Rewiring the Real: In Conversation with William Gaddis, Richard Powers, Mark Danielewski, and Don DeLillo (Religion, Culture, and Public Life)
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Digital and electronic technologies that act as extensions of our bodies and minds are changing how we live, think, act, and write. Some welcome these developments as bringing humans closer to unified consciousness and eternal life. Others worry that invasive globalized technologies threaten to destroy the self and the world. Whether feared or desired, these innovations provoke emotions that have long fueled the religious imagination, suggesting the presence of a latent spirituality in an era mistakenly deemed secular and posthuman.
William Gaddis, Richard Powers, Mark Danielewski, and Don DeLillo are American authors who explore this phenomenon thoroughly in their work. Engaging the works of each in conversation, Mark C. Taylor discusses their sophisticated representations of new media, communications, information, and virtual technologies and their transformative effects on the self and society. He focuses on Gaddis's The Recognitions, Powers's Plowing the Dark, Danielewski's House of Leaves, and DeLillo's Underworld, following the interplay of technology and religion in their narratives and their imagining of the transition from human to posthuman states. Their challenging ideas and inventive styles reveal the fascinating ways religious interests affect emerging technologies and how, in turn, these technologies guide spiritual aspirations. To read these novels from this perspective is to see them and the world anew.
brought about through a parodic repetition of the Eucharist. While restoring the paintings, Stephen, like all the other members of the monastic community, eats bread resembling the sacramental loafs called manii. One day the bread is unusually dry and specked with red. The puzzled monks ask the wife of the Necrostyle food chemist what she thinks might be wrong. She shows the bread to her husband and, while reporting what the monks had told her to other visitors, expresses her bewilderment:
experience of abandonment and the longing to return to an origin that forever eludes us. Reviewing his 2000 novel Plowing the Dark, the late John Leonard writes: On the road, on the raft, on the lam—ours is a culture of Shane-like vanishing acts, an agitated itchiness from Huck Finn to the Weather Underground, with intermediate stops at the Last of the Mohicans, the Lost Generation, Dean Moriarty, Billy Pilgrim, Rabbit Angstrom, and Henderson the Rain King. It’s no big surprise to find lonesome
art. “Tool-making was the invention of Homo faber—of him who, while no longer an animal, was not yet fully a man. That sufficiently well describes Neanderthal Man. Art began with full-grown man, Homo sapiens, who first entered the stage in the early Upper Paleolithic times: in the Aurignacian period.” For Bataille, art is constitutive of human being as such. But the tale he tells is not free from ambiguity because there is something disturbing about the heritage that makes us human. “At Lascaux,”
anxiety,” Heidegger writes, “one feels uncanny. Here the peculiar indefiniteness of that which Dasein finds itself alongside in anxiety, comes proximally to expression: the ‘nothing and nowhere’ ” (25). As Kierkegaard first pointed out in The Concept of Anxiety (1844), anxiety, in contrast to fear, which always has a specific object, is a response to nothing, i.e., to no definite thing. The indefiniteness of this no-thing is precisely what makes anxiety so difficult to manage, control, and
Religion tay16040_book.indb 15 09/11/12 2:34 PM These seemingly simple lines signal two themes that are central in the novel: creativity and originality. What Gaddis gives with one hand, he takes away with the other. Layers of citations simultaneously frame his analysis and deliberately call into question its originality. As if to mock his own literary ambitions, Gaddis freely admits that his work is not original but is a copy of a work whose author is a fake. His novel, in other words, is a