- Rewiring the Real: In Conversation with William Gaddis, Richard Powers, Mark Danielewski, and Don DeLillo by Mark C. Taylor
Mark C. Taylor has a distinguished publishing career in religious studies, and in Rewiring the Real he continues his remarkably multidisciplinary study of the interrelations between religion, philosophy, art, literature, and technology (286). Despite the reference to being “in conversation” in the subtitle, Taylor does not interview the authors; rather, he analyzes a single long work by each of the four authors named in the title: Gaddis’s The Recognitions (1955), Powers’s Plowing the Dark (2000), Danielewski’s House of Leaves (2000), and DeLillo’s Underworld (1997). Devoting a separate chapter to each of these long works, Taylor argues that these novels represent the postmodern turn, especially the shift to the age of the simulacrum in which “sign and reality, copy and original are one” (62).
Taylor provides some sophisticated commentary on the religious dimensions of the novels. The chapter on Plowing the Dark argues that Powers questions whether science and technology (especially virtual reality) have replaced art as the most important locus of the spiritual longing for transcendence; just as previously, in modernism, art replaced religion as the key site of spirituality. In the chapter on House of Leaves, Taylor investigates Danielewski’s deconstruction of the distinction between the real and the fake in the age of electronic reproduction.
Taylor’s analysis of the theological dimensions of Gaddis’s The Recognitions is particularly helpful and insightful, especially his focus upon the way Gaddis’s novel shows “the relationship between traditional religious beliefs and practices and contemporary social, economic, and technological developments” (6). It also reveals the way Christian beliefs “displace but do not completely replace their pagan antecedents” (47). The chapter on Gaddis is the highlight of the book because here, unlike in other chapters, Taylor keeps his focus upon explicating and interpreting the novel.
I found the autobiographical elements in the other chapters to be excessive and at times even self-indulgent. Taylor makes repeated references to his own works, both scholarly and artistic.
…I have continued to take photographs, returned to painting from time to time, created sculptures, and undertaken big projects that fall somewhere between gardens and earthworks. I have written books about art and published elaborately designed works that border on art. I have even been fortunate to have had an exhibition at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.(2)
He even includes a picture of himself in shorts, making one of his earthworks by burying his canvas in the dirt.
In his chapter on DeLillo’s Underworld, Taylor focuses upon the conclusion of the novel in which the character Sister Edgar achieves eternal life, in cyberspace rather than heaven. But Taylor’s constant return to his memories of baseball as a child leaves him insufficient space to analyze fully the religious dimensions of DeLillo’s novel. And it’s not as if his autobiographical narratives are particularly illuminating or relevant. To note one egregious example, Taylor wonders if he can “still name the players at each position, and even the numbers, all the numbers. Why, I wonder, can I recall all [End Page 131] those numbers when I forget so much else?” (188). He then proceeds to list the names, positions, and numbers of fourteen players from the 1950s Milwaukee Braves. Why, I wonder, would he include such irrelevant information?
In addition, Taylor’s deconstructive analysis that frames the work and guides his interpretations can become tedious, tending, in the end, to interpret each novel as an illustration of Derridean deconstruction of binary oppositions, especially the opposition between the original and the copy, or the real and the imaginary.
But what if the real and the fake are not precisely opposite but are codependent, i.e., each simultaneously emerges and withdraws in and through the other? Since the real is never accessible as such, it can only “show” itself by hiding. In this play of...