Open Collections

UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Tertium datur : making contact in Don DeLillo's Ratner's Star Streit, Michael 2018

Your browser doesn't seem to have a PDF viewer, please download the PDF to view this item.

Item Metadata


24-ubc_2018_may_streit_michael.pdf [ 296.32kB ]
JSON: 24-1.0366140.json
JSON-LD: 24-1.0366140-ld.json
RDF/XML (Pretty): 24-1.0366140-rdf.xml
RDF/JSON: 24-1.0366140-rdf.json
Turtle: 24-1.0366140-turtle.txt
N-Triples: 24-1.0366140-rdf-ntriples.txt
Original Record: 24-1.0366140-source.json
Full Text

Full Text

TERTIUM DATUR: MAKING CONTACT IN DELILLO’S RATNER’S STARbyMichael StreitB.A.(Hon.), The University of British Columbia, 2012Dip.Mus., Vancouver Community College, 2016A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OFTHE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OFMASTER OF ARTSinTHE FACULTY OF GRADUATE AND POSTDOCTORAL STUDIES(English)THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIAVancouverApril 2018© Michael Streit 2018The following individuals certify that they have read, and recommend to the Faculty of Graduateand Postdoctoral studies for acceptance, the thesis entitled:                           Tertium Datur: Making Contact in DeLillo’s  Ratner’s Star                                   submitted by  Michael Streit                                        in partial fulfillment of the requirements forthe degree of  Master of Arts                                                                                                              in                    English                                                                                                                        Examining Committee:Michael Zeitlin, English                                                                                                                    Co-SupervisorJeffrey Severs, English                                                                                                                      Co-SupervisoriiABSTRACTRatner’s Star is considered one of Don DeLillo’s more inaccessible texts, and with goodreason: taking the history of mathematical progress as its major temporal arc, Ratner’s Stareschews many conventions of fiction in order to create a unique system that operates—as manycritics have noted—on a complex interplay of opposites.Fewer critics, however, have noted the importance of genre to this text. Going beyondthe customary nod to Menippean satire, critics David Cowart, John Johnston and Mark Osteen,in particular, investigate the history of this genre to pose texts such as Gulliver’s Travels andAlice in Wonderland as important models for Ratner’s Star. Extending existent scholarship, thispresent study roots DeLillo’s text firmly within the tradition of Menippean satire as defined byM. M. Bakhtin, not only to situate DeLillo’s concerns within the context of satire (this hasalready been accomplished) but also to activate a full-scale analysis of Ratner’s Star inBakhtinian terminology.With Raphael’s School of Athens as a visual touchstone, this study investigates howDeLillo frames and re-frames the tension between the mathematically abstract and the materiallytangible by employing Bakhtin’s definitions of the grotesque and heteroglossia. As a stronglygrotesque character, Robert Hopper Softly and the “antrum” of his creation encapsulate suchinterplay of the abstract and the tangible while leaving this tension ambivalent and unresolved.The “New York episodes,” brief flashbacks where DeLillo grounds his protagonist in prosaiclife, present a world according to the Menippean style of carnivalesque “slum naturalism,”iiiwherein languages live and are lived in, rooted to their surroundings. On the other hand,Logicon, an artificial “universal” language, opposes the lived experience and heteroglossia ofthese New York episodes. In order to demonstrate DeLillo's suspicion of the destructivecapability of such a universal language, this study concludes by defining Logicon as the primaryantagonist of the novel, a tyrannical and abstracting force that threatens heteroglossic languageand the plural realities it represents, Menippean satire as a genre embracing relativity, and mostcrucially, the artistic discourse of the novel itself.ivLAY SUMMARYIn Ratner’s Star, Don DeLillo imagines an underground project attempting to invent a universallanguage designed for extraterrestrial communication. What at first seems to be a hare-brained(yet comical) scheme soon acquires more sinister connotations: rather than communicating withextraterrestrial life, the Logicon project takes on a life of its own as its creators invest it with theaim of revolutionizing all science and language. As a novelist and, moreover, a keen conduit ofmany dialects and inflections of human language, DeLillo takes the side of the terrestrial ratherthan the extraterrestrial, surrounding the folly of the Logicon project with a hilarious swirl oflanguages and curses, places and bodies, sex and excrement, all of which oppose the abstractuniversalism of Logicon. Ratner’s Star makes the convincing case that, while humanity can nothelp imagining who or what lives in the stars, earth has enough aliens as it is.vPREFACEBuilding upon DeLillo criticism and employing the methodology of M. M. Bakhtin to analyzeDon DeLillo’s Ratner’s Star, this thesis is original, unpublished, independent work by theauthor, Michael Streit.viTABLE OF CONTENTSAbstract...........................................................................................................................................iiiLay Summary...................................................................................................................................vPreface............................................................................................................................................viTable of Contents...........................................................................................................................viiEpigram........................................................................................................................................viiiGlossary of Abbreviated Works......................................................................................................ixI. Raphael, Bakhtin, DeLillo............................................................................................................1II. Menippean Satire.........................................................................................................................4III. The Carnival-Grotesque.............................................................................................................6IV. Hole Theory..............................................................................................................................14V. Slum Naturalism, Prose Wisdom: The New York Episodes......................................................29VI. On Logic, Logicon...................................................................................................................48VII. Howls of Awe, Cries of Wonder.............................................................................................72Works Cited...................................................................................................................................78vii. . . the novel appears to be a creature from an alien species.—M.M. Bakhtin, “Epic and Novel” (4)viiiGLOSSARY OF ABBREVIATED WORKSM. M. Bakhtin:DiN, “Discourse in the Novel”FTCN, “Forms of Time and Chronotope in the Novel”N70-1, “From Notes Made in 1970-1”PDP, Problems in Dostoevsky’s PoeticsRAHW, Rabelais and His WorldDon DeLillo:EZ, End ZoneRS, Ratner’s StarWN, White NoiseixI. Raphael, Bakhtin, DeLilloLa Scuola di Atene, a fresco by Raphael, presents the complex process of knowledge inaction. Of the few figures in the painting not actually engaged in philosophical debate, amessenger on the extreme left—what Giorgio Spadaro calls the “Apollonian side” of the painting—“rushes in carrying a scroll (antiquity) and a book (modernity)” (55). This “messengerdelivers knowledge to the individuals painted on the time line,” said time line being the major x-axis of the Cartesian grid that Spadaro traces in his analysis of the fresco’s compositionalgeometry, and quite remarkably the “delivered knowledge” held by the figure on the left “iscarried into the future by the exiting figure on the right.” Two painted figures, therefore,represent two “abscissae” or ordinates on the same chronological axis, and through theprogression from the left of the painting to the right this messenger (and more importantly, hismessage) passes through schools and sub-schools of knowledge in production.Framed in the middle of this chronological axis is a pair of figures whose presenceRaphael accentuates in as many ways as possible, be it the contrast in colour provided by thesparsely-clouded blue of the sky behind these figures or the crowd fanning outwards in front ofthe two, the bodies of the multitude displaying postures of attention and contemplation but alsoacting as compositional markers. Though the gestures of these figures have created endlessspeculation, the gestures themselves are clear: “Aristotle is looking at Plato,” Spadaro writes,“his right hand motioning out toward the school and parallel to the ground. This horizontalgesture is in direct counterpoint to Plato’s vertical gesture” (53). Purposefully overdetermined1and suggestive, this gestural language combines to make another grid, the y-axis of Plato’s“upward gesture of the spiritual world” meeting Aristotle’s “outward gesture of the physical”which betokens the x-axis. Plato points to the ideal world of the Forms, an essential nowhere, asAristotle, his palm downward, ushers an awareness of the now and the here. While theambivalency of these gestures has spurred numerous interpretations, Glen Most notes that “manyviewers have thought that Raphael grants Plato a subtle hint of superiority over Aristotle,”leaving “Aristotle . . . confined to the given world surrounding him” (165).This confinement, however, is suggested by the perspective of the painting itself,especially compared to the theological La Disputa, housed in the same room as La Scuola diAtene. Spadoro argues that “the slightly downward perspective indicates that the process ofthinking is housed in the brain and the brain is within the skull . . . . In the School of Athens thelines in the foreground create a downward movement to the human realm rather than leading tothe spiritual world as in the Disputa” (65). This downward perspective, emphasized byAristotle’s gesture, stresses the very action within the painting itself, the event-ness of it—theproduction of knowledge. Marcia Hall adds that Raphael’s situation of his theme in a “particularplace” rather than “some celestial zone outside of time” is prime among the painter’sinnovations (13). Rather than displaying the tradition of the Uomini Famosi (Famous Men) as“lost in meditation and oblivious of one another,” as his predecessors did, Raphael paints hisUomini Famosi “in lively discourse,” having the added effect of portraying discourse “that isalso intended to engage the reader”: “Raphael has left an opening for viewers to enter with theirimagination, identify some of the figures for themselves, and take part in the dialogue” (11).In M. M. Bakhtin’s terminology, by emphasizing the chronological transmission of2messages, stressing the “downward perspective” of his subject to include the plural socio-material contexts of speech, and presenting the debate of his figures in media res, Raphaeldialogizes painting. Seen from this vantage point, Raphael’s fresco is the type to the antitype ofDon DeLillo’s fourth novel, Ratner’s Star. Re-staging the paradox of one messenger appearingtwice within a single static image, the distance separating these messengers not so much spacebut time, Ratner’s Star stages the realization that an extraterrestrial message is merely aterrestrial one in order to conduct a literary tour among the Uomini Famosi of scientific,astrological, and mathematical history—many of whom, Pythagoras and Euclid included, appearin Raphael’s School of Athens and now reappear in another think-tank, Field Experiment No. 1(FE#1). This tour, though (and through) presenting the monological—as indeed Raphael does inpainting the solitary Diogenes and Heraclitus—prizes the dialogical, for the dialogicaldramatizes the primary play of opposites within DeLillo’s novel: the solitary finger of Plato,pointing up, and the broad palm of Aristotle, gesturing down. “Experience and pure thought.The mind and the world. External reality and independent abstract deduction” says Walter X.Mainwaring late in the novel, cataloguing the binary logic upon which Ratner’s Star teeters(418). Mainwaring offers no resolution of this binary opposition, but in Ratner’s Star, DeLillodoes: the human, “confined to the given world surrounding him,” treads “the contact line ofnature and mathematical thought . . . where things make sense, things accede to our view ofthem, things return to us a propagating wave of reason” (RS 431). Riding the line betweenbinaries, the human, both a and non-a, is the excluded middle which the logic-driven innovationsof science expel in order to function—thus leaving humanity alien to itself.3II. Menippean SatireShortly after publication of Ratner’s Star, George Stade wrote in the The New YorkTimes that DeLillo’s book “is the something else his [three] others were straining to become”: a“Menippean satire,” which Stade, detailing a genealogy of the genre as well as othercontemporary examples, claims to be “the exemplary form of the moment” in 1976. JohnJohnston agrees with Stade’s diagnosis, writing that “DeLillo works with words, images, andrepresentations as his primary material—not with people and their individual dramas” (274), anapproach that permits the author to satirize society-shaping influences. Without mentioning thegenre as such, David Cowart traces important connections between Ratner’s Star and itspredecessors, particularly Gulliver’s Travels, while Mark Osteen goes the furthest in mappingRatner’s Star on to the work of Lewis Carroll. Critically, Osteen also mentions that “Ratner’sStar possesses all fourteen features of classical Menippean satire,” according to Bakhtin, beforeproceeding in an endnote to list some of the more salient (63).To complement and extend existing scholarship, this present study commits toexplicating Ratner’s Star as Menippean satire as much as DeLillo’s novel shows its owncommitment to that genre. For Bakhtin, Menippean satire is a genre conceived in antiquity butfinding its paragon in the Renaissance (the age of Raphael), most notably in the work ofRabelais, continuing in time to find masterful expression in Dostoevsky. (John Johnston andOsteen are right to connect Ratner’s Star with the fourteen characteristics of Menippean satire,and while this study is guided by these characteristics, only the most important will be detailed4with relation to the novel.) Critical to Bakhtin’s understanding of the development ofMenippean satire is its growth alongside carnival which thus leads to the genre’s“carnivalization.” As Gary Morson and Caryl Emerson write, carnival for Bakhtin is “not somuch a set of views as a ground for vision” (460): the “carnivalistic categories,” Bakhtin writes,such as “equality and freedom” of interpersonal contact, “the interrelatedness of all things or theunity of opposites” are “not abstract thoughts . . . No, these are concretely sensuous ritual pageant ‘thoughts’ experienced and played out in the form of life itself” (PDP 123). Thispractice of carnival formed “an immense, formal, genre-shaping influence on literature” (PDP123), of Menippean satire in particular; the “atmosphere of joyful relativity characteristic of acarnival sense of the world” finds its way into literature, where it creates “a weakening of itsone-sided rhetorical seriousness, its rationality, its singular meaning, its dogmatism” (PDP 107).5III. The Carnival-GrotesqueThe carnivalesque becomes synonymous with the grotesque in Bakhtin’s Rabelais andHis World, so much so that Bakhtin hyphenates the two as “carnival-grotesque” (RAHW 34). Ofthe immense variety of carnival-grotesque images, scenes, and characters in Ratner’s Star,Robert Hopper Softly, whom DeLillo calls “a sort of white rabbit figure” (LeClair “Interview”12), is privileged as the grotesque par excellence in this novel. Though not exclusively, Softly’scharacter also conforms with Bakhtin’s eighth characteristic of Menippean satire—“moral psychological experimentation: a representation of the unusual, abnormal moral and psychicstates of man” such as “insanity of all sorts (the theme of the maniac), split personality,unrestrained daydreaming, unusual dreams, passions bordering on madness, suicides, and soforth” (PDP 116)—and furnishes occasion for characteristic nine, the high frequency of “scandalscenes, eccentric behaviour, inappropriate speeches and performances, that is, all sorts ofviolations of the generally accepted and customary course of events and the established norms ofbehavior and etiquette, including manners of speech” (PDP 117).The first mention of Robert Hopper Softly is that he is “a child-sized man with glaringlyfair skin and a gift for leading people into situations they would never have entered on theirown” (261). Immediately, Softly unites opposites, the child and the man. For Bakhtin, theunification of opposites is a hallmark of how the grotesque image “reflects a phenomenon intransformation, an as yet unfinished metamorphosis, of death and birth, growth andbecoming . . . in this image we find both poles of transformation, the old and the new, the dying6and the procreating, the beginning and the end of the metamorphosis” (RAHW 24). Mostimportantly, this unification leads to an extreme ambivalency, a double-handedness of theexcluded middle. The prime ambivalency of Softly is in relation to time. Neither child nor manand yet simultaneously both, Softly encapsulates Wordsworth’s famous paradox. The erasure ofbinary borderlines—a distinctive feature of the grotesque—occurs within the chronology ofSoftly’s body, a thing that is constantly in flux, displaying “the passing of one form into theother, in the ever incompleted character of being” (RAHW 32). Consequently, Softly mirrors hisprodigy (and prematurely born) Billy in this respect: a female character describes the “haunted”fourteen-year old as “too old to be cute. Too young to be sexy” (115).Given that Softly’s body, “pathologically stunted as it was, possessed to full extentmisfortune’s power to reproach not only nature but symmetry itself” (261), he is presented fromthe outset as a grotesque character, an affront to classical standards of design and beauty. Ashort blazon of his qualities follows: “Head was disproportionately large, heavy brows shadinghis gray eyes” along with “a shallow jaw and exceedingly wide mouth, a thumb-suckingmachine, aggressively sensual, too much palpitating lip” (262). “The most important of allhuman features for the grotesque is the mouth,” Bakhtin notes: “It dominates all else. Thegrotesque face is actually reduced to the gaping mouth; the other features are only a frameencasing this wide-open bodily abyss” (RAHW 317). Exaggerated and emphasized, the“convexities and orifices” of the grotesque signify that the body is forever in transit with theworld in an “act of becoming,” “never finished, never completed” but “continually built,created”; the grotesque body “builds and creates another body” (317). As a scientist, Softlydreams along the pure Platonic y-axis to conceive Logicon, but as a sensual, lascivious grotesque7he rolls along the terrestrial x-axis, connecting and connected to bodies in the world.The grotesque mouth teaches how “the body swallows the world and is itself swallowedby the world” (RAHW 317). In Softly’s case, the mouth carries sexual valency, too. With utternonchalance he tells Jean Sweet Venable how, with his “gross and pettish mouth,” he “kiss[es]my own thumb every day on waking” (312), thereby uniting infantile with adult sexuality. “Thewholly promotional idea that sex is not what you do but what you are” is a maxim from Softly’smouth, and “the fact that she [Venable] was having nearly continuous sex with a child-sizedman” proves that Softly practices what he preaches (367). This view of Softly emphasizes thecentrality of sex to his grotesque character:Softly seminude resembled a Roman sculptor’s serious jest. He appeared ludicrous onlyto the extent that parts of his body were still bound in cloth . . . naked he was even moreimposing than when fully dressed . . . his head [was] more closely related in size to therest of his appendages, an illusion fostered by the balancing factor of his sex organ, apiece of equipment that seemed to hold him together, structural bond and estheticconnective. (288)Softly, a paradoxical “serious jest” (a and non-a), is figured here as a collection of “parts,”bound by nothing but his sex organ, “a piece of equipment.” The “bowels and the phallus” are“two areas [that] play the leading role in the grotesque image, and it is precisely for this reasonthat they are predominantly subject to positive exaggeration, to hyperbolization; they can evendetach themselves from the body and lead an independent life, for they hide the rest of the body,as something secondary” (RAHW 317).As a sexually grotesque logician, therefore, Softly rides the “contact line of nature and8mathematical thought” to comic extremes. This is one aim of the grotesque, to “degrade, bringdown to earth, turn their subject into flesh” through laughter (RAHW 20, emphasis added).Laughter itself “degrades and materializes.” One way to provoke this laughter is through theambivalency of verbal praise and abuse, called “language of the marketplace” by Bakhtin anddefined as an appendage of the grotesque: “abusive words, especially indecent ones, are used inthe affectionate and complimentary sense” (RAHW 165). Thus complementing the ambivalencyof the grotesque, these terms of abuse also gesture “down, inside out, vice versa, upside down,such is the direction of all these movements . . . debasement is the fundamental artistic principleof grotesque realism; all that is sacred and exalted is rethought on the level of the material bodilystratum” (RAHW 370). Bakhtin links the ambivalency of the grotesque and the verbal curse tothe ambivalency of the material bodily stratum (genitals/bowels), writing that “to degrade anobject does not imply merely hurling it into the void of nonexistence, into absolute destruction,but to hurl it down to the reproductive lower stratum, the zone in which conception and a newbirth take place. Grotesque realism knows no other lower level; it is the fruitful earth and thewomb. It is always conceiving” (RAHW 21).To Softly, Venable is not much more than a body. After dressing he thinks of her“aswarm in bedsheets hundreds of feet straight up” (304). This phrase, “feet straight up,”signifying both the measurement and the position, comes to Softly as he contemplates herprevious work, deeming her publication “The Gobbledygook Cook Book . . . serviceably useless;a good example, in other words, of what he expected (and would demand if need be) of hercurrent assignment” (304). In relation to Softly’s requirement of her to be utterly nonproductive,therefore, Venable’s transition from journalist to novelist who merely numbers blank9sheets of paper is more than convenient. Her actual productivity completely ceases, opening thepossibility of “nearly continuous sex.” The frequency of this sex, in turn, degrades the humansubjects involved to a base physicality.The first and most evident way toward that degradation is verbal abuse. Replying toSoftly’s brusque yet typical “Let’s go,” Venable replies, “Rob, I’m kind of busy,” to whichSoftly concludes: “You don’t have to undress completely. Just give me something to aim at. Asuitable accommodation” (288). This is “unfunny” to Venable, and understandably so; to Softly,she is not much more than an assemblage of detachable parts. Yet this is funny, for Softly isparodying himself, as well as the male sexual drive to which he submits without any protest orchivalric constraint. All he needs is a hole.Later, Softly does submit to a parodic type of chivalry, detailing a blazon of Venable:“Evil pelvis . . . . Unscrupulously seductive mouth. Belly a bowl of fruit. Labyrinthine navel.Resilient milky thighs. Cute pudendum, hee hee. Lickable armpits. Predatory eyes. Surgingbreasts. Hair rare. Smile terribly foudroyant. Backside a-twinkle” (312). Despite the apparentpraise of this blazon, Venable answers, “Unfunny, ass, and totally inaccurate needless to say.”True enough, the praise of this catalogue is ambivalent, yet Venable veers toward the negative,debasing interpretation. Softly asks her to “call me names and see how far you get” (312),thereby inviting her to take part in this grotesque sex-banter, but she declines, forcing Softly todebase himself in similar terms.Venable recognizes yet finds herself seduced by the grotesque. She “hate[s] to see allthat face-making and bizarre dimpling” during sex, so “darker the better with him” (372).“Funny how she and Rob avoided every preliminary gesture, even a hint of a kiss or10nonfunctional caress,” she thinks (331), “funny” here countering her other two remarks of“unfunny” while also highlighting the ambivalency of her sexual relation with Rob. In the sameinstant, she entertains the reactions of “touching me just his touch I think insane” (371) and“kissing him would have disgusted her” (331) with the more fundamental assertion that “it washis organ of copulation her body craved, the Latinate folds between her legs that stirred him toithyphallic meter. Funny all right” (331). Note the play on measurement (“ithyphallic meter”)and sexuality, echoing the earlier “hundreds of feet straight up.” (Both are images of sexuallygargantuan proportion, further underscoring Softly’s grotesquely ambivalent size.)What is the result of this grotesque degradation? Nothing less than a positivereconception of the body as such, parts and pieces perceived as they are, as if for the first time: aradical re-evaluation. “From her reaction to the bluntness of Rob’s marred body, his specialunalterability, the abrupt initiatives of his sexual nature, she readily inferred that fantasy, herown, had reached its vanishing point, an event that returned sex to those locations she felt it hadlong abandoned, between the actual legs, in and around the actual mouth, on the breasts andunder the testicles and in the hands, on the tongue, in the actual hole. Together they filled anatural space” (331, emphasis added). Here, Venable’s “funny” can also point to laughter at“having nearly continuous sex with a child-sized man”: laughter at the grotesque degrades andmaterializes, bringing the body back to itself. Venable has been “degraded” to the materialbodily lower stratum in a way that rejuvenates and reintegrates lost parts.Comparing this outcome with Bakhtin’s analysis of a famous episode in Rabelaissharpens the significance of this “downward movement” of the grotesque. Caught short, theinfant Gargantua tests a long list of objects and materials—some inanimate, others animate—for11their suitability in wiping his ass. Bakhtin hails this unabashed episode as “dispel[ling] theatmosphere of gloomy and false seriousness enveloping the world and all its phenomena, to lendit a different look, to render it more material, closer to man and his body, more understandable,and lighter in the bodily sense” (380). Rather than distancing one from the object of laughter(for that is what seriousness does from above), Rabelais brings one down to the level of the shitand the muck and, through laughter, creates mirth and pleasure. Essentially carnivalesque, thistype of downward movement liberates as an experience reversing the charge of that which iscondemned by “the seriousness of petty human preoccupations,” “the didactic gloom ofmoralists and bigots” and “that great seriousness of fear” to become a positive and regenerativeelement. Bakhtin goes so far to write that this “swab episode” “prepared a new, scientificknowledge of this world, which was not susceptible of free, experimental, and materialisticknowledge as long as it was alienated from man by fear and piousness” (RAHW 380-1, emphasisadded). The legacy of this knowledge is that “it drew the world closer to man, to his body,permitted him to touch and test every object, examine it from all sides, enter into it, turn it insideout, compare it to every phenomenon, however exalted and holy, analyze, weigh, measure, try iton. And all this could be done on the one plane of material sensual experience” (RAHW 381).Liberation and immanence are inextricably united. For Bakhtin they are one and the same,abscissae on the x-axis of material embodiment.Though she is used by Softly, Venable benefits from her physical encounters with thegrotesque on this x-axis. Much of the writing from her perspective is cyclical, and twosentences, almost identical in construction and content, rise in her mind: “It [sex with Softly]made her laugh at past loves, at the banality of the past itself” (331), “I laugh at past loves, at the12dreary predictability of the past itself, which may or may not make sense” (372). Her laugh islike the “laughter [that] liberates not only from external censorship but first of all from the greatinterior censor; it liberates from the fear that developed in man during thousands of years: fear ofthe sacred, of prohibitions, of the past, of power” (RAHW 94, emphasis added). This is not tosay Venable’s problems are solved. A writer burdened with an impossible project, maroonedwithin the grotesquely ambivalent hole that is the antrum, Venable suffers from “fear itself fearitself fear itself” as she grapples with mapping a fiction that gravitates toward the vertical axis(362).13IV. Hole TheoryEver helpful in Ratner’s Star, Mainwaring expounds what he calls “hole theory,” sayingthat “hole theory involves ‘pair creation,’ which is the simultaneous creation of a particle-antiparticlepair” (418). As the grotesque involves the unification and absorption of opposingpairs, a type of “particle-antiparticle pair” relationship, so hole theory connects Softly to theantrum, the primary hole in the novel. The cycloid, “that elegant curve traced by a fixed point onthe circumference of a circle rolling along a straight line, the line in this case being the landitself” (15), is the engine that drives this connection. The quote above is Billy’s in admiration ofFE#1, but the following comparison is Venable’s: “Here we are now,” she muses in post-coitalrevery, “set inside ourselves, let him have his say or nay, ruttish tyrant, cycloid, stunted pashawhirling in his silk pillows” (372).With multiple valencies in the novel, therefore, the cycloid becomes a keyoverdetermined image. The formation of a cycloid itself relies, as Billy describes it, on “rolling”a circle upon a plane in order to inscribe the shape—technically a trochoid—resultant from onepoint on the circle. “Trochoid” comes from the Greek τροχός, “trochos,” meaning wheel, whichprovides a useful way to picture this form (OED). The necessity of the flat plane for the circle(or wheel) to roll upon suggests that the cycloid is half its full form; that is, that the other half isbelow the plane rather than above it. Of course, the cycloid is technically complete on one sideof the plane, yet it gestures towards bilateral symmetry—that, divided in the middle by a plane,each half would be symmetrical. This usage of “cycloid” mirrors the novel’s bilaterally14symmetrical form, for the plane upon which the cycloid is traced implies a mirrored cycloidbeneath it, a “particle-antiparticle pair” relationship.In the section titled “Bilateral Symmetry,” Softly suffers from post-coital depression.Sucking his thumb in bed, he defines bilateral symmetry—“Exact correspondence of form andconstituent arrangement on opposite sides of a dividing line or plane” (300)—in order to “[reject]the idea, never proposed, that there might be someone or something on the other side of animaginary median line to match his parts and their relationships and into which he mighttheoretically flow.” His “thumb-sucking,” “mak[ing] a series of tiny plectral sounds, as thoughpinching an inflated balloon,” emphasizes Softly’s grotesque nature and thereby invalidates whatis, evidently, a fantasy of perfect correspondence, his other half. An affront to “symmetry itself”(261), the misshapen Softly does not have an exact mirror image as he would wish, and althoughhe rejects the idea that is “never proposed,” he nonetheless entertains the notion, even if only forrejection’s sake.Despite his conclusion that, lacking his mirrored half, he is not bilaterally symmetrical,Softly “console[s] himself” by thinking that his depression is temporary, for he recalls “theclinical knowledge that a person afflicted with cyclothemia, the technical name for thiscondition, was known, of all things, as a cycloid” (300-1). Not severe enough to be consideredbipolar, cyclothemia is a similar mood disorder, as its very name suggests (κῦκλος or “kyklos”meaning “circular,” θυμός or “thymos” meaning “mind, temper”) (OED). Mood disorders, infact, chart well on Cartesian grids: with the positive y-axis defined as manic severity and thenegative y-axis as depressive severity, cyclothemia shows shallower rises and dives along the x-axis of time compared to the more violent forms of bipolar disorder. Of course, these charts15merely approximate the degree of manic or depressive episodes for the means of comparingdifferent disorders, but it is worth noting that the extremes of cyclothemia, its hypomanic highsand depressive lows, appear bilaterally symmetrical, especially compared to bipolar disorder.Softly proceeds to mock this definition of himself as cycloid, ironically conflating the definitionof mental illness with geometrical form: “How utterly lovely. What depths of stability andequivalence. What splendid Einheit or unity” (301). This “splendid Einheit” contains mania anddepression, particle and antiparticle, x and y, a and non-a.Softly’s cyclomania explains many aspects of his character, from the inhalant abuseduring his depressive episodes to the satyriasis of his manic bouts. (The term “satyriasis,”though out of current usage, uses the mythical grotesque to define hypersexuality.) Further,though, he also relates to the geometrical form. As the prime carnival-grotesque, Softlytransitions the novel’s scene from the above-ground cycloid FE#1 to its mirrored subterranean“antiparticle,” the antrum. The carnivalesque for Bakhtin “free[s] human consciousness,thought, and imagination for new potentialities. For this reason great changes, even in the fieldof science, are always preceded by a certain carnival consciousness that prepares the way”(RAHW 49, emphasis added). Softly supplies this precedent, paving the way for focus onLogicon. Remarkably, Softly himself appears conscious of his pivotal role, theorizing on thecycloid that he himself represents, deepening its function:What I find most satisfying about this structure is the fact that it comes in more than onepart. The first, naturally, is the cycloid. The second is the first in reverse, completelybelow ground level. Same shape upside down. Same distance down as up. Nothinggoes on down there in the sense of official goings-on. It’s nothing more than an16excavation. But it fulfills the concept. (282)This explanation precedes Softly’s definition of the antrum, his unique (and grotesque)formulation that thematizes the proceedings of the novel’s second part. Softly notes thesubversive “antiparticle” aspect of what “goes on down there”—nothing “in the sense of officialgoings-on”—in addition to creating a type of cosmological scheme along a traced y-axis: “Samedistance down as up.” Emphasizing this distance recalls the “pathos of shifts and changes” ofcarnival, when the high are debased and the low become king for a day, thus exposing thearbitrary nature of hierarchies (PDP 124).Softly’s mirroring of the cycloid is further nuanced by Soma Tobias, famed “womanarchitect” of FE#1 (78). When Billy realizes who she is, she freely admits that she “abandoned[her]self to the rhythms of the cycloid. Most gorgeous curve in nature. A figure of magicalproperties.” She then speaks of how “she resolved to apply that shape to a building, a city, agiant tombstone if need be,” the last item in that list catching Billy’s attention. From there,Tobias turns to the Jesuits who “oppose the cycloid form” because they “oppose anything thatcan be turned upside down and still give pleasure” (79). According to Tobias, the Jesuits arefundamentally wrong because “the cycloid is geometry,” which does not explain “why they haveto get sex mixed up in it.”Against Jesuit doctrine, Bakhtin stresses that “turning upside down” is what carnival doesbest: comically, it flips values on their head in order to combat the rigid seriousness ofinstitutional life, be it ecclesiastical, economical, or governmental. Bakhtin claims that“representation of the nether world often applied the carnivalistic logic of ‘a world upside down’:an emperor in the nether world becomes a slave, a slave an emperor, and so forth. The17carnivalized nether world of the menippea determined the medieval tradition of representationsof joyful hell, a tradition which found its culmination in Rabelais” (PDP 133). Part II of thenovel, “Reflections,” inverts “Adventures” in more ways than one, indeed dethroning Billy as thevehicle upon which the narrative progresses; most ironic, however, is how for Billy the “antrum”inverts the levity, or as Bakhtin calls it, the “joyful relativity” (PDP 125), of the first above-ground part. If it could be said that Billy had “fun” before Softly’s arrival, Softly informs himthat “the goddam fun is over” (275) upon descent into the antrum because, in Billy’s words, thereis “no way how . . . to avoid them in this setup,” “them” being “Serious people . . . . Serious veryserious” (291).To cheer Billy up, who is suffering from “the dread . . . in being logical” (358), Softlyinverts seriousness by inverting himself, embodying the name given to him and thepsychological disorder with which he is afflicted. The handstand, essentially elevating the lowerand lowering the high, is “very characteristic for carnival thinking”: “paired images, chosen fortheir contrast (high/low, fat/thin, etc.) or for their similarity (doubles/twins),” showcase a“special instance of the carnival category of eccentricity, the violation of the usual and thegenerally accepted, life drawn out of its usual rut” (PDP 126). Within the netherworld of thecycloid, Softly, cycloid himself, turns himself upside down to give pleasure—just as womanarchitect Soma Tobias says is a “magical property” of the geometrical form. As a whole, then,the cycloid demonstrates the major critical tension of the novel, combining the upward gesture ofabstraction—purely geometric Platonic idealism—with the downward gesture of incarnation, thephysically impure grotesque. The cycloid is both a and non-a in the same sense that Billy’szorg, conceived in the realm of pure mathematics, is eventually applied by Mainwaring to18discover that Earth is in a mohole.Appropriately, therefore, the grotesque Softly presents himself as designer andsuperintendent of the lower half of the cycloid. “I call it the antrum,” he says. “Just a fancy wayof saying hole in the ground” (282). Sly modesty!—the Greek ἄντρον “antron,” from which“antrum” derives, does signify “cave,” but the term is more commonly used in anatomy todesignate “a natural chamber or cavity in a bone or other anatomical structure” or, moresignificantly, “the part of the stomach just inside the pylorus” (OED). The pylorus connects thestomach to the duodenum or lower intestine. Softly’s word choice is extremely suggestive,therefore, in the light of this study. Discussing the scene of Pantagruel’s birth, Bakhtin “point[s]out that the images of the ‘well,’ the ‘cow’s belly,’ and the ‘cellar’ are equivalent to the ‘gapingmouth.’ The latter corresponds to the belly and to the uterus. Thus, side by side with the eroticimage of the trou (the ‘hole’) the entrance to the underworld is represented: the gaping mouth ofSatan, the ‘jaws of hell’” (RAHW 329). The perfect lower half of the cycloid warps to resemblethe grotesque hole, the “material lower bodily stratum” that the carnivalesque moves downtoward in order to revel in the ambivalency of destruction and regeneration. Indeed, figuring theantrum as a type of hell conforms with Bakhtin’s sixth characteristic of Menippean satire, whichdetails the “three-planed construction” of setting: “action and dialogic syncresis are transferredfrom earth to Olympus and to the nether world” (PDP 116). This three-planed constructionpermits the hero to travel from world to world, creating an Einsteinian relativity that, N.Katherine Hayles writes, “implies that we cannot observe the universe from an Olympianperspective” (qtd. in Keesey 78). Within this relativity, conventions (especially of earth andOlympus) are dethroned as arbitrary because travel between worlds, according to Menippean19satire characteristic three, creates “extraordinary situations for the provoking and testing of aphilosophical idea, a discourse, a truth” (PDP 114). Bakhtin maintains that “the menippeaaccorded great importance to the nether world” in particular.In this context, the cycloid as “giant tombstone” acquires meaning. The above-groundcycloid is a tombstone for the hole beneath it. Much of the second part of the novel is dedicatedto Maurice Wu’s cave-spelunking, during which he discovers massive amounts of guano inaddition to evidence of his “revolutionary thesis”: “Man more advanced the deeper we dig”(321). For Wu, “true wealth and abundance are not on the highest or on the medium level butonly in the lower stratum” (RAHW 369) in the “downward movement” which “dig[s] a grave, but. . . a bodily, creative grave” (RAHW 370). The guano present in the antrum—cycloid, bowel,cavern—represents the ambivalency of “the images of feces and urine” and how “they debase,destroy, regenerate and renew simultaneously. They are blessing and humiliating at the sametime” (RAHW 151). Understanding this ambivalency, Wu advocates that “we should doeverything we can to see [the bats] survive and prosper. This is because their waste material isuseful as fertilizer. Maybe you don’t know it but the economies of entire countries are based onthe export and domestic use of bird droppings” (326). Less scatologically, Wu’s occupation in“prehistory” involves him digging into strata of death that are paradoxically generative, for Wu’sdiscovery of “Man more advanced the deeper we dig,” combined with Mainwaring’s assertionthat Earth itself is in a mohole, solves the mystery of who sent the code: “We’ve reconstructedthe ARS extant and it turns out to be us” (405). Like the messenger in La Scuola di Ateneappearing twice in one image, the ARS extant (ARSE) and the workers on Logicon are the samefigure separated merely by time; in the bowels of the antrum, the ARSE are queerly brought back20from the dead, and the transmission of the message from past to present catastrophically revealsthe extent to which the “present” ARSE have been talking out of their ass.“Little Billy Twillig” is aged fourteen because this places him in the full flush of puberty,a temporal zone pitting him between purely abstract mathematics and the raw needs of hisgrowing body. The ambivalent figuration of the antrum as tomb/womb and bowels/genitalsconcludes Billy’s own “adventures” in investigating the ambivalence of his “dangle”—an organof generation and of excretion—and the holes that receive it and its issues, be they receptacles ofwaste or areas where there’s “female hair down there” (314). Billy first encounters his fear of“old people’s shitpiss” in the airplane toilet where he suspects “an elderly woman with a plum-colored growth behind her left ear” “had left behind some unnamable horror, the result of arunaway gland . . . . Diseased in this case. Discolored beyond recognition. Possibly unflushed”(7). Significantly, this “old person” is female, a detail that sharpens the sexual aspect of thisambivalence. Billy then dwells on the word “cunctation,” autologically enacting the definitionof that word as he does so; he delays the purpose of his visiting the toilet by recalling EberhardFearing’s utterance a moment ago. Fearing’s word frightens him, as it “implied a threat” that hasnothing less than death as its end. Like Jeff Lockhart of Zero K, Billy’s attention turns totrigonometry for comfort, abstracting him from the physical as he “undid his zipper, bent hisknees . . . and then slipped his dangle (as he’d been taught to call it) out of his pants” (7). Thenarrative voice, representing Billy’s attention, fluctuates in classic Rabelaisian style fromabstract musings on ancient number systems to the task literally in hand, “tapp[ing] the undersideof his dangle in an effort to influence whatever membranous sac was storing his urine” (7-8).The toilet itself “appeared to be a bottomless cistern,” a hole so deep that Billy imagines21the bandage he flushes “floating to the surface of the water that filled a stainless-steel wash basinin a toilet on an airliner above an antipodal point” (8). The “stereotyped Oriental smile” thatBilly assumes afterward, in light of the hole-digging, spelunking Wu—a Chinese man “engagedin a lifelong effort to become Chinese” (392)—renovates the figure of “digging to China” asmore of a flushing to China. More importantly, though, Billy figures the hole of the toilet asactually two holes, or one space with two entrances. Not only does this image parody LewisCarroll’s rabbit hole, it mirrors the mirroring of the antrum’s antipodal point, FE#1.Additionally, this image shades into the thematic of Wu: digging so far he emerges “practicallyout the other end” (324). In Wu’s case, archeological excavation leads backwards through therelics of time until, reaching the antipodal point, these relics point to the future of an advancedcivilization superior to the present.The other dangle in the novel belongs to Endor, and this dangle appears inside a hole.First, this hole is equated with failure. As Endor admits, “when I failed to interpret the message,there was no recourse but the hole” (85). The irony of an astronomer who condemns himself to ahole is not lost on Endor, for he seems not only conscious but oddly proud of his downwardmovement, criticizing the fact that “science requires us to deny the evidence of the senses” sothat “we see the sun moving across the sky and we say no, no, no, the sun is not moving, it’s wewho move, we move, we” (87). Endor tunnels downward and reaches his antipodal point,becoming a type of madman Newton who eschews calculation of the gravity of planets but rather“feel[s] it in the bottom of my feet. There is want at the center of the earth. Never mindimpressed force and inverse proportion. There is sheer wanting to contend with” (87). Literally,Endor digs himself deeper into his own failure, coming out of the other side. The antipodal point22of the scientist is the mystic, and Endor, talking of “want,” that “universal suck and gulp” (88),assumes the role of paternalistic guide and guiding light for Billy—especially the pubescentBilly. Desire and its dangers form the backbone of Endor’s intermittent dialogue.Though not as much as the second hole, the “hole’s hole,” the “first” hole in which Endorstands is a source of fear for Billy. At first, Billy is “reluctant to sit at the edge of the hole (withlegs dangling in suitably youthful fashion) for reasons he did not care to articulate to himself”(84), though articulate he soon does. In the context of Endor’s exposition on desire, Billy’slearned habit of referring to the penis as a “dangle,” and the ambivalency of holes in generalwithin the text, the resultant image of legs dangling in a hole (though as yet unarticulated byBilly) evokes the image of sex. The sexual quality of this hole gains credence from earlier in thenovel, when Billy “tried to imagine the birth of Cyril’s wife’s baby”: “It would happen in grimlights violently. A dripping thing trying to clutch to its hole. Dredged up and beaten. Blood anddrool and womb mud. How cute, this neon shrieker made to plunge upward . . . . Cling, suck andcry” (36). Here, the womb is figured as a hole in the ground, and the amount of pain andviolence accompanying this passage intensifies the ambivalence of the womb as tomb and thebaby being exhumed rather than born. Diction of life and birth mixes with the death Billyimagines brooding in his own body, which he typifies as terrestrial “mulch, glunk, wort and urg”(291). “Cling, suck and cry” also evokes Endor’s hole-derived maxim that “suck and gulp arethe activating principles behind the abstract idea of want” (90).Aside from this association left unarticulated by Billy, he does catalogue three fears, andall of them involve the recursiveness of holes. Fear number one is that Endor will pull Billy inand eat him. Billy devises a “logical trap”—a syllogism—that he distinguishes from the purity23of numbers, criticizing how “words cannot be separated from their use” (86). Of logical traps, hedeems they are “easy to get into and hard to get out of”—much like a hole. The second fearinvolves Endor forcing Billy to eat insect larvae, if not for nourishment then as an “invigoratingpastime.” Billy envisions another “language trap,” here, afraid of Endor’s “knowledge of largewords and the spaces between such words”—spaces that, like a hole, one could fall into. Billy’sthird fear is of the second hole, the hole’s hole, “a truer than usual pit” that terrifies because itfunctions as a semantic black hole. Self-referential yet signifying nothing, this hole ismonoglossic in the Bakhtinian sense, its meaning refusing to refract into other contexts or reflectother languages. The hole’s hole is a hole as such: “It evoked only: second hole. Untraveledterritory. Nothing to picture. No noise to imagine in anticipation of the real thing” (86). A holewithin a hole, it gestures toward an infinite descent without the promise of antipodal emergenceas in the airplane’s “bottomless cistern” toilet.Billy finds himself fearing the hole’s hole as well as what Endor might do to his physicalperson, but underlying all three scenarios is Billy’s fear of semantic language. Be it thedialogical value of words to index or indicate, “scientific persuasiveness” and the rhetoricalpower to persuade, or (ironically) the failure of language to specify anything beyond itself(“Nothing to picture. No noise to imagine”), its inability to represent the world, Billy becomeslost in “propositional dream-shock” (87), terrified of the implications between language and theworld that surrounds him—a direct contrast to the abstract purity of numbers. Endor jests that, in“digging and clawing,” he is fulfilling “man’s need for metaphysical burrows that lead absolutelynowhere” (90), referencing Kafka’s story. Absolutely not the case for Endor, this referencenonetheless defines the fear Billy experiences, that referential language tunnels only to itself,24paradoxically leading nowhere by looping to infinity.Following this fear is one of many comedic moments of the novel. Endor, “the greatman,” “respected throughout the world” (86), “began to urinate into the second hole, adjustinghis stance so that the long feeble arc terminated at the point where the second hole commenced.Although he redeposited his scaly old dangle, he didn’t bother fastening his pants and so thezipper just sagged there, fatigued and silver in the sun” (87). The surprise of this action,unexpected and crude, accounts for much of the humour, especially contrasted to Billy’s earlierfears. Endor assumes the character of holy fool, a mystic too far enveloped in his idiosyncrasiesto consider “normal” conventions. Leaving the Olympian stratum of FE#1, Endor takes to thenether regions and naturally acts in this “earthy” way. Thus Endor’s true situation comes toclearer focus as Billy realizes this isn’t the first time Endor has urinated in the hole’s hole andthat he will soon crawl into the hole’s hole again (which he does). Endor’s sudden urination isbathetic in a non-parodic sense. Rather than the “depth” (βάθος) that bathos denotes implying asatirical exaggeration of pathos to produce a mawkish or cloying effect, here Endor undercuts hisglobal prestige by suddenly urinating into the “depths” of his own creation (OED).As Endor returns to the hole’s hole, Billy “trie[s] to ignore the fact that the elderlyscientist had quite recently urinated into that very area” (88) because, just as in the airplane toiletepisode, “excrement worried him a bit. Shitpiss” (37). Endor turns his hole’s hole into a toilet, a“bottomless cistern” in which to put his “old people’s shitpiss.” As this scene is viewed fromBilly’s perspective, Endor’s “male member” (374) appearing as a “scaly old dangle” humorouslyrepurposes a euphemistic term “as [Billy had] been taught to call it,” mirroring the previousbathroom scene as well (7). This is a bottomless cistern, though, that Endor crawls into,25recalling Slothrop’s Roseland Ballroom adventure into the toilet to find his lost harmonica.Neither Billy nor Endor finds his sudden urination into the hole’s hole explicitly funny, per se,but the language used to describe the act, in addition to the reasons stated above, creates theeffect also produced by the scatological: laughter.For Bakhtin, this is a critical function of the material bodily lower stratum, and for Billythe fear he feels when faced by excrement is ironically dispersed by the same. To say that“excrement worried him a bit” ironically understates Billy’s condition; the horror of the“something about waste material that defied systematic naming” recalls Gary’s desert-venture inEnd Zone as well as, critically, the hole’s hole itself and the cosmic terror it invokes. To preparehis discussion of the triumph that laughter brings, Bakhtin describes “cosmic terror” in terms thatevoke Billy’s fear of excrement and of the toilet-like hole’s hole. Cosmic terror is “fear of theimmeasurable, the infinitely powerful” such as “the starry sky, the gigantic material masses ofthe mountains, the sea.” (Gary’s encounter with “simple shit,” “nullity in the very word,” beginswith an identical catalogue of “The sun. The desert. The sky. The silence,” etc. [EZ 87-8].) Inone sense, Bakhtin thus gestures towards the sublime. Bakhtin goes a step further, however,writing that this “cosmic terror” may be “used by all religious systems to oppress man and hisconsciousness” (RAHW 335). Before urinating in the hole’s hole, Endor embarks on themes ofcosmic terror, saying “too many stars. Too much force and counterforce . . . . It’s just too much,too big” (84-5). This sense of cosmic terror combines with the immeasurability and recursiveinfinity of the hole’s hole. The hole’s hole is hole to the power of hole. Hole squared.How does one combat this cosmic terror? First, through the “material principle in manhimself” (RAHW 335). Greater attention to the body, Bakhtin argues, ushered in the Renaissance26realization that “man assimilated the cosmic elements: earth, water, fire and air.” From thiscomes the connection between the cosmic and the bodily mundane, the impersonal and thepersonal: it is in the “material acts and eliminations of the body—eating, drinking, defecation,sexual life—that man found and retraced within himself the earth, sea, air, fire, and all thecosmic matter and its manifestations, and was thus able to assimilate them” (RAHW 335-6).Mathematician and astrophysicist, Endor’s work above-ground was well suited to connecting thecosmic to the material element of humanity. So, grotesquely, is his present state. “Insect larvae.That’s what I eat,” he says; “Tell them when you get back. Endor eats insect larvae . . . . Furrylittle items from the earth” (85). Again and again, Endor emphasizes the source of his food, eveninviting Billy to “watch him eat some more larvae” (91), and this tendency is never far from hischaracter, indeed seems to define his character. Before Endor confirms what Billy suspects ashis diet, Billy sees “several small crawling things mov[ing] about in his white beard,” a detailthat again connects Endor as a character with the consumption of food (84). The novel’s firstmention of Endor, however, also includes a humorously bathetic transition from the cosmicallyhigh to the materially low. On first meeting Billy, Endor describes himself as “the wizened childof Thales and Heraclitus” (22). Billy remembers that “his breath had smelled of peanuts.” Eventhen, Endor has an air of the “material acts and eliminations of the body” about him. Hiswearing a “star pentagram on a chain around his neck” (21), a symbol that signifies diverseconcepts but pertinently represents the four elements plus ether, is a small but important detailthat rounds this portrait of him.“In the sphere of imagery,” Bakhtin writes, “cosmic fear (as any other fear) is defeated bylaughter” (RAHW 335). This line of thinking extends the logic of Bakhtin’s assertion that the27body is a bridge to the cosmic. “Dung and urine,” too, “as comic matter that can be interpretedbodily, play an important part in these images. They appear in hyperbolic quantities and cosmicdimensions. Cosmic catastrophe represented in the material bodily lower stratum is degraded,humanized, and transformed into grotesque monsters. Terror is conquered by laughter” (335).Endor’s “long feeble arc,” to be sure, is not a Gargantuan “hyperbolic quantity.” All the same,his urine functions as comic matter that dispels cosmic fear as much as it generates cosmic fear.Curiously, this action serves to humanize the otherwise grotesque (yet paternal) Endor, creator ofand guardian against what scares Billy most.28V. Slum Naturalism, Prose Wisdom: The New York EpisodesIndeed, Tom LeClair emphasizes the primary role of fear in Ratner’s Star, arguing thatthe novel “reveals . . . an important and distinguishing determinant of DeLillo’s sensibility—fear—that was largely hidden or only obliquely expressed in his first three books” (Loop 113).Drawing metaphors from developmental biology, LeClair asserts that “the correspondencesbetween Billy’s life and mathematical history suggest” that “the phylogeny of fear recapitulatesontogeny,” thus reversing the now-outdated “recapitulation theory” of Ernst Haeckel (137). ForLeClair, “DeLillo’s flashbacks to Billy’s boyhood in the Bronx create this ontogeny” of fear,meaning that Billy’s individual experience of fear patterns the exposition of fear experienced byother characters in the novel, particularly in the second part.While LeClair presents a strong case, tracing an important theme in DeLillo that manycritics after In The Loop have also worked to continue, his argument forces him to neglect thecontainment of the flashback episodes within the larger and significantly comic form ofMenippean satire. Distinguishing the New York episodes from the rest of the novel, LeClairdoes note that the flashbacks use “the most private materials of DeLillo’s own background, hisboyhood in the Bronx” (Loop 110) but necessarily downplays the generic import of theseepisodes, how (as Johnston correctly asserts) “the only truly novelistic sections—flashbacks toBilly Twillig’s family life—seem like vestigial remnants of a superannuated form” (Johnston267). In fact, the tone and pace of these flashbacks differ from the rest of the novel because theyconform to characteristic twelve of Menippean satire—“a wide use of inserted genres”—and29consequently thirteen as well, “the presence of inserted genres reinforces the multi-styled andmulti-toned nature of the menippea” (PDP 118). Granted, DeLillo explores his native Bronx andthe fear it generates, but he carnivalizes this locale and contains its fear in ways that his laternovels, say Underworld or Falling Man, clearly do not. Instead, DeLillo uses the inserted genreof the flashback to show stages of Billy’s Bildung wherein the hero, treading the same linebetween impure nature and pure mathematical thought, is surrounded by blooming, buzzingheteroglossia that stand opposed to the crisis of thought and language represented by Logicon.The rationale for including these flashbacks within the larger narrative mirrors theMacGuffin of the book as a whole, that of deciphering the code from Ratner’s Star. As it turnsout, the code is not only not from outer space but from a Golden Age civilization that (strangely)predates human history. The code is a message from the past, one that boomerangs back to theearth’s present. All messages are necessarily messages from the past, and so the narrator easesinto the first brief flashback with a self-consciously parenthetical statement, a marker to showawareness and perhaps even ask permission: “His father (to backtrack briefly) was a third-railinspector . . .” (4). From there, subsequent flashbacks appear in direct contrast to the presentaction of the novel. Boomeranging back into the text, the episodes follow their own codedmethod of entry.These flashbacks oppose real and embodied experience, what Bakhtin would call“messy” life, with Billy’s budding powers of abstraction. Mirroring this oppositional content,the formal organization of this content operates with identical logic, staging the presentation ofBilly’s infant life along the lines of a mathematical sequence. This process is the coded methodof entry. “Within the series one, two, four, seven, eleven, he was quick to discover the buried30series one, two, three, four” is the first sentence of the third flashback, placed in a chapter called“Expansion” (69). There are five flashbacks in “Adventures,” one of each occurring in chapterone, two, four, seven and eleven. The equation that generates this sequence is (n (n+1) / 2) + 1,and in the context of the flashbacks this equation is autological: prefacing the third flashback ofthe fourth chapter, it describes both itself and the larger structural sequence of which it is anested part. The circularity of this sequence’s application—that the formula of this sequence isitself part of the larger demonstration of it in the flashbacks—is intentional, and not only becauseDeLillo set for himself the goal of making a novel that was “naked structure” (LeClair“Interview” 11). Billy’s early life, its “expansion,” both can and can not be encapsulated by (n(n+1) / 2) +1. This oscillation between the mathematically abstract and the tangentially andprosaically real is what makes Billy tick as a character in the world of Ratner’s Star. Theabstract and the real constantly dovetail into each other, informing and conforming with theother.According to Bakhtin’s third characteristic of Menippean satire, “the content of themenippea is the adventures of an idea or a truth in the world: either on earth, in the netherregions, or on Olympus” (PDP 115). The New York flashback episodes—all occurring in Part I,“Adventures”—detail “the adventure of the idea on earth,” where the “idea” of abstractingmathematical thought trudges through the petri dish of New York—a famously polylingual andheteroglossic locale—among a cast of those whom Bakhtin hails as the champions of the novel,the “prosaic.” The New York of these episodes is constructed from what DeLillo himself refersto as “a kind of radiance in dailiness” (DeCurtis 63) and what White Noise’s AlphonseStompanato, a “New York emigre,” calls the “real power [that] is wielded every day, in these31little challenges and intimidations, by people just like us” (217). In sum, these episodes show itis not despite but because of Billy’s poor surroundings that he becomes the child genius he is, forBilly’s power of abstraction is his first line of defence. As Murray Jay Siskind replies to BabetteGladney in White Noise, who asks him how he knows so much: “I’m from New York” (51).The text does not hesitate to introduce this idea, doing so on the second page in thebriefest flashback of the novel. In a scene that eerily prefigures the young Lee Harvey Oswald’s“year he rode the subway” (Oswald, too, liked to “stand at the front of the first car, hands flatagainst the glass” [Libra 3]), Billy, “standing at the very front of the first car,” thinks he sees arat, a small detail that foreshadows Billy’s meeting Ratner in the Great Hole later in life (4-5).Babe Terwilliger, the workingman clown of these New York scenes, introduces “the idea thatexistence tends to be nourished from below, from the fear level, the plane of obsession, thestarkest tract of awareness” (4). In the subway system—another variation of the hole—Babeclowns around, “mak[ing] a series of crazy people’s faces” in a grotesque manner, before thetrain crashes, its raw physicality and heft apparent: “stunned metal, a buckled frame for bodiesintersecting in thick smoke” (5). The “superlunar calm” that Billy experiences in shock, leadingto his realization that “there is at least one prime between a given number and its double,”coincides with the celestial, the astronomical, and therefore opposes the materiality of this scene.Yet, for all that, the physicality and force of the crash creates the “superlunar calm” that is alsothe “interval” in which Billy comes to his abstract mathematical realization. Billy’sunderstanding of the intervallic nature of prime numbers hatches within his stunned, bodilyinterval. This scene in the subway shows how Billy abstracts insight from the world. From hiscarnivalized surroundings he shaves away time and space to arrive at a distilled, ideal conception32of reality.Contrasting FE#1, a place where “one thing doesn’t lead to another the way it should”and which has “such separate parts” (232), the times and spaces of New York are essentially tiedto the wide spectrum of individual types of utterances as well as the individuals whom they passto and through, themselves. Moreover, these individuals are portrayed in the organic contextwhere they create and interact with this language. In “Discourse in the Novel,” Bakhtin usesexamples of “Aristotelian poetics . . . the poetics of the medieval church, of ‘the one language oftruth,’ the Cartesian poetics of neoclassicism, the abstract grammatical universalism of Leibniz(the idea of a ‘universal grammar’)” to define how “centripetal forces in sociolinguistic andideological life” coalesce in the attempt to create a “unitary language,” a language “directedaway from language plurality” (DiN 271). By definition, this unitary language homogenizes anyutterer (if it requires an utterer); it ignores individuality and all varieties of contextualcircumstance surrounding the individual and/or the speech act itself. Opposed to this unitarylanguage is “dialogized heteroglossia,” defined as coming to being through “the authenticenvironment of an utterance, the environment in which it lives and takes shape”; this utterance is“anonymous and social as language, but simultaneously concrete, filled with specific content andaccented as an individual utterance.” Heteroglossia is “centrifugal,” operating on the peripheryof the centripetal unitary language and resisting its gravitational pull.No utterance is purely centrifugal or purely centripetal. “Every utterance participates inthe ‘unitary language’ (in its centripetal forces and tendencies) and at the same time partakes ofsocial and historical heteroglossia (the centrifugal, stratifying forces),” Bakhtin is careful to note(DiN 272). Focusing on the development of genre throughout history, however, Bakhtin places33the centripetal tendencies of poetry on one side and, on the other, “the literature of the fabliauxand Schwänke of street songs, folksayings, anecdotes, where there was no language-center at all .. . where all ‘languages’ were masks and where no language could claim to be an authentic,incontestable face” (DiN 273). The result is that although utterances are contestable zones wherethe centripetal struggles with the centrifugal, and vice versa, novelistic genre itself is the literaryzone best suited to display this struggle and to favour the heteroglossic.For Ratner’s Star, the development of Logicon in Part II—a “universal logical language”(285) that “is not designed to be spoken” (289)—is an attempt to create a unitary language,purely centripetal in its nature, stripped of all existential and socio-material context. The goal isto create a profoundly monologizing system. The reason for this is the assumption that such alanguage would be most probably recognizable by the ARS extants. Edna Bolin remarks that“the artificial radio source extants would probably have less trouble understanding a messagefrom Earth than we ourselves experience every time we try to decipher fragments of an ancientlanguage found buried somewhere on our own planet. This seeming irony . . . merelyemphasizes the absence of logic in our spoken languages” (289). The real irony, of which Bolincan not yet be aware, is that there is no “outside,” the ARS extants are “ourselves,” and thatrather than a radio signal from space Billy is in fact deciphering a message from an ancientpeople. The irony that she does acknowledge, however, underscores exactly what Logicon isdesigned to overcome: a lack of logicality in human semantic speech that creates difference.This lack of logicality is precisely what permits language to flourish, chaotic,unstructured, inventive, and improvisational. Like DeLillo’s respect for the “radiance indailiness,” Bakhtin champions the prosaic and the everyday, the commoner and the crowd, and it34is in this sense that in the New York flashbacks, away from the specialized jargon of FE#1 andthe displaced, convoluted reasonings of the antrum, DeLillo showcases the messy chaos of theBronx and how its inhabitants, inextricably tied to their physical surroundings, shape theirenvironment into creative and individualized language. Where Logicon approaches languagethrough a series of formal rules, suggested by Supreme Abstract Commander Chester GreylagDent (the title is informative)—“Have you drained the system of meaning?” “Have youestablished a strict set of rules?” “Have you taken measures to safeguard your system of notationfrom vagueness and self-contradiction?” (347)—the New York episodes, in particular, attemptnothing of the kind, preferring to exult in a language that “lives only in the dialogic interaction ofthose who make use of it,” where “dialogic interaction” is meant to indicate “the authentic spherewhere language lives” (PDP 183).Consider Faye and her relationship with Billy. Given to monologues, implied by the factthat the text usually inserts her mini-speeches without direct thematic reference to the matterfollowing and preceding, Faye’s relationship with Billy develops a language that completelydepends on context and, for it to have any meaning, remains tied to its “extralinguistic” content(PDP 183). Faye tells Babe “K.b.i.s.f.b”—a textbook Rabelaisian debasement that throws thehigh low—revealing that she learned it from “the kid [who] brought it back from Connecticut”(27). In time the novel reveals this as a favourite saying of Billy’s, and here Faye shows how shehas taken this childish curse and redirected it towards her husband, connecting the playgroundwith marriage. Confessedly raised on movies and popular culture, Faye often dips into this poolof reference in her dialogue: she asks Billy “Is you is or is you ain’t my baby?”, referencing theLouis Jordan song, to which Billy replies “Drop dead” (74-5). This reference recontextualizes35“baby” from a term of romantic to maternal endearment. Billy’s reply is understandable, giventhis fact, for he understands this shift in context. As Bakhtin would say, Billy can see the“quotation marks” placed around “baby.” Perhaps the greatest example of Faye and Billy’sshared language—other than the “double-imitation” nickname “mommy”—is the vegetoid, “anextended fantasy, a joke arising from the fact that the material remains of roughly twenty mealswere packed into the sink” (131). This material assumes a life of its own because Faye knowsthe genre conventions of the blob horror flick: “People in such situations were always powerlessto move. This became Faye’s theme” (132). In an added layer of recontextualization, DeLillo,too, appropriates the giant adenoid of Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. Along with Billy, Fayecreates a discourse around this vegetoid that infiltrates—or “seeps through”—the objectivity ofthe narrative voice. Faye’s parody of this horror genre is another example of her pop culturefluency and how she repurposes this fluency to shape her surroundings, allowing her to “read”the world around her. Indeed, the fact that Billy seems impacted, if not frightened, by thisvegetoid episode derives from the very conventions that Faye parodies: a normal kitchen on anormal day is exactly when a vegetoid would strike.Faye’s remarks, including the great “Nertz to you, bozo” in response to Babe’s demandfor the television set (251), are nearly nonsensical without the specific context that surroundsthem at the time of her utterance and a history of how and from where she derives her material.For instance, the thematically complicated act of her calling her son “mommy” imitates Billy’simitation of her own voice, defying logic and semantic content but also challenging her own selfdefinition. In the context of the relationship she creates a “loophole,” defined by Bakhtin as a“special type of fictive ultimate word about oneself with an unclosed tone to it, obtrusively36peering into the other’s eyes and demanding from the other a sincere refutation” (PDP 234). Sheeffectively places quotations not only around the word “mommy” but around the act of Billy’simitation. Taking “an endearment beyond the southernmost border of messy affection” (25), shemirrors this term back to her son until it becomes both meaningless and meaningful in a mostparadoxical way.With Faye in mind, the New York episodes fulfill an important characteristic ofMenippean satire, number five: “Crude slum naturalism” is the technique that shows how “theadventures of truth on earth” can “take place on the high road, in brothels, in the dens of thieves,in taverns, marketplaces, prisons, in the erotic orgies of secret cults, and so forth” (PDP 115).This “slum naturalism” is not portrayed as separate or distinct from “the adventures of truth” butexists in an “organic combination of philosophical dialogue, lofty symbol-systems,” and “theadventure-fantastic.” Such a description of this style perfectly encapsulates the larger thematicthat sets Billy as both a product of his heteroglossic, polylingual upbringing in New York and aprodigy whose powers of abstraction literally and physically abstract him from such anenvironment. Elements of slum naturalism are found in Faye’s vegetoid episode, Babe’simmediately opening a can of Champale when he returns from work and his ownership of a“sawed off poolstick (for nonsporting purposes) and a large black attack dog (26) as well as an“officially defunct Ford model called the Urban Eco-Pak” (70)—not to mention his streetsidebrawl with a “very, very old and almost surely Chinese” man (255). They are found in theepisode of “estranged common-law husband” who follows Rosicrucia Sandoval, “Sixto Ortiz byname,” “his right hand inside his jacket, a theatrical mannerism meant to signify the presence ofa weapon”; Babe’s folk-wisdom that “Hispanics only shoot from cars” comes from the movies37that exploit this same slum naturalism (248). The shooting of Alphonso Rackley, complete withthe aftermath of police outlining the body in chalk while “little kids slid out from the massedadults and played in the halls, running up and down the stairs in their underwear” as a “transistorradio played Latin soul” (137), moves along the same stylistic lines. The hagiographic legend ofRaymond (Nose Cone) Odle, affectionately known as “little-big” and “No’Co pivotman” (135),prematurely fizzles out, while meanwhile, back in the Bronx, “the games grew edgy. No oneseemed to care about the score. The players wore combat boots and gave each other immoderatechops to the neck in lieu of strategic fouls” (139).The world presented in the New York flashbacks is messy, chaotic, poor, and full ofsuffering. But it is real and realized, non-abstracted, resistant to the type of data-extraction thatthe character Kyzyl describes in FE#1, of “tagging indigents for further study” (189). Languagesfrom different ethnicities, professions, and pastimes swirl and collide in these sections, findingnew contexts but not relinquishing the socio-ideological origins from which they derive. Perhapsthe greatest example of a trope in slum naturalism and of the overall heteroglossic tenor of theNew York episodes in general is the “scream lady.” The scream lady presents Billy with his firsttwo codes, preparing him for his task of deciphering the message from the ARS extants later onin his life. The relation between these two sets of codes (from the scream lady and from theARSE) ends there, however, because the codes of the scream lady are internally dialogized togreat extents, semantically rich and ambiguous, and assembled from a wide variety of sourcesand contexts (including mathematical symbols)—all of which criteria the ARSE code does notmeet in the slightest.“Dialogic relationships can permeate inside the utterance,” Bakhtin writes, “even inside38the individual word, as long as two voices collide within it dialogically” (PDP 184). He refers tothese collisions as “microdialogues.” The scream lady’s notes are in fact a series ofmicrodialogues that show “a twofold direction,” “directed both toward the referential object ofspeech, as in ordinary discourse, and toward another’s discourse, toward someone else’s speech”(PDP 185). This double-voicedness of speech emerges through the scream lady’s paronomasicmania: malapropisms, homonyms, and bad puns are the linguistic devices with which she speaksto the world. In the first note-code, the palindromic “grim pill of pilgrim welfare” exploits theaural similarities of the two syllables to criticize a drugged and placated populace; the “king” ofthe U.S. is compared to “S/hit/ler,” playing on the morphological similarity of the Fuhrer’s namewith excrement while similarly tying this play on words to “syph/ill/U.S.”, a double pun. Thecommercial mecca Rockefeller Center becomes “Rock/fooler Center” (73). The same techniquescontinue when Billy enters the scream lady’s apartment to see the writing on the wall: Mark ofthe Gospels becomes “St. Marx,” complete with chapter and verse; Hallelujah becomes“Hellelujah”; Mao Tse-Tung, “Meow Tse-Tung,” and “Confucius = Confuse/U.S.” (250). Thereare more examples, but that should do. Utilizing the ambiguity built into a language thatoperates as a system of differences, the scream lady plays with similarities of linguistic soundand sight in a way that brings two radically different discourses into active contact. Bakhtin’sdefinition of parody involves “Discourse becom[ing] an arena of battle between two voices”(PDP 193), and the scream lady does this brilliantly: she “speaks in someone else’s discourse,but in contrast to stylization parody introduces into that discourse a semantic intention that isdirectly opposed to the original one. The second voice, once having made its home in the other’sdiscourse, clashes hostilely with its primordial host and forces him to serve directly opposing39aims” (PDP 193).Bakhtin uses the figure of a parasite to illustrate his understanding of parody and itsdialogical process, what he calls the “passive varidirectional double-voiced word.” It is anappropriate figure for the scream lady’s codes. They are perfect examples of how utterancesparticipate both in centripetal and centrifugal forces; indeed, to formulate what are essentiallyconspiracy theories about the American government, she employs monologizing terms of socio-economic power and renders them dialogical; she hollows them out from within and employstheir power for her personal ends, inflecting them with heteroglossic (not to mentionscatological) contexts and connotations. In sum, she outpowers the dominant “unitary language”of American power by surrounding it with competing discourses. Combined with the descriptionof her character in the style of slum naturalism, the scream lady emerges as a marginal butimportantly recurring figure who is Bakhtinian through and through. To a sociologist like Kyzyl,the scream lady is easy to tag, finalize, or monologize, yet Billy is the one whom she gives herteeth-marked note to, Billy whom she allows into her apartment so that he can see her walls.Rosicrucia Sandoval is content—and stupid—to say that the scream lady got an “ectomy,”because that’s what you do to “hysterical organs” (248). Only Billy stands before her screamand then says “Put it in words” (249). Billy engages her in dialogue, and consequently he de-monologizesher: he sees into her complicated, messy life, a life that can not be reduced to any“unitary language.” He also sees how life can abstract itself into code.Another important recurring character to consider in the New York episodes is RalphieBuber, “Crabman.” Like the scream lady, Ralphie’s manipulation of language emphasizes thecentrifugal and the heteroglossic; his character adds, in contrast to the scream lady, a dimension40of the gargantuan and the grotesque that lends itself easily to his true role, that of the fool.Ralphie, “local oaf” (253), one who “spent his nights and days on the verge of a lunatic drool”and whose “basic nature seemed best defined by drivel and slime” (252), is clearly a foil to thegenius Billy, and yet Ralphie is something of a counterpart, a partner of the slight-of-bodyprodigy. Ralphie’s “attitude of corpulence offended” in reaction to being “punched by littlefists” is a Gargantuan attitude, a bearing in the world that is physical, “oversized and extremelyflabby,” to the point of being able to ignore “informal mauling[s]” (253). Ralphie and Billy’sgame of spitting on each other in the kitchen (probably initiated by Ralphie) provokes Babe torightfully say “That’s about the dumb-assest thing I’ve ever seen” (70), but this game evokesanother of Billy’s abstractions from the world: the sound that the spitting makes is rendered bythe text as “two two two two” (70). The number is made onomatopoeic and rendered four times:two squared, two times two. Each spit (“two”) entails another (“too”). The dumb-assedness ofthis scene is another instance where Billy sees the world as a departure point to enter puremathematical speculation; critically, though, the scene emphasizes the gross materiality of thisdeparture.Buber’s first comment in the book is his firm statement that “Girls have three armpits.The extra one is between their legs” (72). Patently untrue, Buber’s statement neverthelessreveals a world of pre-pubescent male speculation, a zone of lore and gossip that runs counter tothe “official” account. The fool for Bakhtin is one who has the “right to be ‘other’ in this world,the right not to make common cause with any single of the existing categories that make lifeavailable; none of these categories quite suits them, they see the underside and falseness of everysituation” (FTCN 160). Ralphie pushes his function of the fool further when he masquerades as41the grotesque “Crabman” to bait Consagra, who, himself an ethnic “other,” plays along in acarnivalesque ritual of oaths and debasing. Crabman is a grotesque combination of crab and manthat doubles as an officer of the “crab patrol,” calling on radio to “sound the crab alarm” that he’sspotted “an imported human in the area,” “a man here that’s acting like he’s white, male, human”and apparently good to eat, “free food on the stoop” (253). Consagra is indeed “said to be anillegal alien” (251), well known to Ralphie as he imagines the scenario of “Crabman versus theguinea wop” (252). Ralphie enacts this “versus” by becoming other himself, the Crabman, inorder to extend the “alien” status of Consagra from American citizenship to the human species.Fools “exploit any position as they choose, but only as a mask,” Bakhtin writes, “their entirefunction consists in externalizing things” (FTCN 160); “talking into the crab’s abdomen,”Ralphie “us[es] the creature as a microphone as well as alternate persona” (254), even talking in“crab” (“throttled aquatic sounds”), to externalize in the most dumb-assest way (sic) the “alien-ness” of humanity itself.The concept of the “alien” (and how the “alien” can and must be human) runs throughoutRatner’s Star. Indeed, Crabman (“I’ll bite off your ass”) confronting Consagra (“Shut up youface”) parodies the Logicon venture of inventing a universal language to respond to the ARSextants. The two interactions—one in New York, the other across time—share a similarsituation at heart, and yet the methodology at work in these encounters could not be moredifferent. There is an enormous gap between Consagra’s world and Crabman’s, evident fromConsagra’s limited Italian-English dialect and his stolid form that roots him in the lower classesof society, “the hooded scorn a laborer has” (253), whereas Crabman is an alien in more than onesense of the word, playing a joke which (perhaps) only he can truly understand. Heteronomous,42centrifugal language meets in the centre of this confrontation, all the same, drawing uponcultures and places that find form within each respective speaker’s discourse. Though there is acentre of this confrontation, there is no linguistic centre, and that is the value this scene presents:Bakhtin’s “Galilean linguistic consciousness.” Without a linguistic “centre,” there appears amassive shift in perspective, one of relativity in which “oppositions between individuals are onlysurface upheavals of the untamed elements in social heteroglossia, surface manifestations ofthose elements that play on such individual oppositions, make them contradictory, saturate theirconsciousness and discourses with a more fundamental speech diversity” (DiN 325). Comparedto this situation, the Logicon project’s attempt to centralize language by eliminating all embodiedcontext (heteroglossia) appears all the more sinister.This comparison is the use and ultimate value of the fool, Bakhtin claims. The fool“grant[s] the right not to understand, the right to confuse, to tease, to hyperbolize life; the right toparody others while talking, the right to not be taken literally, not ‘to be oneself’ . . . the right torage at others with a primal (almost cultic) rage” (FTCN 163). Inability to communicate is whatthe fool does best, and through this inability the fool defrocks the authority of “unitarylanguage.” “Stupidity (incomprehension) in the novel is always polemical,” Bakhtin continues(DiN 403). “It interacts dialogically with an intelligence (a lofty pseudo intelligence) with whichit polemicizes and whose mask it tears away.” The “lofty pseudo intelligence” that Ratner’s Starposes in dialogue with the Crabman scene is the Logicon project. Bakhtin goes further, though.He extends the importance of the fool from specific scenes to the novel at large, writing that “theauthor needs the fool: by his very uncomprehending presence he makes strange the world ofsocial conventionality. By representing stupidity, the novel teaches prose intelligence, prose43wisdom” (DiN 404).“Prose wisdom” is everywhere in the New York episodes, and this is their maincontribution and function in relation to the major plot that envelops them. The experience theyrepresent—and the literary art that forms this representation—is irreducible to mathematics or toany other system of abstraction. The reality of these episodes is raw, crude, dumb-assed, andstupid, and this is the point: the sustained irony of Billy’s development, that a child-genius couldcomically emerge from such conditions, never finds resolution, nor does it need to. Compared tothe scientific jargon of FE#1, Billy brings his own assemblage of jargon (“H’o” [6], “Peoplefrom the Bronx don’t have heroes” [247]), dialogically rooted in real space and actual time.Scarier than scientific jargon, though, is the anti-jargon of Logicon, and Billy’s resistance to it(and to logicality itself) is better understood in the context of his upbringing.Time, naturally, separates the flashbacks from the novel’s present action. Within thatpassage of time Billy experiences the onset of puberty—a crisis that colours the pre-pubescentNew York days as innocent and carefree, a state Billy longs to return to. The Billy in New Yorkis “completely in accord with the notion of forever being this thing called ‘small boy’,” a boy“unthreatened by a sense of his own capacity for change” (75). At fourteen, this capacity forchange foregrounds the contact line Billy experiences between the needs of his physical body(“nature”) and the contemplation of abstract figures (“mathematical thought”) and, indeed,whether the two are at all capable of co-existing within the same being. Billy in the flashbacks isnot yet the Billy daydreaming of “enormous breasts bazooms boobs titties” (336), the Billy who,rather than “completely in accord” with the limiting definition of his self, claims in a cryptic (andArtis-of-Zero K-like) section, “I Am Not Just This” (370). Puberty, that generator of the dynamo44of the material bodily lower stratum, de-finalizes Billy’s contained self, opening him up tospeculate that—in a way similar to his realization of primes between numeric intervals—“Thereis a life inside this life. A filling of gaps. There is something between the spaces. I am differentfrom this.” He dreams himself backward through time to a uterine, idealized and abstracted stateof being: “If only I could remember what the light was like in that space before I was drippingtissue. There is something in the space between what I know and what I am and what fills thisspace is what I know there are no words for” (370).“Dripping tissue” echoes the “dripping thing” that Billy imagines coming out of MyriadKyriakos’s womb, and this connection clarifies both Billy’s imagined scene of Myriad givingbirth as well as his own imagined return to the womb. In terms of the novel’s structure, thescene with the imagined Myriad in labour occurs near the beginning of the first part, whileBilly’s interior monologue in “I Am Not Just This” occurs near the end of the second. AsLeClair writes, DeLillo “rewinds the pattern” in the second part of his novel, “looping backwardthrough the mathematicians’ names and ideas” in order to create a mirror image of the first part(or to simulate the return of a boomerang) (Loop 131). With the novel divided in two, therefore,these scenes match in their palindromically temporal position. With Billy’s later interiormonologue in mind, his imagining of Myriad’s baby becomes evidence of his own wishes, a typeof defensive projection. The “dripping thing trying to clutch to its hole” does not want to beborn. In a shocking transition, Billy actually assumes the perspective of the baby, asking “Hadthere been a light in her belly, dim briny light in that pillowing womb, dusk enough to light apage, bacterial smear of light, an amniotic gleam that I could taste, old, deep, wet and warm?”(36). This is the same uterine light that Billy alludes to when he is inside the antrum, itself a type45of womb. Light, curiously ambivalent, invisibly abstract and yet essential for the apprehensionof bodies and physical forms. Billy imagines: “Follow with the eye” (36).The light thus figured within the womb is good for one specific reason: “to light a page.”In the antrum, Billy constructs a small tent within his cubicle because it’s “calm” and “easy toconcentrate” inside it (368); earlier, he mentions to Venable during an interview that he writes inthe dark “using big letters” (297-8). Against the changes of his own nature, Billy reconstructs awomb within which he can find that amniotic gleam. Significantly, Softly refers to an “interval”when he addresses Billy inside of his womb-tent: “Chooses to listen to his circulating blood as itbears tender nutrients through his body? Decides he needs an interval of quiet breathing, right?Intends to invent the nonce word that renders death irrelevant” (369). Now, the interval relatesto Billy’s present quest to crack the code (which turns out to be a statement of time, a measure ofintervals). It also carries the spatial sense of “in between,” the liminal state of the womb towhich Billy wants to return. “Return, return to negative unity” is how Billy concludes hisfantasy of Myriad’s baby crawling back inside the womb; he wishes to do so himself, thinkingthat “There is something in the space between what I know and what I am and what fills thisspace is what I know there are no words for” (370). Here, the “what” that Billy cannot define isthe “nonce word that renders death irrelevant”; it is the negative unity, the ideal and abstractspace of being that will never die because it is never born, sought by Billy. Maurice Wu’s earlierstatement, therefore, that “the birth of a baby equals the death of a fetus” (356), suggests an orderof operations that Billy’s mathematical mind sees as a potentially reversible process.Mathematical abstraction is a defence against death.LeClair correctly asserts that “with these flashbacks DeLillo both establishes the motives46for human abstraction from circumstance and foreshadows its extreme effects in ‘Reflections,’where Billy and the other characters respond to fear with childish regression” (126), and indeed,the second flashback of the story starts with the sentences “His mother often called him mommy.It was a case of double imitation” (24). This regressive “double imitation,” mother and childcalling each other by the same name, is a type of negative unity, an imitation that reducesdifference in favour of absolute identity, an equation of 1 + 1 = 1. The last page of the bookshows Billy, anonymized as merely “another figure” pedalling on a tricycle found in Endor’sroom, passing between a “measured length of darkness” and a “white area between the shadowbands that precede total solar eclipse” (438). This area is described as an “interval of whiteness,suggestive of the space between perfectly ruled lines”: an abstractly perfect yet spatio-temporalinterval in which Billy “emit[s] . . . this series of involuntary shrieks.” Myriad’s baby, onceagain, that “odd-headed blob, this marginal electric glow-thing,” “this neon shrieker,” parallelsBilly pedalling back in time toward the “reproductive dust of existence” (437).47VI. On Logic, LogiconAcross DeLillo’s work is a fascination with names, how (as Venable ponders) they are“the animal badges we wear, given not only for practical necessity but to serve as a subscript tothe inner person, a primitive index of the soul” (396). Not just a few of his novels, however,feature an antagonist whose very role, countering the fleshly humanity Venable imagines, isencapsulated in the name DeLillo gives it. An element of inhuman futurity, of cold and chemicalsentience, invests these names with the dread present in the sounds and syllables themselves.End Zone features Gary Harkness’s football team pitted against West Centrex Biotechnical, agame ending in catastrophe. Glen Selvy in Running Dog works as a double agent for a companythat eventually sends ex-ARVN rangers to “adjust” him. The company is called Radial Matrix.White Noise presents Jack Gladney’s family utopia spiralling down a black hole of madness anddeath, and at the centre is a drug named Dylar.Situated within this array, the slick futurity of the neologism “Logicon” does not seemout of place. While positioning Robert Hopper Softly as the novel’s major antagonist is difficultand perhaps unnecessary, his mention of “his naive delight on establishing a relationshipbetween his name—the letters of the first, middle and last able to be correlated one-to-one-to-one—and the cardinal number six” (261) is enough to raise an eyebrow, especially considering thatseven pages prior, during the final New York flashback episode, a message resembling a sign oran announcement appears out of context: “LET HIM WITH UNDERSTANDING RECKONTHE NUMBER OF THE BEAST FOR IT IS A HUMAN NUMBER 666” (254). With the48denotational significance of Satan as “adversary,” Softly emerges in his nether-world antrum as agrotesque antagonist whose role is as ambivalent as the rest of his character. It is Softly,however, who not only spearheads the Logicon project as its main theoretician but who alsosteers the very purpose of Logicon from replying to the ARS extants to a more “pure” enterprise.Once Billy announces that he has deciphered the code, Softly informs him that “there is no codeworth breaking” because “the only value the signals have is that they got us going on theLogicon project” (416). From Softly’s point of view, the code is merely one “part”: “that partwas a preparation for this part. You needed the background, the activity, the other side of theproblem” (416). Both for the received message and for the intended reply, Softly’s opinion,remarkably, is that “content is not the issue” (416). All that is necessary for him to know is thatthere is a message from “‘millions’ and ‘millions’ and ‘millions’ of years ago”; the bare form ofthis message is enough to warrant “a reply in a universal cosmic language,” although, like thereceived message, “it doesn’t matter what the reply is” (416).The implications of Softly’s hijacking of the Logicon project as an end unto itself ratherthan a meaningful reply are wide-ranging and severe, worrying the fragile border between theplural languages of embodied humanity and the abstract monolith of logical universalism.Before that, though, exploring what Logicon actually is, as well as its originally intended use,will help clarify its role as antagonist in the novel and its role as antagonist of the novel, too—novelistic discourse, as such.Near the end of the novel’s first part, Softly introduces Logicon to Billy as a necessarysystem with which to engage in extraterrestrial communication. At the outset, this necessity islinked with purity, a type of unstained perfection achieved through absolute dedication and49sacrifice. Because “we’re dealing with beings of extraordinary capacity,” nothing less than a“ruthlessly precise system of symbolic notation” is appropriate for communication (272). Logicis the key to achieving this precision; it is “the scrub brush the mathematician uses to keep hiswork free of impurity,” the tool to “eliminate contradiction and go beyond all those lax attitudesthat make true scientists want to crumple up whimpering” (272-3). For Billy, this means that his“brilliant instinctive skimming,” or what Edna Lown describes as his “computation strain” with“not much sense of discrimination. Not much use for logic” (285) will get a “no” in responsefrom Softly’s “Logik,” which “says yes or no to the forms constructed through intuition” (272).As the New York episodes show, Billy’s style of intuitional thinking is intimately tied tothe world. His method of abstracting “pure” mathematics from an impure world relies on thejolt, the stimulus, of this world and the way its events interact with him as a body and as aperson. This is largely why “the goddam fun is over” for Billy when he descends into theantrum. The Logicon project requires life and all of its accidents to be stripped away in order toproceed. “The pain, the dread, the risk involved in being logical” is this process of strippingaway, exactly what Softly believes “the boy had to overcome” (358). Logicon and the “Logik”that structures it operates through the binary of “yes or no,” “a or non-a” that Softly makes quiteclear does not “permit” a knowledge of history, despite the fact that “History is full of interestingthings” (287). The isolated echo-chamber of the antrum permits the team to “forget abouthistory” in order to work (287). Billy asks twice if “the outside world know[s] about any ofthis?” (305), and Softly answers in the negative. The “outside world” is necessary neither beforenor after the fact of Logicon’s creation, for in reasoning terms this outside world symbolizes an aposteriori rationale that Logicon disregards in favour of a pure a priori.50Tied to the concept of an a priori purity, therefore, is an ironic sense of universality.Because Logicon seeks to follow the “a or non-a” of rational logic, because it does not rely onterrestrial context or a posteriori meaning or reference, it is appropriate for extraterrestrialcommunication. Logicon is a “transgalactic language,” a “pure and perfect mathematical logic”which provides “a means of speaking to the universe” beyond the human sphere (274): a“universal logical language” (285). The irony of this universality is that, in “drain[ing] thesystem of meaning” (347) as Supreme Abstract Commander Chester Greylag Dent suggests,Logicon appears as a nonsensical language in its human context. Humans are left out of thisuniversal loop. Two actual extracts of Logicon are presented (359, 378), and their apparentcomplexity belies the fact that they are literally (and by design) meaningless. They appear ascodes far more difficult in design than the original code from the ARS extants and yet,apparently, these extracts are steps on the way to create a means for communication.“Draining the system of meaning” is critical for Logicon to function, as Dent suggestsand Edna Lown realizes. Soon after her character is introduced, she notes that “logic precedesmathematics. And since the fundamental elements of logic have no content, mathematics has nocontent. Form, it’s nothing but form. It stands on thin air. The symbols we use are everything”(285). “Content,” in Lown’s formulation here, is “impure” in the same sense as intuition,according to Softly. Content and the context that it entails—indeed, “con” as a prefix itself,“with-ness” or “together-ness”—must be eliminated. Logicon, having no content, is not acontainer for meaning: nothing but form entails that “the focus of our thought . . . is the notationitself” (285), a curious type of superficiality. Billy actually sees this superficiality as beautiful:the “nearly surreal cleanness of its ideology” shows “nothing unnecessary, nothing concealed” so51that “the mechanical drawing . . . is the machine” (359). In other words, there is no semanticcontext to the Logicon excerpt Billy analyzes. It points to nothing “outside,” refers to nothingbut itself. No hermeneutics necessary, no interpretation, no ambiguity or multivalency. Like themonotheistic deity of the Old Testament, ההי יה הא ר הש שא ההי יה הא , it is what it is.This self-referentiality of Logicon describes Lown, too, as she imagines, ouroboros-like,“entering herself just as surely as if she’d been able to bend her arms into her mouth and swallowthem to the shoulders; arms, legs, torso” (329). Combined with purity of logic, purity ofuniversality, and purity of form is an emerging “self-purity,” or purity of purpose. Apparentlydisregarding the project’s initial purpose, Lown “view[s] the Logicon project as an intellectualchallenge and nothing more. An advance in the art of mathematical logic. A breakthrough ineconomy and rigor . . . She had no strong conviction that Logicon was essential to celestialcommunication” (318). This view is mirrored by Softly, for whom “the very uselessness ofLogicon . . . is what makes the project a pure act of the intellect and therefore supremelyenriching” (409). Softly explicitly states that the previous purpose of communication is to “missthe point” of the project: “To transmit an actual reply to the message senders would be to missthe point of the whole thing.” This statement marks yet another separation: address. Logicon isnot designed to address anyone or anything; it is a pure enterprise, and any application of it is amistake. (This progression of Logicon from application to purity ironically inverts Billy’s ownresearch. The zorg, which pure mathematician Billy remarks is “useless” [417], is neverthelessused by Mainwaring to identify that Earth is located inside a mohole.) If the team truly wantedto communicate with space, using a rudimentary system of radio waves—like the message sent by the ARSE—would be more successful. Mathematician Hans A.52Freudenthal was thinking along this lines. In 1960 he published Lincos: Design of a Languagefor Cosmic Intercourse, in which he outlines a progressively complex language system thatbegins with “regular sequences of pulses” (Eco 308).This purity of enterprise has a universalizing implication of its own. Not only is Logicona “pure act of the intellect”; it is also meant as a revolutionary force to become the foundationalgroundwork for human knowledge. Softly says to Lown that the project is “a revolution in themaking. All science, all language wait to be transformed by what we’re doing here” (284).Lown echoes this sentiment later, reflecting on “the transformation, in Softly’s phrase, of allscience, all logic” (318). In their seminal Dialectic of Enlightenment, Horkheimer and Adornoassert that “on the road to modern science, men renounce any claim to meaning,” “substitut[ing]formula for concept, rule and probability for cause and motive” (5). The action of “draining thesystem of meaning” creates the intellectual attitude “for the Enlightenment” that makes“whatever does not conform to the rule of computation and utility . . . suspect” (6). But mostimportant, in referencing “Leibniz’s mathesis universalis” and “Bacon’s postulate of unascientia universalis,” Horkheimer and Adorno trace the universalizing tendency of “formallogic”: “Formal logic was the major school of unified science. It provided the Enlightenmentthinkers with the schema of the calculability of the world. The mythologizing of Ideas withnumbers in Plato’s last writings expresses the longing of all demythologization: number becamethe canon of the Enlightenment” (7). With universality comes unification, and, as Horkheimerand Adorno mention, what does not “conform” to the imposed rules becomes suspect—andpotentially nullified. The Logicon project presents itself as “neo-logistic,” carrying forward thelegacy of the Enlightenment and its schematic for opposing logic to intuition, form to content,53purity to impurity.Horkheimer and Adorno make no attempt to cushion the severity of their tone as theyassert that “Enlightenment is totalitarian” (5)—totalitarian in its austerity and self-presentation,totalitarian in its commitment to the absolute without exception, and totalitarian in its fascinationwith control. Softly’s statements that “logic is the scrub brush the mathematician uses to keephis work free of impurity,” that Logicon demands a “ruthlessly precise system of symbolicnotation,” quite readily pick up totalitarian overtones within this ideological context. Lester“Lester-pet” Bolin, called a “joker” by Lown (289), is the last important technician working onthe Logicon project who has not yet been discussed. One of the quirkier characters within theantrum—in a meta-reference to End Zone, he suggests the team should wear Logicon jerseys(300)—Bolin and his innovations on the project are critical to a sharper understanding of whatLogicon truly is, how its totalitarianism actually functions. First to be considered is Bolin’sdesire to type Logicon on a portable Royal typewriter (314). Immediately, this contrasts theLogicon project with writing of a more conventional sort—a novel, perhaps. Logicon does, infact, oppose both Venable’s journalistic project as well as her novel about Logicon. Thisopposition will be addressed later. For now, this is Bolin’s take on appropriate fonts for theproject: “Bolin thought it might be interesting to match the logical symbolism of the characterson his typewriter with a highly distinctive metalogical notation—a sort of Nazi typeface (super-Hollywood-gothic) with broad counters and thick slurping serifs. It would set off a strictcontrast, command attention, forcefully highlight the existence of logical rigor” (400).Bolin reveals his genius with this joke (if that is what this is). The “strict contrast” heimagines is between the “broad counters and thick slurping serifs,” the bold and lush materiality54of such an extravagant typeface, and the abstract severity of “logical rigor.” Bolin is sharplyaware of the oppositions that Logicon poses, and this is not the only instance of him emphasizingor parodying this very opposition. Aside from the contrast of materially-rich typeface and“logical rigor,” however, the “Nazi typeface” supports the totalitarian project of Logicon,preoccupied with its ruthless quest of perfection and purity. Complementing the totalitariannature of Logicon is critic Douglas Keesey’s keen emphasis on the “business takeover” of FE#1by Elux Troxl’s conglomerate ACRONYM, which he characterizes as “a barely disguised Naziorganization” that plans to use the intellectuals of the think-tank “as Hitler used Germany’sscientists during World War II” (79).With this all-consuming quest in mind, Logicon appears in a clearer light, stripped of itsinnocence: it is nothing less than an inverted tower of Babel, digging down into the earth of theantrum rather than rearing itself into the sky (see Cowart 147). Baudrillard reads the OldTestament legend of the Bible in his characteristically trenchant way, linking the myth to thecontemporary crisis of the “perfect crime,” defined by Baudrillard as the “murder of reality.”For Baudrillard, “we came very close to the perfect crime with the Tower of Babel” (90).Continuing his strong reading against the grain, he sees God’s intervention as fortunate, for eventhough “God stepped in to scatter the languages of the world and sow confusion among men,”“from the point of view of language itself, the richness and uniqueness of language, it is ablessing from heaven.” The beauty that Baudrillard sees in language comes from the basic factthat languages “are incomparable, irreducible one to another. It is by this distinctness that theyexert their particular seductions, by this otherness that they are profoundly complicit.”Baudrillard sees the very project of a “reconciliation” of language absurd, writing that “they55could be [reconciled] if they were—merely—different. But languages are not different, they areother.” If this reconciliation were to happen, if it were forced into being by stamping out theinherent alterity of human languages, what would result is “the true curse”: “when we arecondemned to the universal programming of language.” Throughout his essay on “The BabelSyndrome,” Baudrillard continues to employ metaphors from the emerging digital world(“virus,” for example), and this is no accident. This borrowing from digital computing pointsforward to the increasing reliance on technology and the potential hazards of that reliance andhearkens back to the dreams of such computational power.Leibniz was such a dreamer. The history of Leibniz’s characteristica universalis, fromthe derivations of “primitive thoughts” to a “cogitatio caeca,” or “blind thought” ofcombinatorial calculus, is complex, but one brief example from Umberto Eco’s researchdemonstrates both the lineage that Logicon continues and what the Bakhtinians so vehementlyresisted (279). In 1703, receiving a description of the I Ching and its 64 hexagrams incorrespondence from a missionary to China, Leibniz “void[ed] the Chinese symbols of whatevermeaning was assigned to them by previous interpretations, in order to consider their form andtheir combinational possibilities” (286). These symbols were opportunities for Leibniz toexercise his binary calculus; for him, “syntax . . . was more important than semantics” (284)because “blind thought manipulates signs without being obliged to recognize the correspondingideas” (281). Rather humorously, such an approach to the hexagrams is the only way not tointerpret their overdetermined, polysemous forms. Nevertheless, Leibniz’s draining this systemof meaning “anticipate[d] by a century and a half Boole’s mathematical logic”: a critical step increating “the true and native tongue spoken by a computer” (286).56“Bakhtin imagined himself as offering an alternative to the view that knowledge in thehumanities must be modeled on the hard sciences and that culture, language, and the mind couldultimately be described as systems,” Morson and Emerson write in their study on Bakhtin (101).Indeed, Bakhtin actively resisted systems and systemizing thought throughout his long career.Morson and Emerson acknowledge this as a fundamental concern of Bakhtin, noting that he“used a variety of terms for the mistaken attachment to systems. His earliest term for this errorwas theoretism; later, he tended to call it monologism” (28). Morson and Emerson add their own“covering term” for this mistake: “semiotic totalitarianism, the assumption that everything has ameaning relating to the seamless whole, a meaning one could discover if one only had the code.”Logicon is the system to end all systems, an end zone of meaning, a point-omega of abstractionfrom the human plane, and as such it represents the many sites of combat in which Bakhtinstruggled to preserve a sense of human creativity and freedom. These sites are just as present inRatner’s Star, and the very existence of the oncoming Logicon project threatens to nullify theirpresentation as such in the narrative they occupy—in addition to the possibility of theirrepresentation in the form of novelistic discourse.Early in his career Bakhtin wrote against the rise and subsequent prevalence ofSaussurean linguistics. For Bakhtin, semiotics is always found wanting because it separates—one might say “purifies”—langue from parole, prioritizing langue by claiming that utterances ofparole are mere instantiations of a system. Bakhtin contends with this model, distinguishingsemiotics from “live speech”: where “Semiotics deals primarily with the transmission of ready-made communication using a ready-made code,” “live speech,” surrounded by the multiplecontexts of its utterance, “is first created in the process of transmission, and there is, in essence,57no code” (N70-71 147). It is this “process of transmission” where there is no code that Bakhtinfocuses on throughout his career and what he contends linguistics leaves out. Because linguisticsas a discipline is “something arrived at through a completely legitimate and necessary abstractionfrom various aspects of the concrete life of the word” (PDP 182), Bakhtin acknowledges thisabstraction but returns to dwell within the “concrete life of the word,” the contexts, usages,shapings and re-shapings of the utterance. “Metalinguistics” is the name of this return to thematerial-context “life of the word”; it is the study of the word “not yet shaped into separate andspecific disciplines, that exceed—and completely legitimately—the boundaries of linguistics.”What linguistics abstracts from “live speech” are “dialogic relationships (including the dialogicrelationships of a speaker to his own discourse)” (PDP 183), and it is this aspect that Bakhtindedicates himself to exploring.Valentin Voloshinov, an esteemed member of Bakhtin’s circle, sharpens the critiqueagainst linguistics in his work Marxism and the Philosophy of Language. Voloshinov agrees thatlinguistics abstracts langue from parole to prioritize langue, but he emphasizes that linguistsenforce a further isolation of self-referentiality. “What interests the mathematically mindedrationalists,” Voloshinov writes, “is not the relationship of the sign to the actual reality it reflectsnor to the individual who is its originator, but the relationship of sign to sign within a closedsystem already accepted and authorized” (29). This closed system facilitates an understanding of“the inner logic of the system of signs itself, taken, as in algebra, completely independently of theideological meanings that give the signs their content.” Language thus assumes“conventionality,” “arbitrariness,” a type of variability that makes a comparison to algebralegitimate. Staying true to Bakhtin, Voloshinov proclaims that this equivalency of language and58mathematics is a mistake: “the fact is that the mathematical sign is least amenable tointerpretation as an expression of the individual psyche—and it is the mathematical sign, afterall, that the rationalists hold to be the ideal of any sign, including the verbal sign.” Voloshinovholds up Leibniz’s “idea of universal grammar” as the exemplar of this mistaken process.Like Bakhtin, Voloshinov stresses that the very system of linguistics cancels thecreativity inherent in every utterance, no matter how banal. “What is important for the speakerabout a linguistic form is not that it is a stable and always self-equivalent signal”—i.e., thatparole finds a mirror in langue—“but that it is an always changeable and adaptable sign” (33).In order to find “the starting point of linguistic thought,” linguistics must essentially close anongoing dialogism, forcing an utterance to resemble an “isolated, finished, monologic utterance,divorced from its verbal and actual context and standing open not to any possible sort of activeresponse but to passive understanding on the part of a philologist” (35). The philologist (orlinguist) must, in sum, murder to dissect; if the word is alive, it will squirm on the operatingtable; if it is material, it will offer too much resistance to the fine tools of the abstract. Eitherway, linguistics aims at direct equivalency, a mathematical precision.Through this Bakhtinian lens, an earlier scene in part one of Ratner’s Star presents asituation directly opposed to Logicon’s extreme reductionist abstraction. Billy meets the one andonly Cheops Feeley—he of the Cheops Feeley medal—and has the rare chance to get a Leducelectrode planted underneath his scalp. Feeley explains that this implant “will result in anoverpowering sense of sequence. You’ll be aware of the arrangement of things. The order ofsuccession of events. The way one thing leads to another” (244). Feeley proceeds to give anexample to illustrate his point:59Eating a sandwich will no longer be the smooth operation you’ve always known it to be.You’ll experience, should you agree to host the electrode, a strong awareness of yourhands, your mouth, your throat, your stomach, whatever’s between the slices of bread,the bread itself. You might even find yourself in retrograde orbit, so to speak. Bread,bakery truck, bakery, flour, wheat and so on. There is so much involved. Our lives areso dense. The baker’s hands, the farmer, his barn, the paint job, the latex, the trees . . .You’ll be involved in a very detailed treatment of reality . . . You’ll be establishing freshpaths of awareness. Taking nothing for granted. Dealing with unlimited data. Everybreath you take will be subjected to a thorough sequential analysis. Heart, lungs,nostrils, oxygen, carbon dioxide and so forth. There is so much involved and it’s allright there for the asking. (245)Feeley offers this electrode specifically to Billy—“you with your enormous powers ofabstraction” (244). The electrode stimulates appreciation of the world’s material composition,and indeed, to an extreme degree. One point of the electrode is that although it stimulates thisappreciation of the world’s “density,” that density is always already there; there is always “somuch involved,” but humans continually take this for granted—a habit the electrode aims torectify. There is always “unlimited data,” but the human being, trying to live an unburdened life,abstracts consciousness from this material array and therefore neglects the “sequence of things.”Critically for Feeley (note the pun on a material nature, a “touchy-feely-ness”), the sequence ofthings involves the merging of various contexts. “Eating a sandwich” involves the digestivesystem—itself an assemblage of internal organs—in addition to the hands conveying food to themouth, that entry point of swallowing the world. The sandwich itself is a heterogeneous60assemblage composed of various parts. Feeley focuses on the bread, breaking down itscomposition to the point of reaching “retrograde orbit” whereupon the “baker’s hands” come intoplay, creating a parallel between the hands holding the sandwich. The contexts of the deliverytruck, the bakery, and the farm surround the item of sliced bread and are never not present in thematerial item itself. Most importantly, Feeley maintains the material/physical aspect of thesecontexts but presents them through the viewpoints of others: the hands that bake the bread are“the baker’s hands,” belonging to someone; the barn belonging to the farmer is “his barn,” andthe paint job, the latex, and the trees are all part of the context as the farmer himself would see it.His contexts are embodied viewpoints.Implanting this electrode is tantamount to viewing the world a la Bakhtin, albeit to anabsurdly parodistic degree. All the same, this scene yields a metacritical reading of the critic’srole in following the “life of the word.” The utterance to Bakhtin is a sandwich, composed offamiliar parts like bread and vegetables. Never must the critic assume that each sandwich isexactly the same as the one following or preceding it. Each sandwich, while perhaps similar inform and structure, is by necessity a new iteration on the sandwich and irreducible to mere“sandwichness.” Likewise, the critic must follow the ingredients from their past sources ofproduction as well as, like Feeley describes, follow these foodstuffs to their future destination—the digestive system (i.e., the recipient). The word has a “life” because it is formulated, sent, andreceived by living people—rather like a sandwich, whose ingredients were once alive (to varyingdegrees) and whose nutrition serves to further life. For Bakhtin, “actual social life and historicalbecoming create within an abstractly unitary national language a multitude of concrete worlds, amultitude of bounded verbal-ideological and social belief systems: within these various systems61(identical in the abstract) are elements of language filled with various semantic and axiologicalcontent and each with its own different sound” (DiN 288). Among these irreducible multitudes,“there may be, between ‘languages,’ highly specific dialogue relations; no matter how theselanguages are conceived, they may all be taken as particular points of view on the world” (DiN293). Following on this point that languages are particular points of view on the world, Bakhtinintroduces alterity, as Baudrillard also does. “As a living, socio-ideological concrete thing,”Bakhtin writes, “language, for the individual consciousness, lies on the borderline betweenoneself and the other. The word in language is half someone else’s. It becomes ‘one’s own’only when the speaker populates it with his own intention, his own accent, when he appropriatesthe word, adapting it to his own semantic and expressive intention” (DiN 293).This heterogeneity, this alterity, is cancelled by Logicon. As Osteen briefly suggests(84), Logicon denies Bakhtin’s assertion that “as a result of the work done by all these stratifyingforces in language”—stratification meaning the process of running language along lines ofvarious professions, genres, tendencies, etc.—“there are no ‘neutral’ words and forms—wordsand forms that can belong to ‘no one’; language has been shot through with intentions andaccents.” By its very attempt to act as the one, Logicon is this “no one.” If “language is not aneutral medium that passes freely and easily into the private property of the speaker’s intentions,”if “it is populated—over populated—with the intentions of others” (DiN 294), Logicon seeks to completely neutralize the process of language, removing the interplay of the intentions of others with the speaker’s intentions, for after all, Logicon has no intentions and is not a speaker. As discussed above, the Logicon project quickly subverts its primary purpose ofcommunication to become a self-enclosed and pure enterprise, a revolutionary model that, by62being the one, addresses no (other) one.Lester Bolin, that jokester, highlights this aspect of Logicon by parodying it. A latter-dayFrankenstein, “Lester’s been working on an experimental thing. He believes he can get it tospeak Logicon” (289). Described by Lester himself as a “thing” (374), he adds to the framehousing the physical “computer-driven control system,” as “a sort of joke,” a “box-shaped ‘head’and cylindrical ‘torso’” (340). Later in the novel the details are revealed that “he’d longconsidered the possibility of using lipstick or paint or crayon to make formal markings on the‘head’ and ‘torso.’ Abstract ritualistic figures. Proto-geometry of some kind” (400). This is the“old-fashioned ingenuity” that Bolin admires most in his own work (374, 400): giving the non-human Logicon a human form sharpens the emphasis that Logicon’s language is not only nonhuman but anti-human. The “primitive android” of/for Logicon that Bolin creates masquerades as a human who, like any other language-manipulating being, is capable of receiving, interpreting, and sending information in dialogue with other speaking beings (426). This anthropomorphized shell mocks Bakhtin’s assertion that “prior to this moment of appropriation,” i.e. making language “one’s own” through intention, “the word does not exist in aneutral and impersonal language (it is not, after all, out of a dictionary that the speaker gets his words!), but rather it exists in other people’s mouths, other people’s contexts, serving other people’s intentions: it is from there that one must take the word, and make it one’s own” (DiN 294).  Logicon appropriates this appropriation. In its own painted-on mouth lies the single mostsevere of “neutral and impersonal” languages that, ahistorical, anti-contextual and non-perspectival, threatens in its revolutionary capacity to take the language out of other people’smouths, neutralizing it and making it “one’s own.” The ultimate centripetal force, Logicon as a63system undercuts (and is therefore scarier than) a dictionary because its existence is at odds withheteroglossic reality. Its systemizing prioritization of logic, universal in scope, aims to flatten allcontext to a flat and monological plane. Like Dylar, Logicon is “technology with a human face”(WN 211), an invention that transcends humanity by destroying it.Extending the joke further, Bolin envisions Logicon “in such a way that it would operateonly upon insertion of a coin” (340). This parodies the severity and seriousness of Logicon, itsgrave import, turning the device into a carnival amusement; Bolin’s asking to see Venable’s“fuzzy-wuzzy,” however, coupled with his action of “revealing his genitals” to her as “a form ofdreamy speech” (400), adds connotations of prostitution to the coin-slot. In “The BabelSyndrome,” Baudrillard connects “the universal language” with “the true Babylon, where alllanguages are confounded and prostituted one to another,” causing “a veritable pimping on thepart of communication which is the opposite of the magic illusion of otherness” (90-1). Theseduction and interplay of languages in the plural is reduced to pay-on-demand functionality, amathematical equivalency that Voloshoniv decries. The monetization of language is theprostitution of language. What’s more, the place where the coin is “inserted” is “Logicon’s‘navel’” (426). Bolin’s choice of this area for the coin-slot parodies even further the mock-humanity of Logicon, drawing attention to but emphasizing the lack of an umbilical cord. Inaddition, this location of the coin-slot symbolizes omphaloskepsis, navel-gazing, the self-referential absorption that forms the core of Logicon’s modus operandi. That the “primitiveandroid” of Logicon has a navel is further evidence of its centripetal and centralizing influence.Finally, Bolin also aims to get Logicon to speak even though Lown “says it’s inherentlyunspeakable” (374). First to note is that the “computer-driven control system,” that is, the64physical machinery of Logicon, is “known, like the language itself, as Logicon” (340). Thismeans that for Logicon to speak, it must speak itself: the hardware is self-identical with thelanguage, creating the tightest and most complete of referential loops. Though hard to sayexactly what the benefit of getting Logicon to speak is, apparently Bolin does succeed. The textprovides one example of the process of moving from “an array of symbols” to “the meaning . . .of each array” and finally to “the corresponding phonetic speech units (Logicon) that the squatobject would emit”: “‘/:nK’ corresponded to the statement ‘the function letter f contains nnumber of f-less transforms’ and both of these corresponded to the sound ‘fu ling ho’” (426).“Fu ling ho,” as humorous as it sounds in the context of its utterance, resembles Chinese andrecalls Billy’s reaction to written Logicon giving him “a sense of what he instinctively regardedas ‘extreme Chinese formalism’” (359). Chinese has been a universal language in East Asia forcenturies, used as a common tongue (especially for scholarship) throughout disparate countries.Also, as Eco notes, Leibniz had “a continuing interest in the language and culture of China”(284), and the fixation that Ratner’s Star has on all things Chinese reflects this interest.The fundamental irony, therefore, of a universal language is that the process ofuniversalization leaves no one with whom communication is possible. The universalizationnecessary for the creation of a universal language eliminates difference. Morson and Emersonemphasize that Bakhtin’s contention with systems and systems-thinking is precisely this point:“the problem with systems, Bakhtin implies, is not only their inaccuracy, artificiality, andpredictability (nonsystem can exhibit those traits too); the problem with system is that it does notnecessarily contain any human beings. Without concrete individual instances there is noobligation, because only the particular can obligate us” (70). The difference entailed within and65between individual human beings, each “concrete individual instance” which is irreducible toany other, disappears when faced with a system that promises universal communication. In thissense (and couched within another layer of irony), Logicon is a utopian project, promising arenaissance of unified exchange among humans as well as other forms of life; the only caveat isthis utopia occurs nowhere, an ou (not) topos (place), factoring out time and space. In contrast,“novels are radically anti-utopian,” Morson and Emerson explain, “because they presuppose theimpossibility of a single language of truth and imagine social discourse as an unfinalizablediscovery of new and unforeseeable truths” (323). The novel is the champion of Bakhtin’sdedication toward unceasing interaction between grounded and material viewpoints. Realizeddialogically, the novel also presents dialogical interaction and encounters, and indeed, this iswhat the novel does best. Using a term that has particular relevance to Ratner’s Star, Bakhtintheorizes that “the writer of prose . . . often measures his own world by alien linguisticstandards” (DiN 287); this measuring is consequent to “a deeply involved participation in aliencultures and languages (one is impossible without the other) [which] leads to an awareness of thedisassociation between language and intentions, language and thought, language andexpressions” (DiN 369). Without the encounter with the alien, abstaining from alien linguisticstandards, language is centralized in a “naive absence of conflict” (DiN 368), absolutely bonded(“associated”) with ultimate and monologizing ideology.Accordingly, Logicon threatens the very genre of Ratner’s Star and the novel as such. Ifone target of this novel’s satire is the hubris of a runaway scientific methodology, this samemethodology internally threatens the genre and artistic medium that house it. After Ratner’sStar, DeLillo extends this compositional technique in Players but most explicitly—and to66greatest effect—in Mao II. Players introduces terrorism as a major concern in DeLillo’s workbut Mao II pits terrorism as a competitive force threatening to displace the role and mission ofthe novelist. The genius of Mao II is that it does not so much comment upon but rather presentsthis competitive struggle as such within the threatened artistic medium at DeLillo’s disposal. Asan inverse example to illustrate this point: imagine a violent terrorist who, displaced by the riseand importance of literary art (!), decides the pen is mightier than the sword and that his aimswould be better achieved by writing a novel.Not merely monological but monologizing, Logicon actively works against many of thecharacteristics of Menippean satire outlined by Bakhtin, in addition to the genre’s reliance onand absorption of the carnivalesque. “In the monologic world,” Bakhtin writes, “tertium nondatur: a thought is either affirmed or repudiated; otherwise it simply ceases to be a fully validthought” (PDP 80). Yes or no, a or non-a. Of all the character’s in Ratner’s Star, it is JeanSweet Venable who most fully realizes that “In an environment of philosophical monologism thegenuine interaction of consciousnesses is impossible, and thus genuine dialogue is impossible aswell” (PDP 81); her character is a stand-in for DeLillo himself, the novelist at the cross-roadsbetween the continuation and extermination of his art. Beyond merely Menippean satire,Logicon forces the novel itself on the chopping-block, and Venable is DeLillo’s satirical meta-exploration of this conflict.Venable’s presentation in Ratner’s Star begins with her as a journalist and, moreinterestingly, as a reader. Convinced that “once she’d been a character in a novel” despite “suchessential differences” between herself and this character (310), Venable muses on the “kingshipof printed fiction,” “its arbitrary power” (311). The knowledge of the author, that “son of a67bitch,” is seen by Venable as a means of control and of finalization of her character. WhatVenable’s seemingly vain quest emphasizes, though, in this second part surtitled “Reflections,”is that “printed fiction” is a reflective surface. Even though there is little convincing evidencethat she has been a character in a novel, fiction nonetheless allows her to see herself. It is nocoincidence that “the first word she’d ever spoken . . . was pupilla, which has the roundaboutcharm of meaning ‘little orphan girl’ while it refers to the pupil of the eye, a connection based onthe fact that when a child looks at her own miniature reflection in another person’s eye, she seesa female figure locked inside concentric rings” (398): Venable asks herself “What do I expect tofind mingled with my own reflection in the center of that frigid iris?” and as a reader of thenovel, she sees herself in the center of the author’s eye.Of course, the Venable who sees herself as a character in a novel is a character inDeLillo’s novel. DeLillo exploits the “arbitrary power” of printed fiction when he connects thereflection Venable sees in the novel she reads with another reflection of Venable in Ratner’sStar. “The only thing, superficial or otherwise, [the author had] used as perceived” is Venable’s“emblematic birthmark on the buttock”—“This and her inclination to predict” (310). SkiaMantikos, whose name, “the shadow prophet,” indicates predictive power (423), has“birthmarked on her right buttock . . . a star-shaped geometric figure” (428). Even more so,Venable as a girl is “a thing that whirls” (398), which is what Mantikos does. Is the novel thatVenable reads the novel including Skia Mantikos? Is the reflective doubling—the shadowing—the eclipsing—of Venable a coincidence, or evidence of deeper design? Because the act ofreflection occurs within the one level of narrative—Venable reading herself into a novel—andthe other—Mantikos reflecting Venable in Ratner’s Star— these two levels of narrative reflect68themselves, making what Douglas R. Hofstadter calls a “strange loop” and therefore making itimpossible to cleanly distinguish the two. This bizarre moment of doubling reinforces thekingship of fiction being arbitrary. Fiction does, as Venable says, have a “capacity to gainpossession of a person or thing by ineradicable prior right” (311), but that possession comesthrough the “distressingly strange” (310), “painfully strange” process of “searching the pages forsigns of . . . persona” (311). Fiction reflects but imperfectly so. Fiction is the excluded middle,neither a nor non-a. Because Venable writes herself in as a reader, the “surfaces, guise andconscious intentions” she sees in the novel are at least partially her own, and her conception ofbeing entrapped by the novel is a result of her own dialogical interaction with a text thatapparently has little if anything to do with her (311).But Venable’s role as a vehicle for meta-commentary does not end there. In fact, Librareprises Venable’s position as a writer caught between fact and fiction in the character of CIAhistorian Nicholas Branch, a character who in DeLillo’s words “feels overwhelmed by themassive data he has to deal with” and thus “feels the path is changing as he writes” (DeCurtis56). As Branch stands in for novelist DeLillo in Libra, so Venable is his proxy in Ratner’s Star;DeLillo admits as much, saying that “Libra is, in a curious way, related to Ratner’s Star, becauseit attempts to provide a hint of order in the midst of all the randomness” (DeCurtis 56). Herdecision to write fiction about the Logicon project follows her “plan to make strict rules . . . .Reading my book will be a game with specific rules that have to be learned . . . . Just likemathematics, excuse the comparison” (352). This plan mirrors DeLillo’s comment made in aninterview with LeClair: “I was trying to produce a book that would be naked structure. Thestructure would be the book and vice versa . . . . Abstract structures and connective patterns. A69piece of mathematics, in short” (11). In this interview DeLillo recognizes the “risk” of a “bookthat is really all outline,” a book that “reduce[s] the importance of people” to a “role subservientto pattern, form, and so on,” and this risk seems both transferred to Venable’s project on theLogicon project and transformed into the fear she associates with it.For, invariably, Venable has the tougher job ahead of her. Her novel becomes “completewhen the pages were complete, hundreds of them, blank nearly every one, easy to imagine withcertain kinds of words on them”; the pages are merely numbered in sequence, no other writingon them, because “it was not necessary to think of these words and set them down on thesepages” (398). “She knew what they would look like with words on them.” Part of thispreposterous situation derives from Venable’s character. She is a “pretender” in the Bakhtiniansense, the type of people “living, in effect, as if they were characters in a novel” instead of takingresponsibility for the minutiae of one’s daily actions (Morson 181). While writing “EminentStammerers,” Venable imagines herself as a Modern Library Giant (397). Pretender or not,however, Venable is ironically successful, for in writing a completely blank novel for which“setting down words” is not necessary, she accurately reflects the anti-content, anti-contextual,monologizing Logicon. This type of restrictive bondage experienced by a writer tasked withtackling Logicon is literalized by Skia Mantikos, Venable’s shadow-double. Her lips are sewnshut.As a crowning touch, DeLillo borrows from the ending of Voltaire’s “philosophicalstory” Micromégas in this scene of Venable’s bizarrely ambivalent literary triumph.Micromégas is an exemplar of Menippean satire and one of the first identifiable science-fictionstories in existence. The degree to which DeLillo plunders this story merits a fuller examination70of its links with Ratner’s Star than is possible here. The story ends with Micromegas, a giantfrom Sirius, making a promise to the Earthlings with whom he makes contact:He promised to prepare a fine book of philosophy for them, written very small so thatthey could read it; and that in this book they would see the explanation of everything.To be sure, he did give them this volume before his departure. They took it to Paris, tothe Academy of Sciences. But when the secretary opened it, he saw only a book withblank pages. “Ah!” he said, “I thought as much.” (43)Similarly with Venable’s novel about Logicon, Micromegas’s “fine book” intends a universalscope, “the explanation of everything.” Yet this universal scope is an impossible subject for abook to contain. Ironically, a blank book, like an empty glass, is a vessel with the potential to befilled with “everything.” This potential, this “knowing what the words would look like on thepage,” is not quite the same thing as having words on the page, although, parallel to Venable’sblank book, the “explanation of everything” is a topic writable by no one, belonging to no oneand situated nowhere. Indeed, the story Micromégas, told from the point of view of the Sirian,makes human civilization strange and other (humans are “animalcules” to the giant) and stressesthe perspectival relativity of knowledge itself—a “Galilean consciousness”—making an“explanation of everything” impossible yet no less desirable. The paradox is that an explanationof everything requires a universal language, but this universal language eclipses individualperspectives refracting through the plurality of languages.71VII. Howls of Awe, Cries of WonderThe “system interbreak” of the novel, crucially timed in synchronization with the eclipse,is a remarkably lyrical meditation on the relationship between perspective and knowledge, the“explanation of everything.” Esoteric in tone, mystical in intent, and checking off characteristicseven of Bakhtin’s menippea, “observation from some unusual point of view, from on high, forexample” (PDP 116), this passage shockingly posits a “hypothetical ARS extant” as “you,” onewho has “the benefit of an omnidirectional viewpoint and are able to observe” the immensepanoramic activity (building upon the grit of the New York episodes) of the eclipse movingacross the Indian subcontinent (430). This viewpoint, able to “perceive completely” (431),resembles a reincarnation, a return back to the intelligible realm “from the Outside . . . [which] isthe equivalent of entering once more your outgrown frame of logic and language.” Although thisARS extant has “solve[d] reality,” perceiving it “now as a micron flash of light-scattering matterin a structure otherwise composed of purely mathematical coordinates,” the second-person “you”lights upon the most minute of “real world” events and details of lives during the suspendedreality of an eclipse. If “mathematics is what the world is when we subtract our ownperceptions,” this world is achieved through an ascetic transcendence of “the will to live” toultimately find that mathematics “contain[s] a painless ‘nonexistence,’ the theoretical ideal of n-space” (432).In this passage, mathematical science and transcendental mysticism unequivocally unite.One being who falls within the ARS extant’s gaze is a “bony old man . . . in his scrambled72loincloth,” his “mud body oblivious to the vast ashen inevitability of all things that pertain to hisparticular snag of earth” (433). This man chants “sannyasa . . . sannyasa,” renunciation, whichis the fourth and final ashrama (stage) of Hinduism (OED). The passage carefully emphasizesthe particular snag of terrestrial earth to stress the man’s renunciation of it, his method of egressfrom the particular itself. Both mathematics and spiritual asceticism are methodologies to bypassthe shifting illusoriness of maya, the perceptual world, and the eternal cycle of birth and death,samsara. In the realm of the pure, “to be Outside”—the unnamed narrator of the “systeminterbreak” continues—“is to know an environment infinitely less complex than the one you left[the material world]” (432). There is no perspective in this “Outside” because the individual assuch has been shed, leaving a simpler mode of being compared to the material messiness, theuntold accidents, of the physical world.The unnamed narrator, posed in the first-person plural, ends the “system interbreak” witha creed-like tone, even bordering on that of a manifesto. “You see our rapt entanglement in allaround us,” the narrator says, addressing the ARS extant, “the press to measure and delve”(maya derives from the Sanskrit mā, meaning “to measure”):There, see, in annotated ivory tools, lengths of notched wood, in the wave-guidemanipulation of light and our nosings into the choreography of protons, we implicateourselves in endless uncertainty. This is the ethic you’ve rejected. Inside our desolation,however, you come upon the reinforcing grid of works and minds that extendthemselves against whatever lonely spaces account for our hollow moods, the woeincoming. Why are you here? To unsnarl us form our delimiting senses? To offerprotective cladding against our cruelty and fear? The pain, the life-cry speak our most73candid wonders. To outpremise these, by whatever tektite whirl you’ve mastered, wouldbe to make us hypothetical, a creature of our own pretending, as are you. (433)Destruction, disintegration, and death rush to the foreground during this brief “systeminterbreak” interlude. Interrogating this ARS extant, engaging it in dialogue, this unnamed “we”narrator denies that the ARS extant’s rejection of the world places it in the role of saviour, onewho can “unsnarl,” “offer protective cladding.” Even among the “trophy bones of epic death”and rampant disease (433), immersed in the swirl of intense perception and experience, rapt inthe dance of life and its ultimate end, the unnamed “we” makes a point of preferring the“richness of inborn limits” that material existence entails (432). The Second Comingboomerang-arc of the ARSE is refused. Palm down, the real overcomes the ideal.And, faced by the reality of the oncoming eclipse, the Logicon project crumbles. Bolinasks “Is science dead?” (421), and for Softly the answer is yes. Failing to convince himself that“an unforeseen eclipse is no more startling, logically, than an eclipse predicted decades orcenturies earlier” (435), Softly experiences “a deeper than logical fear that drove him intoflight”: “Fear (perhaps) of eclipse per se.” The eclipse eclipses his Babel aspirations, and his“deeper than logical fear” sends him to the depths of Endor’s hole’s hole where he encounters a“large and slyly constructed object”—the body of Endor himself, whom the narrativedehumanizes and anonymizes to an extent that DeLillo will replicate in his disposal of Bill Grayin Mao II. The “human object” (438) is “covered . . . by whole cities of vermiculate life” (437).In true grotesque fashion, the end of Endor regenerates into new beginnings. The body swallowsthe world and is itself swallowed by the world. Once preying on “furry little items fresh fromthe earth” (85), Endor becomes food for the life of the earth, completing the cycle and inverting74the hierarchy of eater and eaten. Death is birth as birth is death (recalling Billy’s visions ofchildbirth). This ambivalency runs deeply in the image of Endor. Neither Softly nor thenarrative voice lingers on a mournful tone because Endor’s body fits into the comic reversal thatconcludes the novel.Narrative focus leaves Softly as he “crawled, knowing, he scratched at dirt, he clawed thehard earth, everywhere, feeling it, a sense of interlocking opposites, the paradox, the comedy, thefool’s total radiance” (438). The eclipse obscures the sun but (paradoxically, comically)illuminates Softly’s status as the prime fool of the novel, above Buber, Endor, and all the others.In White Noise, Sister Hermann Marie tells Jack Gladney that “there is no truth without fools”(319), and the supreme foolishness of Softly and his Logicon project works to set the truth ofRatner’s Star in starker relief: the zorgasm. The “sense of interlocking opposites, the paradox,the comedy” that Softly (and Billy) feels is the zorgasm, another neologism coined by DeLillo.Critic Joseph Dewey rightly identifies the word as “entwining mind and body, the abstractmathematical symbol (the zorg) with the rinsing (and sweetly terrifying) vulnerability of theorgasm” (48), but the term also denotes the beautiful purity of the zorg combining with theapplicational design of the orgasm as intended for procreation. A zorgasm encapsulates whatDeLillo says of the structure of his book, that “there’s a strong demarcation between the parts.They are opposites. Positive, negative. Discrete, continuous. Day, night . . . . But they also linktogether” (LeClair “Interview” 12). The zorgasm is the alien becoming the self and the selfbecoming alien, that “we’ve reconstructed the ARS extant and it turns out to be us” (405). It isthe meeting point between the y-axis of Plato’s abstract Forms and the material bound to the x-axis of Aristotle.75Looking at Bolin’s feet, Edna Lown remarks that “Lester’s shoes were scuffed andbattered and she could see them pressing into the earth, which was his way of thinking andworking, a concentration downward” (318). Bolin’s process of abstraction relies on the materialsubstratum from which to leap upward. Learning that the ARS extants are terrestrial, Lown,“looking [down] into the dirt between her feet,” thinks “Everything . . . . Everything is here”(405). For the narrative “we” of the “system interbreak,” and for Lown, too, earth is enough.The invention of the extraterrestrial merely disguises the immense plurality of the alien, in allsense of that word, on and within terra firma. Faced with the death of science, their abstractinghubris humbled, the characters of Ratner’s Star are brought to their knees, significantly re-grounded, in their realizations of the carnivalesque nature of the human universe. Softly’ssounds made while digging, the ones that “became by degrees more rudimentary and crude,” aswell as Billy’s “noise resembling laughter,” his “expressing vocally what appeared to be acompelling emotion,” are both signs of devolution, of absolute carnivalesque debasing, but theyare also instances of the “life-cry” that the narrative “we” says “speak our most candid wonders.”They are commitments to the earth and to the death that makes that earth terrifying andrejuvenative.DeLillo ends his latest novel, Zero K, with another life-cry from a small boy. The boy’s“urgent cries were suited to the occasion” (273-4); they were “unceasing and also exhilarating,they were prelinguistic grunts,” “howls of awe . . . far more suitable than words” and “cries ofwonder” (274)—rudimentary and crude, like Softly and Billy’s noises. Though not in reaction toa “noncognate celestial event,” this boy is moved by a celestial “event” whose name the narrator,Jeff Lockhart, can not remember but describes in language soaked with death: “the day’s dying76light” (273) comes from a “full solar disk, bleeding into the streets” of Manhattan (274). (Whereelse?) In Zero K, too, the sun occasions an apocalyptic revery as Lockhart imagines this is theway of the boy “own[ing] the end of the world”—referring to the first sentence of the novel tocreate a narrative loop, thereby mirroring the palindromic structure of Ratner’s Star—but Jeffcomes to a better conclusion. The boy “was not seeing the sky collapse upon us but was findingthe purest astonishment in the intimate touch of earth and sun,” in all the contact this intimacyentails. Zorgasm. Faced with a choice of conceiving death as absolute terminus, on one hand,and technology’s abstracting and organ-harvesting promise of immortality on the other, Jeffchooses neither, neither a nor non-a. He chooses life.77Works CitedAdorno, Theodor W. and Max Horkheimer. Dialectic of Enlightenment. Trans. John Cumming.New York: Continuum, 1995.Bakhtin, Mikhail Mikhailovich. “Discourse in the Novel.” The Dialogic Imagination. Trans.Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Ed. Michael Holquist. Austin: Texas UP, 1981.259-422.---. “Epic and Novel.” The Dialogic Imagination. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist.Ed. Michael Holquist. Austin: Texas UP, 1981. 3-40.---. “Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel.” The Dialogic Imagination. Trans.Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Ed. Michael Holquist. Austin: Texas UP, 1981. 84-258.---. “From Notes Made in 1970-1.” Speech Genres & Other Late Essays. Trans. Vern W.McGee. Ed. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: Texas UP, 2002. 132-158.---. Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics. Trans. Caryl Emerson. Minneapolis: Minnesota UP, 1984.---. Rabelais and His World. Trans. Helene Iswolsky. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1984.Baudrillard, Jean. The Perfect Crime. Trans. Chris Turner. New York: Verso, 1996.Cowart, David. Don DeLillo: The Physics of Language. Athens: Georgia UP, 2002.DeCurtis, Anthony. “‘An Outsider in This Society’: An Interview With Don DeLillo.”Introducing Don DeLillo. Ed. Frank Lentricchia. Durham: Duke UP, 1999. 43-66.DeLillo, Don. End Zone. New York: Penguin, 1972.---. Libra. New York: Penguin, 1989.78---. Ratner’s Star. New York: Vintage, 1976.---. White Noise. New York: Penguin, 1985.---. Zero K. New York: Scribner, 2016.Dewey, Joseph. Beyond Grief and Nothing: A Reading of Don DeLillo. Columbia: SouthCarolina UP, 2006.Eco, Umberto. The Search for the Perfect Language. Trans. James Fentress. Oxford: Blackwell,1995.Hall, Marcia. “Introduction.” Raphael’s School of Athens. ed. Marcia Hall. New York:Cambridge UP, 1997. 1-48.Johnston, John. “Generic Difficulties in the Novels of Don DeLillo.” Critique: Studies inContemporary Fiction, vol. 30, no. 4, 1989. EBSCOhost, <>. 261-275.Keesey, Douglas. Don DeLillo. New York: Twayne, 1993.LeClair, Tom. “An Interview with Don DeLillo.” Conversations with Don DeLillo. Ed. ThomasDePietro. Jackson: Mississippi UP, 2005. 3-15.---. In The Loop: Don DeLillo and the Systems Novel. Chicago: Illinois UP, 1987.Morson, Gary Saul & Caryl Emerson. Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a Prosaics. Stanford:Stanford UP, 1990.Most, Glen W. “Reading Raphael: ‘The School of Athens’ and Its Pre-Text.” Critical Inquiry,vol. 23, no. 1, 1996. JSTOR, JSTOR, <>. 145-82.Osteen, Mark. American Magic and Dread: Don DeLillo’s Dialogue with Culture. Philadelphia:79Pennsylvania UP, 2000.Oxford English Dictionary Online.Spadaro, Giorgio I. The Esoteric Meaning in Raphael’s Paintings. Great Barrington: Lindisfarne,2006.Stade, George. “Ratner’s Star.” The New York Times. June 20, 1976. <>.Voloshinov, V. N. “Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, 1929.” Trans. L. Matejka and I.R. Titunik. The Bakhtin Reader: Selected Writings of Bakhtin, Medvedev and Voloshinov.Ed. Pam Morris. New York: Arnold, 1994. 25-37.Voltaire. “Micromegas.” French Stories: A Bantam Dual-Language Book. Trans. and ed.Wallace Fowlie. New York: Bantam, 1964. 2-43.80


Citation Scheme:


Citations by CSL (citeproc-js)

Usage Statistics



Customize your widget with the following options, then copy and paste the code below into the HTML of your page to embed this item in your website.
                            <div id="ubcOpenCollectionsWidgetDisplay">
                            <script id="ubcOpenCollectionsWidget"
                            async >
IIIF logo Our image viewer uses the IIIF 2.0 standard. To load this item in other compatible viewers, use this url:


Related Items