A few weeks ago I finshed DeLillo's White Noise and now I have started reading Underworld and what strikes me about both books is that, despite the subtle humor that pervades them, the strongest undercurrents are quite different from the initial outlook. It is the aching distress and deep sadness that typifies postmodern man.
The sentence that keeps on returning again and again in White Noise is the existential "What does it mean". DeLillo's protagonists seem to be wandering a theme park where fun, fun, fun is the ultimate goal. But in the end (and sometimes that 'end' comes all to quickly) they always realize that fun, fun, fun only conceals the ever continuing search for a meaning that eludes them. They are not even sure (and we with them) that there is an ultimate meaning. To me they are erring souls, forever striving forward while all the way they do not know if there is something to be reached in the end. Irony seems to be the only way out when truth has been lost.
It makes a joyful reading of these books very difficult. Sure, you laugh a lot, but what, in the end, are you laughing with? There is no salvation, no real conclusion. Maybe Lyotard was right after all. There is no longer any belief in meta-narratives. But what has been constructed in their place leaves all to the imagination and painstakingly avoids any meaning whatsoever (cfr. David Lynch's latest films: sure, they are imaginative and alienating to an absurd maximum, but what does it all mean in the end?)
So we all flee into the detailed and the ultra-particular while never seeing (or should that be: unconsciously a-void-ing) the bigger picture that emerges. That is, total despair and the need to fill in the void regardless of what is being filled up and what we fill it up with. We have everything, but no direction. And the real danger is that when desperately looking for a direction, you choose the wrong one and end up doing very stupid things. You see, for postmodern man, lacking meta-narratives, it just is not necessary any longer to do the right thing. Frequently it seems already enough to do something.
It leads me to think that even the renewed fanatism of muslims as well as christian fundamentalists is no more than a cosmetic affair. After having relinquished religion and having chosen uncritically for wild capitalism, they find out that the chosen path leads to nowhere. But the return to faith is a case of self-deception at its worst. Because in the end they never entirely refute the principles of capitalism. In its place comes an ugly hybrid that combines everything that was wrong about both systems in the first place. So the so-called moral renewal becomes in the end no more than a moral fundament for laissez-faire capitalism. "New", all too often, is just a remodelling of the old forms.
If there were one word with which you would have to sum up our current civilization, it would be unsurprised.