down to two frames a second so that it lasts for an entire day instead of the original hour and a half or so. “I went back four times, and by the third time I knew this was something I had to write about,” he said, adding, “Most of the time I was the only one there except for a guard, and the few people who came in left quite hastily.”

The slowness of the film, and the way it caused him to notice things he might otherwise have missed, appealed to him, Mr. DeLillo said: “The idea of time and motion and the question of what we see, what we miss when we look at things in a conventional manner — all that seemed very inviting to me to think about.”

So he wrote a scene, now the novel’s prologue, in which two unnamed characters, an older man and a younger one, visit 24 Hour Psycho, and he later added an epilogue set in the same gallery. The action of the book takes place in between those brackets, and Mr. DeLillo said it didn’t become clear to him until he realized who those two unnamed characters were: Jim Finley, a young filmmaker (whose only previous work is a 57-minute compilation of clips from Jerry Lewis telethons), and Richard Elster, a 73-year-old conservative intellectual still smarting from an unhappy stint at the Pentagon helping to plan the Iraq war. Finley wants to make a movie about Elster and has followed him to the Arizona desert, where the older man has gone to chill out and to exchange his ordinary sense of time for a longer, more existential view. Eventually Elster begins to sound a little like the French philosopher Teilhard de Chardin, imagining an omega point beyond consciousness and human evolution.

The novel too slows down, in sentences that are spare and condensed, without much metaphorical decoration, but Mr. DeLillo was reluctant to take much credit for that. “I feel that a novel tells you what it wants to be,” he said. “I know that sounds pretentious. But that’s the sense I have. I felt I was discovering rather than inventing.”

A famously gifted elaborator, Mr. DeLillo still said about this book: “I did tell myself I can’t elaborate here, though at certain points I might have enjoyed that. It’s really the purest sort of impulse — a question of what the novel seems to want — and this novel demanded economy.” [Read the article]

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