ISBN: 0743244257
ISBN 13: 9780743244251
By: Don DeLillo

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About this book

It is an April day in the year 2000 and an era is about to end -- those booming times of market optimism when the culture boiled with money and corporations seemed more vital and influential than governments.Eric Packer, a billionaire asset manager at age twenty-eight, emerges from his penthouse triplex and settles into his lavishly customized white stretch limousine. On this day he is a man with two missions: to pursue a cataclysmic bet against the yen and to get a haircut across town.His journey to the barbershop is a contemporary odyssey, funny and fast-moving. Stalled in traffic by a presidential motorcade, a music idol's funeral and a violent political demonstration, Eric receives a string of visitors -- his experts on security, technology, currency, finance and theory. Sometimes he leaves the car for sexual encounters and sometimes he doesn't have to.Cosmopolis, Don DeLillo's thirteenth novel, is both intimate and global, a vivid and moving account of a spectacular downfall.“DeLillo’s most affecting novel yet...A dazzling, phosphorescent work of art.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times“The clearest vision yet of what it felt like to live through that day.” —Malcolm Jones, Newsweek“A metaphysical ghost story about a woman alone…intimate, spare, exquisite.” —Adam Begley, The New York Times Book Review“A brilliant new novel....Don DeLillo continues to think about the modern world in language and images as quizzically beautiful as any writer.” — San Francisco Chronicle

Reader's Thoughts

Michael Seidlinger

What? Huh? Okay?These are not indications of confusion. I completely absorbed Cosmopolis and experienced every facet of the near-novella. Given that, I must question the entire purpose of this piece. It certainly provides an ample-enough lens for American excess, disaffection, and dislocation... but I'm not sure it goes anywhere beyond the "image" of this particular portrayal.I need a haircut too... but unlike the rich, I either cut it myself or drive the 1.2 miles to a Hair Cuttery and make it happen.

Marc Weidenbaum

Read this for the third time this weekend -- well, finished for the third time; took it real slow this time around. Cosmopolis is the second of the now four short novels that Don DeLillo has published since his massive Underworld. I have a theory on how the four work together that I've been working on, in the form of a short essay (about how all the novels are intended to investigate challenges to the primacy of the written word), and this read was to focus on supporting the thesis.The story is about a wealthy Wall Street guy making his way across town in a white limo, observing the markets and pleasing himself while lingering threats get closer and closer. The first half is worth reading, even if it can seem like Jay McInerney riffing on Nicholson Baker, or maybe the other way around -- Manhattan high-end social-strata observation occurring in a super-slo-mo, hyper-detailed mode.The second half, when the threat becomes more real, is less effective. The threat is simply much more interesting when it's just a threat. That's sort of the point of the book, too, but it almost proves it too well by ending on one long denouement.


This book is very different to anything i've read before. The prose is sometimes mind-bending and at times can be hard to follow but it's because Eric Packer thinks like no one else. He doesn't see the world as most people do -he breaks things down into minutiae - where we might count things in minutes or seconds, Eric sees in septillionths of seconds.. because of this he is hyper aware, hyper maniacal in some instances, and generally ahead of the game. He lives in a corporate world, driven by numbers and information."Because time is a corporate asset now."He is playing the game from the back seat of his limo as he traverses the city, aiming to get to a point of meaning, all the while something lurks in the shadows. I really enjoyed this book but it wont be to everyone's taste.


Finished this today, and left mostly with a feeling of uncertainty. A remarkable book in some ways - the prose is like the edge of a broken wine glass, some of the philosophical ideas are undoubtedly fascinating, and the crawling, laboured and doggedly unswerving way in which the novel moves through the city is mirrored by the experience of reading it (which sounds negative, but it works beautifully). On the other hand, the set pieces are sometimes far-fetched (the prostate exam and its literal climax being one, the final meeting being another), and the dialogue is often artificial. Possibly intentional, but it comes across as trying too hard.The last image of the watch, though, and the image it contains... Perfect. Set up expertly, earlier on in the novel, with the screens in the limo. In that image (which I won't ruin, but it plays with time in a way that reminds me of McEwan's The Child in Time), the novel's central conceit is brilliantly put forth; we can see where we are headed. If we accept it as inevitable, that is where we will find our ending.

Ian Paganus

Pre-Film ReviewI re-read this novel, before seeing David Cronenberg’s film (see Post 21).SPOILERSThis review reveals what I think about the fate of the protagonist at the end of the novel.My views are based on my interpretation of material that starts at page 55 of the 209 page novel.If this material or my interpretation is incorrect, then the novel leaves you hanging at the end.As my views on the novel as a whole depend on an interpretation of the protagonist’s fate, please don’t read my review if you want to form your own views in isolation.Mutual DedicationIn 1992, Paul Auster dediciated “Leviathan” to Don DeLillo.In 2003, DeLillo repaid the favour by dedicating “Cosmopolis” to Auster.Here is a photo of the two of them [on the left] taken at the baseball with two employees of the Gotham Book Mart by the store’s owner:The Name “Cosmopolis”We are all used to the word “cosmopolitan”, but “cosmopolis” is less commonly used.To the extent that the prefix “cosmo” suggests the world or the universe, it implies that the city is representative of the diversity of the world or the universe.We can probably infer that the city is sophisticated and worldly, has an international rather than provincial character, and is home to many cosmopolitan people.If so, the term would be a perfect description for New York City, where the novel is set.It also applies to ancient Athens and Rome, perhaps the original “world-cities”.Manhattan OdysseyThe novel is largely set in a long white limo that drives its protagonist, 28 year old billionaire and hedge-fund manager Eric Packer, across Manhattan.Most plot summaries describe the purpose of the journey as to enable Eric to get a haircut.However, this misses much of the narrative and metaphorical significance of the journey, not to mention the haircut.The journey is more or less the whole of the length of 47th Street, which runs one-way between 1st Ave and the West Side Highway (called the Joe DiMaggio Highway since just before the publication of the novel).Climbing Down from A Cosmopolitan Triplex in the Heavens...At the 1st Ave end, you’ll find the United Nations Headquarters, perhaps the centre of cosmopolitanism.Eric lives in a triplex close to 1st Ave. The building is not named, but the triplex supposedly cost Eric $104M.At the corner of 47th and 1st is the Trump World Tower, which was completed in 2001.The duplex penthouse in this building failed to sell for $58M, and was eventually split into four units. However, as at 2003, the highest price for an apartment in Manhattan was the $70M paid by hedge-fund manager Martin Zweig for a triplex at the Pierre Hotel owned by Lady Mary Fairfax (of the Australian family that published the Sydney Morning Herald and Age newspapers).Eric’s purchase price represents a 50% increase on the highest price ever paid at the time. You can do that if you're a billionaire.As you drive along 47th Street, you pass the Diamond District, a number of Broadway Theatres and Times Square.Between 1963 and 1968, Andy Warhol’s Factory was on 47th Street between Second and Third Aves....and Descending into Hell’s KitchenOn the West Side, the Street passes into Hell’s Kitchen, also known as Clinton (not named after Bill) or Midtown West (not named after Mae), the original home of Damon Runyon’s stories, Marvel Comics' "Daredevil", gang wars between migrants, and the musical "West Side Story".The Wiki article on Hell’s Kitchen recounts a number of versions of the origin of the area’s name:“…the most common version traces it to the story of Dutch Fred The Cop, a veteran policeman, who with his rookie partner, was watching a small riot on West 39th Street near 10th Avenue. "The rookie is supposed to have said, ‘This place is hell itself,’ to which Fred replied, ‘Hell's a mild climate. This is Hell's Kitchen.’ " Gail Wynand, the newspaper proprietor in Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead”, came from Hell’s Kitchen and in Rand’s novel is described as “Petronius from Hell’s Kitchen”, a description that might also apply to Eric Packer (except that he ends there, rather than originates from there).Interestingly, the original Petronius, believed to be the author of “The Satyricon”, was described as the “elegantiae arbiter” (or the “arbiter elegantiarum”), "the judge of elegance" in the court of the Roman Emperor Nero.West 47th Street has yet to be developed and still contains relatively disused and derelict buildings (including the building that features in the end of “Cosmopolis”), not to mention the homeless and mentally ill treated at “Fountain House” who featured in the documentary “West 47th Street”.Mapping Eric’s ProgressI have included all of this detail (thanks, Wiki), so that I can argue that this journey isn’t just some trip to the barber.It represents a journey along a street that defines the extremes of Manhattan, from the cosmopolitan East Side to the Hellish West Side.Just to help you map Eric’s progress, here are the pages at which his limo passes each Avenue crossing 47th:1st: 92nd: 133rd: 23Lexington: 34 (the hair salon Filles et Garcon actually seems to be at 51st)Park: 38Madison: 415th: 45 (The Presidential Cavalcade)6th: 757th/Broadway: 878th: 1299th: 130 (the Sufi rap artist Brutha Fez's Funeral)10th 158 (the barbershop) 11th: 17012th: 179 (the derelict tenement)This is no mere haircut, this is a low-key to subtle homage to James Joyce’s “Ulysses”, in which our hero leaves the Heaven of his triplex, heads west (young man) and confronts his destiny in a derelict building in Hell’s Kitchen.Perhaps, our hero even meets his anti-hero.Upstairs at Eric’sEric is 28 and has been married to Elise Schifrin for just 22 days.The marriage, so far, is loveless and apparently unconsummated. It represents a symbolic marriage of new American money and traditional European wealth and style, though Elise (“Swiss or something”) is worth a cool $730M herself.Eric has made his money gambling on movements in currencies. He takes immense risks with vast amounts of money and has generated commensurate profits.He is so rich, beyond normal moral or mortal contemplation, some would think it’s indecent and obscene. In the words of his nemesis, Eric is “foully and berserkly rich”.Yet, until recently, Eric has seen his ability as just an example of what the Greeks call “Chrimatistikos”, the art of money-making.He has had talent and drive, which he has "utilised...consistently put to good use." His reward is to live in "a tower that soars to heaven and goes unpunished by God", something that aspires to scraping the sky and meeting God, but now in a Godless era seems only to defy the very idea of God and moral virtue or goodness.He contemplates the word "skyscraper":"No recent structure ought to bear this word. It belonged to the olden soul of awe, to the arrowed towers that were a narrative long before he was born."Just as skyscrapers have lost their narrative drive, so too have money and the art of money-making:"...because money has taken a turn. All wealth has become wealth for its own sake. There's no other kind of enormous wealth. Money has lost its narrative quality the way painting did once upon a time. Money is talking to itself."Money has turned in on itself, become introverted and meaningless. It no longer tells a story about something else, it does not relate to or measure some other achievement. [The novel echoes some of the concerns of William Gaddis' "The Recognitions", but then DeLillo has always mined similar veins.]There’s a point at which you can have so much money that it becomes senseless, there are just no more narratives or stories you can spin with it, without repeating yourself. [I haven’t reached this point yet.]Checking Eric’s BalanceEric’s life so far has been dictated by balance.He lives in a world “in which every force is balanced by another”. When there is another force, he is the equal and opposite reaction.He takes positions and then waits for corrections to occur. The balancing process improves his bank balance.It also dictates his aesthetic judgments.Two private elevators rise to his triplex: in one the music is Satie, in the other Brutha Fez.He gets artistic advice from 47-year old Didi Francher, an art consultant and one of his mistresses.She’s "taught him how to look, how to feel enchantment damp on his face, the melt of pleasure inside a brushstroke or band of color."In a way, she has created a balance to the crudeness and brutality of his occupation.She has taught him how to reckon outside the world of money.He now looks, he notices things, he gazes, he observes, he assesses, he judges.Like Petronius, he has become an "arbiter elegantiarum", a "judge of elegance".He is obsessed with acquiring a collection of 14 Rothko works housed in the Rothko Chapel: genuinely appreciates Rothko's art, but his principal motivation for the purchase is the fact that he can afford to.Such is the power of money.Consciously or not, Didi has also taught Eric how to flirt in an intellectually informed way.In his limo, he metaphorically seduces his chief of finance, Jane Melman:"My mood shifts and bends. But when I'm alive and heightened, I'm super-acute. Do you know what I see when I look at you? I see a woman who wants to live shamelessly in her body. Tell me this is not the truth. You want to follow your body into idleness and fleshiness. That's why you have to run, to escape the drift of your basic nature. ...What do I see? Something lazy, sexy and insatiable."They "[reach] completion more or less together, touching neither each other nor themselves."When she leaves the limo, Jane tells Eric that she “is a woman who would still be married to her husbands if they had looked at her the way you have looked at me here today."”Catching Eric Off BalanceDespite, possibly because of, this transformation, Didi has noticed doubt creeping into Eric’s worldview."You're beginning to think it's more interesting to doubt than to act. It takes more courage to doubt."When we meet Eric, he has gambled everything on the possibility that the Japanese Yen will fall.He has also just been told that he has an asymmetrical prostate.Without asking or knowing more about the medical significance of his diagnosis, he assumes the worst, that the cancer will soon take his life.Even if it isn’t fatal, his prostate’s asymmetry challenges his idealization of balance.He suffers pain. The pain undermines the foundations of his worldview. He starts to doubt both balance and himself. He starts to realise there is something in life apart from himself. He starts to recognise his own mortality.Jane addresses him in the third person:"He could think and speak of other things but only within the pain. He was living in the gland, in the scalding fact of his biology."Does he love himself or hate himself. I don’t think he knows. Or it changes minute by minute. Or the question is so implicit in everything he does that he can’t get outside it to answer."Eric’s nemesis (who also happens to have an asymmetrical prostate) has worked for him before and has some insight into his personality:"You should have listened to your prostate...You tried to predict movements in the yen by drawing on patterns from nature...You made this form of analysis horribly and sadistically precise. "But you forgot something along the way...The importance of the lopsided, the thing that's skewed a little. You were looking for balance, beautiful balance, equal parts, equal sides..."But you should have been tracking the yen in its tics and quirks. The little quirk. The mis-shape..."That's where the answer was, in your body, in your prostate."Living in the Shadow of a DoubtSo I argue that the purpose of Eric’s journey is to confront his own mortality, to deal with his doubt, not just to get a haircut. Until today, he’s pursued business and wealth as a vehicle for achieving immortality.Vija Kinski, his chief of theory, explains:"Men think about immortality. Never mind what women think. We're too small and real to matter here…Great men historically expected to live forever even as they supervised construction of their monumental tombs on the far bank of the river, the west bank, where the sun goes down."There you sit, of large visions and prideful acts. Why die when you can live on disk? A disk, not a tomb. An idea beyond the body. A mind that's everything you ever were and will be, but never weary or confused or impaired. "It's a mystery to me, how such a thing might happen. Will it happen someday? Sooner than we think because everything happens sooner than we think. Later today perhaps. Maybe today is the day when everything happens, for better or worse, ka-boom, like that."However, having achieved as much as one man could ever achieve in a lifetime, Eric is not interested in trying to create an immortal digital replica of himself.He is interested in his own death, because sooner or later, inevitably, we all have to accept our own mortality:"He was alert, eager for action, for resolution. Something had to happen soon, a dispelling of doubt and the emergence of some design, the subject's plan of action, visible and distinct."Ironically, on the way, Eric embraces the lopsided. When he finally gets his haircut, it is asymmetrical. However, it’s not the end of the journey. He resumes his trip before his haircut is finished. His goal is beyond the haircut. It’s somewhere in Hell’s Kitchen. On the west bank, where the sun goes down.The Threat of DeathEric knows that somewhere on his trip, sometime today, he will die.All along, he has been receiving death threats.His journey across Manhattan is the date of reckoning with his own death, the date when death achieves a balance with life or knocks it off its axis.He equips himself with a gun and abandons his security to deal with his nemesis Benno Levin single-handedly in a dilapidated building in Hell’s Kitchen.By the time he arrives, he’s realised that even business embraces death and destruction:"This is also the hallmark of capitalist thought. Enforced destruction. Old industries have to be harshly eliminated. New markets have to be forcibly claimed…Old markets have to be re-exploited. Destroy the past, make the future...The urge to destroy is a creative urge…The logical extension of business is murder."Death is a natural part of life. He has to endure one last arm wrestle with fate, until he knows that he has died appropriately:" was the threat of death at the brink of night that spoke to him most surely about some principle of fate he'd always known would come clear in time. Now he could begin the business of living."He must know and embrace his fate. It does not matter that he might die on the same day. He has already lived life to the fullest:"This was the day, was it not, for influential men to come to sudden messy ends."There is also a sense in which his wealth might come to an end, that his investments will get their own haircut or at the very least, a trim.In his time of dying, the whole of Eric's empire might return, not home, but to nothing.Money might have resumed its narrative drive towards nothingness.Ironically, as the Global Financial Crisis has shown, even billionaires can die with nothing.Frames of Reference“Cosmopolis” is short and easy to read. It occupies a discrete time and space.Rather than being DeLillo-lite or a disappointment, it’s a precisely structured novel that lends itself to being filmed.As with much of DeLillo’s work, it’s concerned with ways of looking and seeing and understanding.If anything, I would call it a highly polished example of "abstracted realism".It is especially informed by Art and Film.Eric finds in Art a pathway into life’s mysteries, one of them being himself:"Don't you see yourself in every picture you love? You feel a radiance wash through you. It's something you can't analyze or speak about clearly. What are you doing at that moment? You're looking at a picture on a wall. That's all. But it makes you feel alive in the world. It tells you yes, you're here. And yes, you have a range of being that's deeper and sweeter than you knew."To the extent that a painting is one framed work, Film consists of multiple frames.It allows us to explore the situations that we might one day find ourselves in, it creates a frame of reference, it creates frames of reference within which to express ourselves:"I've seen a hundred situations like this. A man and a gun and a locked door. My mother used to take me to the movies.""Cosmopolis" is best construed as a gallery of images or a film.It is highly visual and filmic, even though it's effectively set within the confines of a limo.As Eric passes along 47th Street, he witnesses a gallery of events and images and women and must gaze at and judge and react to them, so that ultimately he can determine his own importance in the true scheme of things.My only concern with respect to the film is how the dialogue will come across.How will it convey the abstracted, conceptual precision of DeLillo's language?Will it sound natural?In My State of GraceThe result of Eric's movie-going is that, when he is confronted by the situation ("a man and a gun and a locked door", but also his mortality, his death), he knows how to deal with it.This comforts him. In his hour of need.While some of his apparent attempts at self-defence are clumsy, they seem to be designed to fail.Ultimately, what really matters is that he submits gracefully to the inevitability of his own death.It is perhaps the most graceful act of his life. And the last day of his life might equally be the most complete.There is something perfect and satisfying in this grace and completeness, even if it's a little perverse, even if it lacks symmetry, even if (unlike Leopold Bloom) Eric fails to return home to his triplex at the end of the day.P.S. Lapse or Claps, Chaps?While I love this novel, there are passages that I recognise will annoy or vindicate those who question DeLillo's talent or consistency.I choose to excuse them or to laugh instead.Here are a few examples for your reading pleasure:"Hoisting his genitals in his hand.""The minute you sat there in that whole tragic regalia of running. That whole sad business of Judeo-Christian jogging.""I want to bottle-fuck you slowly with my sunglasses on.""Her feet flew out from under her. She uttered a thing, a sound, herself, her soul in rapid rising inflection.""Eric decided to admire this.""The rain was fine. The rain was dramatically right.""The rain had stopped. This was good. This was clearly what it should have done.""It was the last techno-rave, the end of whatever it was the end of.""He stood in the street. There was nothing to do. He hadn't realized this could happen to him."Sceptics, laugh with me.Soundtrack:Jimi Hendrix - Crosstown Traffic

Sarah Funke

Liked this a ton. Very spare writing, even for DD, so unencumbered by simile and metaphor, so beautiful and crisp and sharp and rhythmic, that you have to read a lot of it twice to understand it. Plenty of the usual quotable wisdom; some stunning passages, and terrific juxtapositions. A great representative paragraph:"The tower gave him strength and depth. He knew what he wanted, a haircut, but stood a while longer in the soaring noise of the street and studied the mass and scale of the tower. The one virtue of its surface was to skim and bend the river light and mime the tides of open sky. There was an aura of texture and reflection. He scanned its length and felt connected to it, sharing the surface and the environment that came into contact with the surface, from both sides. A surface separates inside from out and belongs no less to one than the other. He'd thought about surfaces in the shower once." (p.9) One of the many little bits I just love: "If you knew the man ten years, it might take you all that time to notice he did not wear glasses" (p. 53) Stuff about eye contact and brushing against people in pedestrian traffic (p. 66). "To know and not to act is not to know" (p. 85). TDF booth line filled with the only people not reacting to a huge crisis in Times Square. Hilarious. "I was a kid and a little pedantic but I still maintain I had a point" (p. 184). Obvious structural parallels with Joyce of course and an unplanned, I'm sure, nod to Woolf: the artistry of the protagonist who wants to move people around, no matter the drama of the context, to catch the light in a certain way. In addition to all this -- this craft and beauty and wit and intelligence -- he predicted the financial crisis (his financial manager protagonist is warned that he is "speculating into the void") and also predicts what my friend Alison Fraser has referred to as "the death of death" created by electronic media. He uses words that shouldn't, really, be used any more -- like "satchel" -- but comments on others that are much harder to call, like "telephone," and "vestibule, if this is still a word." And then there are all the words he's dug out of I don't know where, like "slub," for example.


Poetry pours from Cosmopolis, a sweaty rut of discourse and images about the nature of power in our world. Delillo is prescient and impactful, but he's always been, hasn't he? The protagonist finds obsoletion everywhere and the reader cringes, suddenly questioning their own utility. The ending proved blurred but effective. I sense the message within. The dedication to Paul Auster was intriguing as well. I may see the film now.

Alex Telander

This is my second attempt with Don DeLillo, the first being last year’s The Body Artist, and having read Cosmopolis, I still don’t know what all the fuss is about this guy. Maybe it’s an “East Coaster” thing, for the guy just doesn’t impress me much. He’s the kind of author who attempts to use long words, complex run-on sentence, and go off on long and boring tangents which really have no bearing on the novel, and any real meaning or truth to offer the reader.Cosmopolis is about a really rich guy who decided that he doesn’t want to have his barber come to his skyscraper with his huge office to cut his hair. Instead he’s going to take the limo across New York to have the barber cut his hair at his shop. As Mr. Rich attempts to cross town, the president is at the same time coming through with his vast motorcade, and has his life threatened by an assassin. So traffic essentially slows to a complete crawl, while Mr. Rich comfortably travels in his limo.Along the way, for some reason (probably because he’s that rich!), he gets out of the car and meets people he knows, has sex with wives, ex-wives, and “little bits on the side” in their car and their apartment, and all this stuff happens while he is trying to get to the barber shop; essentially about a rich guy using his riches.So if you would like to read about what it would be like to be so rich that you can get and do absolutely anything you want, read Cosmopolis, and get lost in long sentences that lead you into endless cul-de-sacs.Originally published on May 12th, 2003 ©Alex C. Telander.For over 500 book reviews, and over 40 exclusive author interviews (both audio and written), visit BookBanter.


Dellilo's New York limo ride flows well enough through the first half of the book. The premise allows itself to open an array of bizzare situations: a billionaire twenty-something want to ride in his suped-up stretch limo to get a haircut. On the way he has encounters with lovers, ex-lovers, and advisors in matters of technology, finance, security, and theory. Dellilo's prose is highly restrained with limited, but rich descriptions of neighborhoods that unfold through the eyes of billionaire Eric. There are some truly original hilarious subversive instances where Eric displays his detatchment from society such as when he makes sexual advances to a female executive while getting a prostate exam in his back seat (No pun intended).As allegory, it holds up; the plot itself fails to hold up at times though because of the limited style he chooses with certain situations. The female characters blend into non-memorable hybrids of slut-artist-vixen-heiress-mystic. In a style very reminiscent of Chuck Palahnuik ('Fight Club') Eric's journey unfolds as his own deathmarch which Eric is all too willing to accept. The social critique is clear enough: the market culture is tainting our humanity and the democracy as corporate-kleptocracy will test what is left of it. Delillo delivers in 'Cosmopolis'. I only wish that his characterization was as substantial as every thing else in his novel.

Simon Cleveland

"Cosmopolis" by Don DeLillo is a story about the powers of greed, lust and revenge as seen through the eyes of post-modern nostalgia and technology obsession. Written in DeLillo's characteristically poetic and often harmonic lyrical tone, the story is wrapped up in certain sadness and longing after the basic human emotions lost in a society stricken by the plague of information technology, heartless bits of 1's and 0's, media driven global financial markets and of course the demonic obsession with money. The pages seem soaked in this cold blue neon light of radiating motion, of brutal cause and effect relationships, of sorrowful physiological weaknesses. At the center sits a powerful yet uncharacteristically young broker who proceeds to gamble away his fortune against the movements of the Japanese yen (against his instincts and nature) from the comfort of his mobile office (his limousine). The book is worth exploring, if not for the story, for its honest and open narrative that does not cringe or retract when exposing the shameful but realistic qualities of the human physique. I recommend this book for those readers who are interested in DeLillo's unforgettable language talent.


Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis, published in 2001, stands up disturbingly well over time. It’s been thirteen years, and we’ve seen the mega-banks and mega-investors (and all the little guys beneath them) crushed by a cataclysm of greed, but serious reforms were fought off, tax adjustments to realign the burdens on taxpayers more equitably have been booed out of the stadium, and the notion of a super-investor spending an entire day riding around in a stretch limo in Manhattan, running his currency and investing operations from there, remains comically plausible. Our anti-hero, Eric Packer suffers from what could be called the DeLillo disease or the Pynchon disease or the Orwell or Gaddis or NSA disease, namely the fantasy that somehow there is a code in the universe that can be deciphered ahead of time, and it will either make you almost meaninglessly rich or meaninglessly dead. DeLillo’s minimalist satire of such fantasists is all the sharper and more deadly for its doses of sympathy for Eric who displays a keen eye for the grandeur in the metaphysical workings of the world economy, yes, but also for the little folk and foibles of New York City. His flat writing––DeLillo’s––accentuates the cultural and technological gaudiness of New York as well as its human richness. There are theorists, assassins, bodyguards, poets, broken-down barbers, and unruly protestors in this densely packed novel who achieve a strange kind of unbelievable credibility because Eric has a death wish (for himself and for his business) that sharpens his perceptions and appreciation of almost everything in gusts of detail that are, undeniably, New York-like. When we see this stuff in movies––the private limos, the predictable sexual encounters with red hot lovers, the all-knowing screens full of encyclopedic data––we take it as schtick, at least by now, I would think. But prose works harder than movies. Prose takes work to create every single image, inflection, adjective, and event. There are no contextual gifts caused by the camera or the simple natural beauty of women who wouldn’t even require make-up to seem divine. In prose everything happens through word after word, not all at once. I don’t mean to denigrate movies. I know how hard it is to make one. In fact, I’d never want to make one because it is the most tedious business imaginable. But the fact is that a face or a backdrop of the Brooklyn Bridge or a half-empty parking lot on the Lower East Side comes naturally to the lens, and it’s not the way for writers. A DeLillo, who writes and writes about vague conspiracies, has to earn the full engagement of his readers with just the right word, the word that is what the reader would have used had the reader possessed DeLillo’s gifts. Again, the edginess of Cosmopolis is its sharp proximity to revolting reality, the sense that the totality of control in the world rests uncomfortably in a few frail, mortal hands, and that it can all come crashing down in an instant. DeLillo’s approach to this notion is powerful because the odious Eric festers with lusts and inadequacies and jealousies that make him human, if barely. Eric’s nemesis, on the other hand, is less persuasive. This is an individual who is identified in separate sections of the narrative as someone who once worked for Eric and lost his position and now lives in the scummiest, most desperate of circumstances. In literary terms, he is Dostoevsky’s Underground Man or Ellison’s Invisible Man. This is forced, not persuasive. The most curious thing about the end of the book is how superior Eric is in comparison to his assassin. He makes good points in trying to defuse the confrontation; but the suggestion is that the very far-seeing talent that made him rich is also what, in a ghoulish set of images, makes him dead.


En ‘Cosmópolis’ asistimos durante un día a la vida de un perdedor, Eric Packer. Lo curioso es que Eric es un multimillonario dedicado a las altas finanzas, que pese a su juventud, lo tiene todo, siendo además de los que deciden el futuro de otros mediante sus inversiones y especulaciones. En este día en concreto, Eric se levanta por la mañana con dos ideas en la cabeza: arriesgar todo su dinero a que el yen japonés no subirá, y cortarse el pelo.Durante esta larga jornada, Eric viajará en su limusina por toda Nueva York camino de su peluquero, encontrándose con múltiples personajes y situaciones. En su amplia limusina tienen lugar los encuentros más dispares, ya que parece que Eric tenga más vida en ella que en su propia casa. Pero Eric no viaja solo en su aventura joyceana, le acompañan varios guardaespaldas, y es que su vida está amenazada. Todo ello bajo el telón de fondo de la visita del presidente a la ciudad, el entierro de un conocido cantante, el rodaje de una película… que dificultan el viaje de la limusina entre el denso tráfico. Por cierto, que David Cronenberg está realizando la adaptación al cine de esta novela. El material se adapta a lo que ha sido hasta ahora su filmografía, pero ya veremos.‘Cosmópolis’ es una reflexión de los tiempos que corren, deshumanizada, donde DeLillo trata temas como el terrorismo, la globalización o la alienación del individuo, con un Eric Packer en su particular descenso a los infiernos, paranoico, inteligente, dominado por su ego, que tiene sexo cuando y donde quiere.La prosa de DeLillo es directa y lúcida, como siempre, capaz de dar en el clavo con cada una de sus observaciones. Pese a ello, DeLillo es un escritor que no llega a calarme del todo, pero aun así sus novelas siempre resultan interesantes y con grandes destellos de calidad. -He leído un poema en el que una rata se convierte en moneda de curso legal.-Pues sí, sería interesante –dijo Chin.-Desde luego. Tremendo impacto en la economía mundial.-Ya sólo por el nombre… Mucho mejor que el dong o la kwacha.-El nombre lo es todo.-Sí. La rata –dijo Chin.-Sí. Hoy la rata ha cerrado por debajo del euro.-Sí. Existe una preocupación creciente de que la rata rusa se devalúe.-Ratas blancas. Piénsalo.-Sí. Ratas preñadas.-Eso. Liquidación en masa de ratas rusas preñadas.-Gran Bretaña entra en la zona rata –dijo Chin.-Eso mismo. Se suma a la lógica tendencia de adoptar una única unidad de cambio universal.-Sí. Estados Unidos establece la unidad rata.-Eso. Cada dólar estadounidense será canjeable por su valor en ratas.-Ratas muertas.-Eso. El acopio de reservas de ratas muertas se tiene por una amenaza contra la salud mundial.


DeLillo's prose is beautiful, accessible and riddled with insight. Unfortunately, the merits of his prose work against plot in Cosmopolis. There's something to be said for authors who can write an entire book about a rich man stuck in traffic. On one hand, you have to respect DeLillo for his ability to infuse the mundane with such beauty and elegance. On the other hand, who gives a shit about a rich asshole who is so stubborn that he insists on crawling at a snail's pace through traffic to get a haircut?I read Cosmopolis a few years after reading Byron's Manfred. These two texts compliment one another quite nicely. If you read Cosmopolis as a narrative about a man who runs into mystical spirits disguised as people, each of which engages the protagonist in some life-altering discourse, then Cosmopolis isn't too bad. I think drawing parallels between the two is the one thing that kept me reading Cosmopolis.But if you pick up Cosmopolis after reading a few of DeLillo's earlier works, you'll see a few themes repeated without any new ground being covered: isolation vs. immersion in society, loss of identity via conformity, etc. It's all touched upon, danced around, and dabbled in here. But Cosmopolis lacks the depth of DeLillo's previous endeavors. When it comes down to it, DeLillo is a writer's writer. If you feel like poetry has all but died in American culture, read DeLillo and you'll see it guised as prose. When it comes to language aesthetic, DeLillo ranks at the top of the list. If you're looking for one of the high watermarks of insight and social critique, you'll find just as much in DeLillo's work as you would in Walter Benjamin's. Pardon the minor digression, but reading Mao II in coordination with Benjamin, particularly Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" ranks as one of the best reading experiences I've had in quite some time.So this book wasn't my favorite, but it wasn't enough to make me stop reading DeLillo. I just know now that when I sit down to read his later works, I do it for different reasons than I used to when reading his earlier material.

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy

Like every DeLillo novel I've read so far (which isn't a lot; this is the 3rd), this one was well written, often brilliantly written, completely different from anything else by him I've read, and somehow left me subtly dissatisfied.A hyperkinetic novel that reads like something penned by the lovechild of two Williams, Burroughs and Gibson, it veers between the former's breathless philosophical and sexual pomp and the latter's endless obsession with surface, with data and with pattern.A day in the life of a ridiculously wealthy man who has made a fortune successfully predicting currency market trends. He cruises around town in his limo, having sex with his female aides and sharing obscenely cyberchic conversations with his male aides, apart from his main bodyguard whom he hardly talks to at all aside from killing him before heading out to face a high-risk assassination threat solo. Along the way, he has random encounters with a wife he hardly seems to know and also pisses away his entire fortune by betting against a steadily rising Yen.There's little character logic here, just a roller-coaster ride through how DeLillo imagines a billionaire-whizkid getting long in the tooth at 29 might live and work and think, with sundry speculations on the outdated origins of common terms for gadgets ('ATM' with its embedded memory of that archaic thing, the teller, or the childish rhyme of 'walky-talky'), throwaway cool-sounding aphorisms and the standard trappings of a novel telegraphing how contemporary it is - a rave party in a gutted theatre, the funeral of a Sufi rapper (what frightens me most is that Sufi trap is a musical trend as inevitable as it will be deeply repugnant), a hi-tech limo stuffed with the latest info-devices, a voice-operated gun and so on and so forth. Is the protagonist's quest for a haircut, which eventually leads him to his father's old neighbourhood and a confrontation with mortality some sort of wish to regress to childhood and further back to a time before he was born? But didn't he just dismiss Freud (and also Einstein) in the opening pages of the book? What then? Does it mean anything? Dunno. Compulsively readable but hard to interpret or to take very seriously with all that self-conscious bleeding-edge slickness.


Nutshell: one-percenter gets haircut, an event worthy of 200 pages.The less looney toons sibling of American Psycho (“the logical extension of business is murder“ (113)), this text, contrary to my intentions, was not necessarily the correct one to brainbleach the Ayn Rands that I’d read immediately prior hereto--though her mantra regarding self-made industrialists, who nevertheless are heirs to massive fortunes, is given mock heroic treatment here as “self made,” “ruthless,” “strong,” “brilliant” (72).Slick colloquy on chrematistics, “the art of money-making” (77), an odd phrase, as though currency were created ex nihilo, in a randian fantasy, by the mere intellect of the industrialist. Therein we see that “money has lost its narrative quality” (id.), which readers of Marx will recognize as the always already absent presence of repressed political relations inherent in currency, via operation of commodity fetishism. We see that “clock time accelerated the rise of capitalism“ (79), and “it’s cyber-capital that creates the future” via transactions at intervals of yoctoseconds (79): “time is a corporate asset now. It belongs to the free market system. The present is harder to find. It is being sucked out of the world to make way for the future of uncontrolled markets and huge investment potential” (id.). Part of the process is the integration of protests against capitalism into its structure: protesters “don’t exist outside the market. There is nowhere they can go to be on the outside. There is no outside” (90). The protest itself is a “form of systemic hygiene, purging and lubricating” (99). When a protestor intentionally self-immolates, dumb cappy grover dill can only complain “it’s not original,” “an appropriation” (100)--a nice emblem of the proto-fascism described by Herf in Reactionary Modernism regarding insistent “authenticity,” which emblem reiterates here: “To pull back now would not be authentic. It would be a quotation from other people’s lives” (85).Noted as “the hallmark of capitalist thought” is “enforced destruction” (92), a spectre from Benjamin’s ninth thesis on the philosophy of history: “old industries have to be harshly eliminated. New markets have to be forcibly claimed. Old markets have to be re-exploited. Destroy the past, make the future,” apt reference to capitalism’s continuous process of revolutionizing the means of production (92-93). Recommended for persons undead living in a state of occult repose, waiting to be reanimated, those driven by thinking machines that they have no final authority over, and persons with asymmetrical prostates.

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