Between Mouse and Ostrich

For Jacques Rancière the contemporary moment is ‘the great parataxis’. Meaning is not given in art as it once was when a different ‘regime of the image’ dominated; it materialises as an effect of hiatus, as if between terms presented consequentially which are in fact unrelated. ‘The common factor of dis-measure […]  gives art its power’, writes Rancière.1

Elsewhere parataxis is illustrated with Julius Caesar’s infamous statement: ‘I came, I saw, I conquered’.

Where does Müleskind sit in the age of parataxis? Is the name not an effective centre working gravitationally, drawing narratives into its orbit, subordinating components of the story to one another ensuring their accumulation and their rational order? We have commented that, where Müleskind is concerned, ‘the novel will not be written’. But what guarantees that intent as anything other than a deferral? Does the name itself not tell that the novel is already written?

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Don DeLillo’s recent Point Omega takes place in the desert, in a remote house. It finds its resources in the awkward compatibilities of those who, for one reason or another, are residing together. At a moment that feels significant in the story’s telling the narrator notes a shift in his perception of time.

‘I filled the styrofoam cooler with bags of ice and bottles of water […] I tossed banana peels off the deck for animals to eat and I stopped counting the days since I’d arrived’.2

It appears to be important for the reader to understand that this alteration in perception comes upon the character stealthily, overtakes him, so that when he notices it, he can only comment retrospectively and remark on what has already taken place. It is a form of paratactic method that DeLillo employs, statements bearing no necessary relation to one another being presented as if they were consequential. We wonder how effective the passage is. Does a quality of the image not give the sequence a resistance at its centre that forbids the kind of (non)progression parataxis requires? The house is remote. We’re told very little more about it, and so it seems to stand secured in hard-baked earth, its timbers bleached to the earth’s hues. The banana skin tossed off the deck by a character losing his grip on time’s conventional divisions imbues the scene with unexpected colour. And there is a humour in the image that remains extra to what the sequence requires. What animal comes for the bright yellow banana skin? Is it a coyote, sidling up in the midday heat? Surely not: the story’s efforts have been successful already in convincing us that this dry place is one in which animals – if they are there at all – must remain underground.

Distracted by such things we find ourselves wondering: what are the desert’s animals? Lists can be found, creatures organised as alphabetical sequences of names. What if our own protagonist was to be found in such a list? The ‘Müleskind’ name – the name on which so much rests – secures itself a place in the middle, let’s say between ‘Mouse’ and ‘Ostrich’. But ‘Müleskind’, like DeLillo’s middle term, forbids the sequence’s structure, weights it wrongly; it is a conclusion appearing too early. Here perhaps is an answer to the question asked at the outset. When we say that  the novel will not be written it is not simply to embrace an endless deferral; it is to affirm a kind of work in which, although they may be present, the literary features  are treated differently. The conclusion appearing early – if it does so – is not hidden until later for the sake of a timing that will be more effective – effective in ways  understood by novel-readers. Instead we acknowledge the unexpected appearance and ask why it appears now, wrongly; we organise our work so that, in its diverse materialities, the multiple facets of such phenomena can be seen.

1. Rancière, Jacques, ‘Sentence, Image, History’, The Future of the Image, trans. Gregory Elliott, London: Verso 2007, p. 45.

2. DeLillo, Don, Point Omega, London: Picador 2011, p. 82-83.