Notes from the author: THIS PAPER IS FOR ADULT AUDIENCES ONLY. Do me a favor and hit the subscribe button. Also, any sort of shout-out if you use this as a reference would be very much appreciated. I have a full-time job but read in my free time, so I figure share my thoughts and ideas. As I am finishing writing this, the song The Big Country or Heaven by The Talking Heads comes to mind. I remember hearing it in a documentary about them on The South Bank Show and the song was mashed against images of idyllic Americana, yet, later in the documentary, the band performs the song Air and Life During Wartime which peels way the outer surface, exposing America’s hyperactive soul. To be honest this entire documentary was in the back of my mind as I read the book and wrote this. Sure, the Talking Heads are a little strange to most people, yet, from most of my readings into subjects such as postmodernism (which is something important and enduring, yet I am past the point of seeing it as profound), they are an iconic “soundtrack” that helps consolidate a lot of thoughts I have. Also, I have been meaning to read this book for a while in that I am a DeLillo fan, and this book coincided with historical research I do as a hobby relating to the “weird things” about WWII, government, technocracy, Nazi collaboration, etc. As a disclaimer, this paper does reference the Nazis, but DeLillo has used this faction twice in his novels not as a celebration but an exploration about the darkness of the human condition. Running Dog by DeLillo relates to separate book I am currently reading called The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler by Ben Urwand released by The Harvard Press. The goal of this paper is to be more than a book-review but more so a visual guide as I imagine it on the silver screen.
1. Notable Book Quotes
“Fascinating, yes. An interesting word. From the Latin fascinus. An amulet shaped like a phallus. A word progressing from the same root as the word “fascism” (page 151)
“The whole Nazi era. People can’t get enough. If it’s Nazis, it’s automatically erotic. The violence, the rituals, the leather, the jackboots. The whole thing for uniforms and paraphernalia. He whipped his niece, did you know that?” “Hitler” (page 52).
“The logical extension of business is murder” (page 76)
“Choice is a subtle form of disease” (page 192)
“Those Nazis had a thing for movies. They put everything on film. Executions, even, at his personal request. Film was essential to the Nazi era. Myth, dreams, memory. He liked lewd movies too, according to some. Even Hollywood stuff, girls with legs” (page 52).
“History is so comforting” “Isn’t this why people collect? To own a fragment of the tangible past. Life is fleeting, and we seek consolation in durable things” (page 104).
“Sure, a thing isn’t fully erotic unless it has the capacity to move. A woman crossing her legs drives men mad. She moves, understand. Motion, activity, change of position. You need this today for eroticism to be total.” (Page 15)
“Weapons have become godless since then. Weapons have lost their religion” (page 4).
“Before pop art, there was such a thing as bad taste. Now there’s kitsch, schlock, camp, and porn” (page 148)
“Terror isn’t the erotic commodity it used to be. We know too much. We have seen. We’ve taken up organic gardening”. Page 168
“I’ve always felt the best view is the objective one, and sometimes this is made sharper and keener by distance” page 167
“The rougher the testing, the more certain you can be they’re preparing you to die” page 183.
“All conspiracies begin with individual self-repression” page 183.
“All men are criminals. All women are mafia wives” page 131
“You have to name your weapon before you can use it to kill” page 209
“Vietnam, in more ways than one, was a war based on hybrid gibberish” page 208.
“I’m saying espionage is a language, an art, with sexual sources and coordinates” page 111.
2. Visualizations, Aesthetics, Pop Cultural References, Themes, Locations, Objects, etc.
Genre: A nineteen-seventies post-Watergate Washington DC insider mystery foreshadowing the upcoming “postmodern paradigm” of technology, meta-data, surveillance, online pornography, etc.
Questions asked: Is Pornography art? As mediums evolved from woodcuts, pottery, paintings, nickelodeons, film, magazine, and the internet, pornography takes on a collector element to it. What was once considered filth then becomes arts since the previous medium gains a value in its own right.
Subconscious Film Visual References: The documentary Pornocracy relating to controversy around porn company Mindgeek meets The West Wing, Netflix’s House of Cards, and HBO’s The Deuce with elements of Apocalypse Now, American Made, The Great Santini, and Lethal Weapon meets Times Square in Taxi Driver meets the humor (subtly) of Airplane, Fritz the Cat, etc. The atmosphere of a Cohen Brother’s film. Since this film is based in the late-nineteen-seventies, certain political thrillers from my memory comes to attention such as The Missing (1981) with Jack Lemmon, The Falcon and The Snowman (1985) by John Schlesinger, Blow Out by Brian De Palma (1981). Yet, I must state, despite controversy surrounding the man, Woody Allen, with his films, particularly those based in nineteen-seventies to early-to-mid eighties New York City offer too much of a strong source of iconic New York visuals, i.e., Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors, etc.
Directors and/or Writers who could do a film translation: Tom Perrotta who wrote the story behind the film, Election (1998), but also wrote the novel for the HBO drama series, The Leftovers. Perrotta has a nice grasp of dark humor but also drama.
Production Ideas: A film adaption of Running Dog could save on production costs by tapping to resources used for The Deuce, such as costumes, make up artists, possible easier permits for locations, etc. Some possible production companies could be A24, Muse Productions (who helped make films such as Buffalo ’66, The Virgin Suicides, American Psycho, etc.). Annapurna Pictures (produced films such as American Hustle. Pinewood Studios in Georgia is a known set for productions and Georgia has low costs. The only Don DeLillo film based on his books thus far was Cosmopolis (2012) starring Robert Patterson and Paul Giamatti, and was produced by Film Canal+, etc. Using Montreal for certain locations to suffice for NYC, could also cut costs, etc. Rabbit Bandini Productions owned by James Franco of The Deuce could be a great way of leveraging Franco’s expertise and ties regarding The Deuce’s film production. If not a film, then I do think a mini-series could be done on HBO, Showtime, etc. Whichever would be more cost effective considering streaming and subscription based content is more of the future. https://a24films.com/ https://annapurna.pictures/
Michael Wilkinson did the costume productions for American Hustle. https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0929452/?ref_=ttfc_fc_cr23
Anna Terrazas, Jenny Gering, and Hanna Shea did the costumes for The Deuce. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4998350/fullcredits/?ref_=tt_cl_sm
Themes: Murder mystery, human sexuality, geopolitical and political intrigue, satire, hyper-realism, technocrats, World War II, intelligence, The Cold War, post-Counterculture 1970s such as conspiracy theories (“KGB linked with ESP”, page 184; “- Russian parapsychologists, at the prodding of the KGB, were close to perfecting a system of assassination by mental telepathy” on page 133 [this was also mentioned in White Noise on page 143]; a reference to the Human Potential Movement on page 39, and a fetish book called “Extraterrestrial Sex Positions”), but also the Patty Hearst “Stockholm Syndrome” story relating to left-wing Radial group the Symbionese Liberation Army, The Phoenix Program, pornography (Deep Throat, Debbie Does Dallas), kink (fascist leather play), casual sex, fetishism (Nazi exploitation such as Ilsa: She wolf of the SS, Stalag fiction, Joy Divisions), the philosophy of material fetishism, Americana. Mistrust of government after the JFK Assassination and Watergate. Like many Baby-Boomer or Great Generation authors, who seem to a penchant for the attempting “the great American novel”, the JKF Assassination to Watergate scandals are often central premises at one point or another of their literary careers such as Stephen King’s book, 11/22/63.
Locations: New York City, NY., Metro Washington D.C., Dallas, TX., San Antonio, TX., and the Rio Grande border region. Barren Dells near the Westside Highway (where Selvy has sex with Nadine Rademacher on pg. 128). Georgetown, Falls Church, VA., and Centreville, VA. Fairfax, Virginia (location for Radial Matrix’s headquarters). U.S. 67 (page 151 – road that Selvy is driving on in the Radial Matrix section of the book). Executive Towers Motor Inn, off Arlington Road (page 136). Fifty-seventh street between Sixth and Seventh avenues (page 98 – where Christophe Luedecke’s widow arranges a meeting with Lighthouse for the sex tape). 116 East, 61st Street, New York, NY, 10021 (page 85 – one of the locations of Running Dogs offices). H Street (page 83 – a storeroom of Running Dog archives used by Moll Robbins). Bronxville Station and Palmer Road (page 42 – where Selvy gets off to meet at Lighthouse’s erotic gallery). Aachen, Germany (page 43 – where Christoph Luedecke is from). Marathon Mines: A fictional training site for clandestine operations like the real-life Camp X and The School of the Americas, that is located near Stillman, Texas and US 385 (page 209, et al.). Houston Street in NY (page 23 – where Moll Robbins hails a cab from to go her apartment). West Seventies apartments (page 23 – where Moll Robbins lives at). San Antonio River Walk (page 207 – where Mudger eats at a Vietnamese restaurant called Lien’s). Kelly Air Force base (page 207 – where Mudger’s friend, George Barber, leads Air Force Security Services). The Barclay Hotel, i.e., presently the InterContinental Barclay Hotel (page 213 – where Grace Delaney meets Lomax for a sexual encounter). Ross Avenue and The General Center Building in Dallas (page 195 – near Richie Armbrister’s warehouse). The New Jersey Turnpike (page 173 – Mudger drives on this going to NYC). Ozona, Texas (page 163 & 164 – mentioned in the book at least twice in that Van and Cao are driving near it, searching for Selvy). Executive Towers, Motor Inn in Arlington, VA (page 136 – Lomax and Mudger meet here for food to discuss things and this a scene where Mudger witnesses a man with a chimpanzee as a pet which triggers Mudger). Times Square (page 116). Irish Bar on Eight Avenue (page 115 – a bar Selvy finds snaking his way through Times Square).
Films referenced: Zabriskie Point (page 40). From Here to Eternity featuring Montgomery “Monte” Cliff (page 42). The Dictator with Charlies Chaplin.
Objects: Nikon F2 camera (page 20 – camera used by Moll Robbins she carries in her purse). Olivetti Typewriter (used my Moll Robbins). Hughes 200 Helicopter used by Van and Cao on their mission to hunt Glen Selvy at Marathon Mines in the Texas desert (page 208). Sam Browne Belt (page 233 – a belt used by Selvy while at Marathon Mines as prepares for a final showdown between Van and Cao).
Historical Figures: Hitler. Fulgencio Batista (page 48), who was a US backed Cuban dictator before the Castro Communist Revolution. King Farouk of Egypt and Sudan having lived from 11 February 1920 – 18 March 1965. Raphael Trujillo, a dictator of the Dominican Republic. Charlie Chaplin.
Buildings: Union Station, Washington D.C. (page 156 – located near the building where Selvy worked at while with PAC/ORD, i.e., Radial Matrix). Howard Johnson Hotel (page 152 – a hotel where Nadine was standing near before being picked up by Selvy). Grand Central Station in New York (page 103 – Where Lighthouse uses a phone to discuss Christophe Ludecke’s Nazi sex tape held by his widow). Fifty-seventh street between Sixth and Seventh avenues (page 98 – where Christophe Luedecke’s widow arranges a meeting with Lighthouse for the sex tape). Dirksen Building (page 46).
Harold Glen Selvy, is one of many protagonists but he leads the action of the story. He was a military brat to a successful Army officer and a mother who drifted into “lassitude, amnesia, silence” (page 245). He isan operative caught up in a confusing web of intrigue. A man of routine who can use violence, but overall, not an evil character and sympathetic to normal citizens on the streets. He is fed information from Lomax who is a shadowy DC insider. Selvy is hired at PAC/ORD as an “assistant’s assistant” as a cover by Senator Lloyd Percival who is separately investigating PAC/ORD’s spin-off Radial Matrix (an IT firm), which is managed by a rogue Deep State agent and ex-Air Force Officer named Edgar Mudger, in order to help he find a mysterious erotic film reel, yet, it seems Selvy is also working for Lomax who might possibly want dirt on Senator Percival in order to influence policy. Selvy is probably in his mid-thirties, with a crooked mouth and frozen gray eyes (page 134).
He was trained at a place called Marathon Mines, where he learned electronics, code-breaking, currencies, weapons, survival (p. 183). “All the paramilitary sessions. The small doses of geopolitics. The psychology of terrorism. The essential of counter-insurgency” (p. 183). “Selvy traveled in North America, then throughout Europe and parts of Asia. He gathered information on Radial Matrix clients. He paid secret commissions to agents of foreign governments. He arranged the disappearance of a trade commissioner on holiday in Greece. He financed the terrorist bombings of a machine-tool plant. Legitimate business expenditures” (page 156). “Selvy went on salary in a PAC/ORD division called Containment Services, Guidance, and Support” (page 151), but before Selvy was spun-off as a Radial Matrix operative, it was stated, “Back in Washington, he realized something was different. A man named Lomax came to his hotel. There was no mention of PAC/ORD or Containment Services. People he’d worked with didn’t return his calls. He no longer seemed to be on salary” (page 155).
While at Marathon Mines Training Ground, “A great deal of time was spent studying and discussing the paramilitary structure of rebel groups elsewhere in the world. They analyze the setup the Vietcong had used. The part time village guerilla. The self-contained three-man cell. And tieu to dac cong, the special duty unit considered the most dangerous single element of the VC system. Suicide Squads. Special acts of sabotage in ARVN-controlled areas. High-risk grenade assault. Assassination teams. They studied Algerian mousseblines, or death commandos, groups undertaking extremely hazardous operations independent of local army control”, etc. (page 153).
“Selvy thought it curious that intelligence officers of a huge industrial power were ready to adopt the techniques of ill-equipped revolutionaries whose actions, directly or indirectly, were contrary to U.S. interests. The enemy” (page 153).
Later we learn that Lomax is pumping information to Edgar Mudger himself and uses his connections to dig up tax records on Running Dog’s owner, Grace Delaney, whose employee, Moll Robbins is digging up dirt on Radial Matrix after meeting Selvy at an Erotica Exhibition. Selvy has a sex-habit he uses to gauge how well he is maintaining his routine in espionage. He carries a .41 Magnum and .38 Cobra, and has a liking of Jim Bean Whisky, and often wears a three-piece suit. He has grey eyes and crooked mouth. Selvy started working for PAC/ORD but was sent to Marathon Mines (a School of the Americas type of clandestine training center), but his job at PAC/ORD suddenly ceased, and then Lomax approaches him stating he has been absorbed in Radial Matrix, and from here Selvy starts his life as agent doing dirty work for Radial Matrix but is later re-assigned by Lomax as his handler observing Senator Percival.
Grace Delaney is the owner of Running Dog magazine; a counterculture MAD Magazine meets Vice meets Playboy meets Democracy Now! publication. She is a fine dresser with some girly tendencies that she is aware of. She is cautious of Moll Robbins on her quest to dig dealer into Senator Percival and the Radial Matrix links. She drinks vodka and even uses a little cocaine. Grace Delaney is depicted as, very well dressed, and jokingly bailed out “well hung” Black Panthers in the 1960s). Lomax and Earl Mudger refer to her as “FCB”, i.e., “flat chested bitch”. Grace also admits to being a former mob wife. It is later revealed in the last section of the book that she and Lomax are sexually involved though the sexual relationship is a manipulative on Lomax’s part in that he holds Grace’s IRS information over her head. Grace also attacks Lomax when he reveals to her what FCB means (page 220). She has the aura of part ‘sultry mob” wife by night, but then a counterculture fashionista by day. “She sat before the mirror in her bra, panties, stockings, and garter belt” (page 214).
Edgar Mudger: An ex-Air Force officer who was in various engagements from Korea to the Vietnam War, with a specialty of training guerrilla forces for the Air Force and CIA. Former commander of a bomber squadron and long-term contract employee (Saigon desk, Air America). During the Korean War he led airstrikes on Korea from Japan with F-84Es against targets. later runs the PAC/ORD spin off contractor called Radial Matrix, which was considered a rouge contractor, and this leads Senator Percival to start a close-door investigation, yet Mudger and Percival are both searching for a mysterious sex tape of a Nazi orgy in Berlin during Hitler’s last days. His character is genuinely like Colonel Kurtz played by Martin Brando but also Colonel Kilgore played by Robert Duvall, yet he leans more to Kilgore in his demeanor in that he has a sort of good-ole-boy foul mouth tanned white man with California demeanor (likely descended from Southern culturally oriented Okies depicted in books such as The Grapes of Wrath).
Yet, Mudger also comes off as General Peter McAllister, played by Mitchell Ryan, in the Shane Black written 1987 film, Lethal Weapon, where General McAllister leads Shadow Company, which is a drug-smuggling operation ran by US Special Forces. This Lethal Weapon allusion can be read on page 91, “In Vietnam you were involved in drug trafficking, no?” “We did some of that. We were a link”. Mudger comically, as an allegory to Captain Kurtz living in the Jungle and hailed a God, owned a zoo with exotic animals from Southeast Asia. “It was while Mudger was on loan to Special Forces for unknown duties that he became something of a legend in Vietnam. Apparently, he established a feudal barony complete with loyal ARVN soldiers” (page 84). He has a hobby of metal works such as making custom knives and has a Vietnamese wife whom he met in the war who was an underage Saigon bargirl. He lives in the rural areas north of the Washington DC Beltway.
It seems that Edgar Mudger has a deep grasp of technology and where technology by the nineteen seventies was evolving to, i.e., the global world wide web of surveillance, pornography, etc. “I’ve been studying pornography for a long time now. Hell of an interesting field. Dynamics involved. The psychology. Interesting elements. Strange arrays of people. Pacts and alliances and accommodations. That intrigues me. Systems is all formulation. Essentially sterile concepts. I miss human interest. The war was full of human interest” (page 139).
Mudger even sees the future monetary potential of internet pornography before it was a thing, such as him saying, “Multimillions. Close to a billion, including the soft stuff.” (Page 139). Mudger also seems to understand how online porn can be used for incrimination but also the concepts of “deep fakes” are predicted in this book, such as on page 92, when talking to Moll Robbins, Mudger insinuates he doctor audio to make it appear that people were having sex, e.g., “It doesn’t necessarily have to happen. All we need is your voice and his, which we have. The rest is purely technical”.
Moll Robbins is the main female lead and one of many protagonists who drive the plot. having auburn hair, an-ex hippie and adventurer turned guerilla journalist for the Running Dog, who is the daughter of a wealthy advertising man who worked on campaigns such as Maytag. Molls seems to have adopted a left wing politic out of spite for her father’s work in Madison Avenue-like advertising. Yet, her apartment is furnished with collectible consumerist product). She has a sexual relationship with Glen Selvy. A little bit naïve but aware of it, Moll goes on the quest to find the truth of the mysterious Nazi sex tape, going so far as to meet Senator Percival himself. It seems Senator Percival wants Moll to write about her expose in erotica because he knows the publication that she writes for is not very respected, thus her story would come off as a conspiracy theory able to be disregarded. Yet, she comes under the radar of Lomax and Mudger, who are familiar with her boss Grace Delaney. Mudger tries to entrap her into a sexual relationship (page. 213).
Arthur “Lomax” a pudgy insider and operative, around 42 years old (“If I were a dog, I’d only be six years old”, i.e., 7 years is 1 dog year), presumably the handler of Selvy, an associate of Mudger and of Senator Percival. He has a mod hair cut with sideburns. He also wears Clark’s Wallabees which Grace mocks him for (page 214). In the Radial Matrix section of the book on page 157, we seem him on Richie Armbrister’s plane, within the sauna section, somehow. Lomax also keeps tabs on Grace Delaney, i.e., Moll Robbin’s boss at the Running Dog, and has the connections to use the IRS to dig into Grace’s past as a Black Panther associate (page. 137). His is depicted as wearing polyester knit trousers and white belt and shows (page 102). He gets annoyed with black street children in that he as a classist mentality who live in Selvy’s neighborhood, going so far as pointing a gun at them (page 102). We later learn that Lomas and Grace Delaney are having a sexual affair, e.g., “she sat before the mirror, wearing a bra, panties, stockings and garter belt. A bobby pin in her mouth…” (page 214), and it is revealed that not only is Edgar Mudger and Senator Percival looking for the Hitler Orgy film, but also is the mob (whom Lomax alleges Mudger is a middle-man for, hence why Mudger and Lomax were able set up the botched mob hit on Selvy and Moll at the Tropicana Bar), and it was earlier revealed in the novel that Grace was an ex-mob wife when she reveals this info to Moll Robbins. Arthur Lomax is the central “antagonist” to the novel in that he is the manipulator, like Murray in Don DeLillo’s White Noise (1985). Arthur is partners with Mudger and gives Mudger IRS information on Grace, though Grace does not know this, and she believes that Arthur can help her with her tax issues she acquired during the radical 1960s working as a bagwoman for the Black Panthers. Arthur uses this for sexual access to Grace, even though he is the one secretly bringing light to her tax issues.
Senator Lloyd Percival (a Republican or Blue Dog Democrat who has a private erotica collection, who leading an investigation on Radial Matrix. Known for having a buzzcut haircut, using powered makeup giving him an orange appearance, has a wife who reads the Warren Report religiously)
Lightbourne. A 66-year-old erotica dealer, part charlatan with a penchant of selling knock-off items, who owns the gallery called Cosmic Erotics, which is in a cast-iron building on the fourth floor that uses a self-service elevator. He lives near West Broadway and the SoHo Gallery district back in the 1970s. He wears his hair in a ponytail, uses a walking stick, and wears penny loafers (that he must keep together with glue).
Richie Armbrister a self-ascribed boy genius of smut, based out of Dallas, he runs a complex web of front companies for the pornography business, which some having links to organized crime. He lives and works out his Dallas warehouse. He is a link to Lighthouse who use each other for researching hard to find erotica. HE wears a digital watch and has a DC-9 Boeing Plane. This plane is comically equipped with a sauna and disco dance floor, and pilots who fly the plane are hidden behind funky beaded curtains (page 157). Squeaky voice. He was mentioned as wearing heavy khaki trousers, scuffed cordovans, and a crewneck sweater with a reindeer design which was unravels at both cuffs. He is twenty-two years old in the book with a “nervous disability of a teenager” (p. 143). He has a high forehead, prominent cheekbones, and large teeth. Lighthouse is uncertain if he has the look of a genius or a half-wit (p. 143). Richie uses various shell companies to hide his pornography empire and has an aliases name called “Kidder”, “Sherman Kantrowitz”, and “Sherman Kaye”. These shell companies include B&G Realty, Sherman Kendall Catering, Tall Men’s Fashion, but Preview Distributions is the main shell company (page 176-177). Later, Richie under the alias Sherman Kantrowitz, if that was really Richie himself, was shot by Lomax (page 210-211)
Odell Armbrister is Richie’s cousin who works with him and the only person Richie trusts.
Christoph Ludecke (a German man living in the United States who was in Germany during WW2, who is closeted cross-dresser, but by day a Systems Engineer for Radial Matrix, who ends up dead, but he had information on a mysterious sex tape from Hitler’s bunker)
The Talerico Brothers (Deep State associates who are members of the NY Mafia Families with links to Edgar Mudger of Radial Matrix who hires a hitman to kill Selvy. Paul Talerico lives in New York and runs a pornography business where Nadine Rademacher works at – see name below – but is described as an unimpressive man. Vincent Talerico, i.e., ‘Vinny the Eye”, lives in Upstate New York or Canada, and does acquisitions, i.e., he uses violence to win pornographic content so he and his brother can copy and distribute). Vincent has facial nerve paralysis (p. 175).
[[Interesting Note: In real life, there was Michael “Handsome Mike” Talerico: Talerico is related to Anglo LaPietra and was a small-time bookie. He was also once married to former Chicago Outfit hitman Frank Schweihs’s daughter]]
Annette Talerico. Vinny Talerico’s wife, likely of French-Canadian descent or at least understands French (“she was watching a Richard Conte film in French on Channel 25”, page 177). Annette is more of a domestic, slight disgruntled yet seemingly loving wife, who has a brother named Ralphie (who seems to have issues in life like being thrown out of college) who she complains to Vinnie about. She and Vinnie casually argue about watering ivy, which has a level of the “domestic side” of Tony Soprano with his wife in the TV show Sopranos, i.e., Vinnie is violent, but then he’s a “regular husband” who gets into trivial scuffles with his wife, whom he loves.
Augie the Mouse: A hitman from Buffalo New York procured by the Talerico Brothers who does a botched assassination on Selvy, and by proxy Moll Robbins. He later confronts Odell Armbrister and Lightborne after watching the Nazi film-reel, coming as a collector. He has a comical yet disturbed aura about him. Later in the novel he depicting as wearing a long rabbinical like trench coat and carries a sawed-off gun.
Tran Lee Edgar Mudger’s pregnant Vietnamese wife and she is related to Van and Cao. Mudger stated, she was a “Saigon bar girl at fourteen, leaning against a parked jeep, eating an Almond Joy” when they first met. (Page 120)
Van and Cao Lee Edgar’s Vietnamese brothers-in-laws, former ARVN members, through Tran Lee who dress like Cowboys and do missions for Edgar, such as posing as Part Rangers when hunting down Selvy, but Van gets his jaw broken by Selvy’s gun butt.
Levi Blackwater: a sort of sage Buddha-like figure, i.e., a Gringo mystic (page 232), who is an ex-soldier of the Vietnam War who was a POW after having been captured on a recon mission but tortured constantly. Two of his fingers were cut off while as a POW. He learned to like and find transcendence in that torture. This experience has turned him into a sort of Buddha like figure and he worked as a technical adviser to ARVN soldiers at Marathon Mines, which is where he met Selvy. His main lesson to Selvy was to not be afraid of death and to die with honor. Levi lives at the Marathon Mines which details how trauma of the Vietnam War affected so many veterans, i.e., he became his environment in the jungle and feels more at home in spares landscapes living on the fringe than he ever would in society.
Klara Ludecke (Christophe’s wife who reveals the history of the film reel from Hitler’s bunker. Also, so was aware and supportive of Christoph’s cross-dressing, stating he was known as the “Red Queen” by the men of the city district he went to)
Heinz Ludecke Christoph’s father, who as a Nazi officer commanding a tank unit defending the city of Berlin in 1945 who ended up with the possession of the Hitler footage. He remained a die-hard Nazi his whole life
Heinz Ludecke’s cousin (first name is not known but he was stenographer in the Fuhrerbunker who gave the film to Heinz who then gave it to Christoph
Del Bravo and Gannett. Two plain clothes police officers working Canal Street known for sex workers, truckers, etc. Del Bravo and Gannett spot a beautiful woman (later revealed to be a man), but then discover that she (he) to be murdered in an abandoned building.
Lomax’s Limousine Drive (a square jawed man)
Black street-kids who live in Selvy’s neighborhood often playfully giving him grief but also harass Lomax.
Nadine Rademacher (an aspiring actress from Arkansas, noted for having a “healthy reddish face, oval in share, and large brown eyes” (p. 120), who found work reading erotic stories to men, such as Selvy when it goes into her establishment to avoid detection. Sounds cliché, but she reminds me of Jodi Foster in Taxi Driver, though Nadine is probably in her early twenties barely but overage.
Jack Rademacher. Nadine’s father. He has a raw look (noted as being, “all brick and sand”, p. 179), who wears a tie-dyed blue bandana around his neck. He was a former prizefighter in boxing. He shows Glen a photo of himself and two fishing buddies who are called Jack Brady, Vernon, and Buck Floyd (p.182)
Angelo/Stony (the same man with one of the names being a nickname, where this man is the doorman for the erotic club that Nadine works at. Stony, however, could also be the name of a food delivery boy who delivers food to Nadine’s establishment who she knows as a friend/acquaintance)
The Sex Worker, Nadine’s Co-Worker (a woman who dresses up as a Nazi for her clients, seen casually smoking as Selvy and Nadine leaves her work to go get food).
Bess Harris Grace Delaney’s secretary at the Running Dog who drinks with Grace.
Daryl Shimmer: Richie Armbrister’s bodyguard (page 193). He is depicted as a “rangy Negro” (showing DeLillo’s antiquated viewpoint, or racial stereotypes of the time, i.e., black people associated with “jive”, etc.), who was skittering over the dance floor (of Richie’s airplane disco floor), with all ripples and blind staggers (page 157).
Mrs. Steinmetz a lady that Lomax linked Selvy up with who educated Selvy in art history and erotica for his assignment working with Senator Percival.
Lomax’s driver: Squared-jawed, dark suit and cap. (page 86).
Jerry Burke: One of Moll Robbin’s DC insider friends who located Selvy after she met Selvy at one of Lighthouse’s erotic art exhibitions (page 24)
Wetzel: one of the men who bids on Lightborne’s artwork (page 48), who calls Lightborne’s artwork into question as far as authenticity.
George Barber: Mudger’s Vietnam buddy who commands US Air Force Security Forces and loans Mudger a Hughes 200 helicopter so Van and Cao can hunt Selvy (page 207).
Dayton “De De” Baker: A 20-year-old specimen trainee at the Medical Museum of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, in Washington DC. Senator Percival marries her hours after his divorce to his wife becomes final (page 221).
Freeman Reed Baker: a well-known dealer, who ran Forbidden Rooms, of Persian and Middle Eastern art who later disappeared after being caught up in a scandal about missing erotic artwork (page 221).
Random Promoter: A random character talking to Selvy while he’s in Time Square who promotes events at Old Madison Square who stated he tried to get a sumo wrestler, Shunko Hakoda (page 116)
The “Jewish” Pimp: a random character shown in Times Square driving a Cadillac, having a wispy beard, a trifle Hassidic in his mink hat and understated black velvet suit. He moved in a little scat steps, half a dancer, etc. (page 117).
4. Story Plot:
The novel starts off with two plain clothes police officers working the scummy areas of New York City, where one comes upon what appears to be a beautiful woman. This beautiful woman is later found dead at a construction site.
We later learn that this woman is a German American man, Christoph Ludecke, from Aachen, in Germany, who is a closeted transvestite, who works by day as a systems engineer for Radial Matrix, located in Fairfax County, VA, which is a spinoff of the fictitious federal agency called PAC/ORD (Personnel Advisory Committee, Office of Records and Disbursements). Think of Radial Matrix being like how in real-life RAND Corporation spun off from the United States Air Force or how the BCCI Bank was used by the CIA during the Iran-Contra Affair, i.e., private entities spinning off complex government joint-ventures, et cetera, et cetera.
“PAC/ORD had been set up, on the surface, as the principal unit of budgetary operations for the whole U.S. intelligence community” (p.73). Further, “Radial Matrix was in fact a centralized funding mechanism for covert operations directed against foreign governments, against elements within foreign governments, and against political parties trying to gain power contrary to the interests of U.S. corporations aboard. It was responsible for channeling and laundering funds for unlisted station personnel, indigenous agents, terrorist operations, defector recruitment, political contributions, penetration of foreign communication networks and postal agencies” (p. 74).
The fact that DeLillo was familiar with the real-world web of contractors in the Metro DC area, notably in places like Ashburn and Chantilly, VA, involved in similar work such as ‘systems engineering” or IT work, illuminates how DeLillo does research when writing his novels. This is also like how Thomas Pynchon wrote books such as Gravity’s Rainbow, using his real-world knowledge of the Military Industrial Complex having worked for Boeing as a Technical Writer.
Christoph Ludecke is a key figure in that he appears to have possessed or know who possess a mysterious original film reel of a sex orgy that occurred in Berlin 1945, i.e., in the bunkers where Hitler and some of his followers were waiting while the Soviets approached from the East and the Allies from the West. This film reel is of interests to a US Senator named Lloyd Percival (a secret collector erotica despite being a conservative politician, who met Ludecke at a party) and is of interests to Radial Matrix’s CEO, Earl Mudger (who has seemed to have gone rogue, making vast sums of money, thus causing Senator Percival to set up a “closed door investigation into Radial Matrix’s activities).
Deep State Contractors, e.g., Booz Allen, RAND Corporation: Radial Matrix is noted as being “a breakaway apparatus of the U.S. intelligence community” (p. 75). Mudger was a “former commander of a flight-bomber squadron (Korea) and long-term contract employee (Saigon desk, Air America) of the CIA. He’d had civilian experience, briefly, in the late fifties, with a firm specializing in production flow systems and automation” (p. 75). When thinking about the character of Earl Mudger, to me he seems the agglomeration of real-life figures such as Major General John K. Singlaub who was a WW2 veteran, who was an early founder of the CIA and US Special Forces, monitor to the Chinese Maoist Guerillas during the Chinese Civil War, manager of Nixon’s and Henry Kissinger’s Secret War in Laos and Cambodia, trainer of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, and later founder of the private intelligence network known as the West Goals Foundation, which was incriminated in the Iran Contra Affair). Also due to his airline past, Mudger reminds of Medellin cocaine smuggler and pilot Barry Seale (photographed in real life with CIA Chief Porter Goss, Cuban American hitman Felix Rodriguez, to name a few), but also any another real-life officer and veteran who goes into government contracting or “consulting”.
Further, DeLillo employs a use of hysterical realism when describing the background of Mudger. By hysterical realism I mean DeLillo uses real-world things but then combines or elaborates on them to hysterical/hyperbolic heights for comedic effect, often delivered bluntly or in dead-pan fashion thus maximizing the effect. It also seems that in the following description of Mudger that DeLillo was not only using real-world resumes of military Cold War operatives and real-world missions (which are expanded on in military history books I recommend you read such as the French Secret Services by Douglas Porch of the US War College) but also movies such as Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now such as the character, Colonel Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando.
Ludecke found himself in a triangle for having information on this “precious” commodity (Hitler Bunker sex tape).
Senator Percival however employs a man, called Harold Glen Selvy, a Don Draper from Mad Men like character, or I would even say Ben Affleck playing CIA operative Tony Mendez in the film Argo (2012), working for PAC/ORD as an “assistant’s assistant” (as his cover), who is really a member of the fictitious, US Strike Force, Internal Projects, Special Investigative Unit (p. 44). Selvy has done work including a “counterinsurgency stint at the Marathon Mines in southwest Texas” [this is meant to be funny and poke fun at the CIA’s sometimes odd missions, i.e., DeLillo in my opinion employs what I called “a wavering sense of hysterical realism”] – which links him to Earl Mudger (thus insinuating Selvy has double affiliation to both Selvy and Mudger). He wears a three-piece suit (p. 26), drinks Jim Bean (p. 33) and he is defined as having “quality of relentlessness” who is ‘hard edged” “a dark force” and with a “single mindedness”, i.e., a man with a mission and militaristic routine. Yet, despite this “about business” mentality, Selvy has the demeanor of any rough and rumble CIA man used to drinking and womanizing across the globe, particularly in Latin American countries, and his favorite bar is a Latin and Jazz club called Frankie’s Tropical Bar where he seems to fit into the rough and tumble environment, and lives in African-American section of the city (either for anonymity purposes or a slight love for the rawness of the area).
We learn later in the novel that Selvy was a military brat to an Army officer father and a disillusioned and medicated mother. This reminds me of the film The Great Santini, where Selvy appears more as the son character to Robert Duvall played by Michael O’Keefe. In The Great Santini there’s a struggle between the overbearing military father and his son.
Selvy also has a habit for detached sexual fantasy as means of helping him “contain his militaristic routine” and a penchant for “sex with married women only” (p.81). He carries a Colt Cobra .38 in a break-front holster and a Smith and Wesson .41 magnum, which is loaded with expandable bullets (p. 82), employs a bug detector when needed, and has a skill of knowing exactly what type of guns is being used if shot, for example knowing a would-be assassin used an AR-18 but was unable to use it properly, e.g., stating “he was letting the muzzle climb while firing. The weapon is designed to prevent that.” (p.66). He is methodical in his actions with a sort of personal moral code ranging from a shaving routine, constant breakdown and cleaning of his gun, and a rule of not sleeping with “non married women” which in the case of the latter he broke sleeping with Moll Robbins, e.g., Selvy is so dedicated to his job and deadly/sleuth skills that something out of place or out of habit can create a slight sense of existential self-examination (that he takes slight pleasure in), yet, he also doesn’t concern himself much with the motives of others such as the would-be assassin who tried to kill him. He is all about his mission. A loner, living in Spartan conditions, obsessive about routine, yet, when a deviation to his routine avails itself, he takes a slight joy in pondering the chaos of existence, his role in the world, etc.
Selvy’s job is to locate this mysterious tape for the Senator, yet Selvy appears to have a shadowy handler named Lomax (described as having a mod haircut with sideburns, always wearing sports gear such as tennis clothes, with an aura of being two-faced, always appearing in a limousine, and having Saint Bernards). Lomax is a type of “policy analyst” or Washington insider figure. Selvy and Lomax seem to have an agenda with Percival who is investigating Radial Matrix, i.e., owned by Percival’s competitor in his quest for this sex tape, yet Lomax is later revealed to be close to Edgar Mudger after taking Moll to his Virginia ranch. Selvy has been working with a somewhat “fake”, “unscrupulous”, or “novelty intellectual” erotica dealer named Lighthouse (like the character to Murray in White Noise in opinion), who owns a New York gallery called Cosmic Erotic’s. The fact that DeLillo inserted this erotic plotline into his novel to me illuminates the sexual culture of the 1970s in which Manhattan or Connecticut elites would talk about the Kama Sutra at swinging parties, or the how the pornographic film Deep Throat was a box office success. The 1970s had a libertine sexuality about it, especially amongst the bourgeoisie class.
Back to the story, most of what Lighthouse has to offer Selvy does not seem to impress Selvy’s employer, Senator Percival. At one of Lighthouse’s showings, an ex-hippie turned guerrilla journalist named Moll Robbins (think Karly Sciortino, the host of Slutever, from real-world Vice Media), writing for the fictitious and presumably left-wing magazine Running Dog, known as the “one time organ of discontent” (p. 21), whose catch-phrase is “Capitalist lackey and running dogs” (p. 30), and occasionally runs airbrushed female nude photos (p. 32), attends the same showing where Selvy is in attendance (not quite knowing his full name at this time), yet snoops her way into the realization that a US Senator is on the hunt for vintage erotica. With Moll knowing the what is going on (kind of) she uses a point-of-contact named Jerry Burke to hunt down Selvy and both she and Selvy on their own separate but related missions start a sexual relationship.
As you can see, there is a web of plotlines unfolding. Selvy, a US secret agent, is a fake employee of PAC/ORD working for Senator Percival who is investigating PAC/ORD’s spin off Radial Matrix, owned by Edgar Mudger, where both Mudger and Percival are supposedly hunting for the same prized tape of a Nazi orgy, brought to light by a murdered Radial Matrix employee Christoph Ludecke; yet, Selvy has a separate handler named Lomax who seems to want dirt on Percival (considering he knows Earl Mudger – though Mudger states Lomax works for everyone as part of the “game”), and there’s Moll Robins (Selvy’s love interests and really the quasi protagonist of the novel, similar to Oedipa Mass in Pynchon’s Crying Lot of 49) who is covering this story for her career and the adventure (having been giving the go by her Devil Wears Prada -esque boss, Grace Delaney).
Despite Moll wanting to write a story about Senator Percival, he wants her to publish the story considering the paper she works for is not much respected meaning publication would call the real-world story of his pursuit into question, thus giving him top cover. Lastly, an erotica dealer named Lighthouse is a source for Selvy, and Lighthouse himself has ties to the porn business through a man named Archie Armbrister, known as a “boy wonder of smut, a twenty-two-year older master of distribution and marketing who lived and worked in a barricaded warehouse in downtown Dallas” (p. 49) with a squeaky voice. Lighthouse is stated having, “…got in the business (erotic art dealing) in 1946 when was down and out in Cairo and managed to come into possession of a ring depicting the Egyptian god of fertility, highly aroused. He sold it to an ex-Nazi for a pretty sum of eventually learned that it ended up on the finger of King Farouk” (p.16).
King Farouk, the real-world past King of Egypt and Sudan is important to this text and a device for DeLillo considering Farouk was rumored to have the world’s largest pornography collection. DeLillo novels take place in “our’, i.e., the reader’s world but in fictional settings. It is also interesting to note that in real life, similarly to how Nazis were acquired by the USA, some Nazi nuclear scientists went to Egypt to help build a nuclear program, yet early Mossad Israeli operatives hired Nazis such as Otto Skorzeny to kill them.
Moll eventually meets Edgar Mudger, the owner of Radial Matrix. He informs her that he was bugging the Senator’s house including the conversation between Moll and Senator Percival during her interview in which she discovered his hidden erotica collection after the Senator fell asleep after heavy drinking. Mudger insinuates he can take the recording and edit them enough to make it seem like Moll and Percival were having sex.
When Moll is out the picture, he and Lomax reveal that they planned the assassination of Selvy by way of one of their contacts living in Canada named Tericio who hired a man from Buffalo named Augie the Mouse. Tericio is Vincent “Vinny the Eye” Tericio, one of two brothers, who deal in pornography but are mobsters. Vinny’s other brother, Paul, manages sex shops that a character Nadine Rademacher works at, and she becomes a part love interests to Selvy as he is avoiding detection in Times Square from Edgar Mudger’s goon brothers-in-law, Van and Cao (ex-AVRN soldiers who like wearing cowboy hats).
The Talerico Brothers also become privy to the existence of the Nazi sex tape, thus making four parties interested in its existence (The Senator, Mudger, Moll/Selvy/Lightborne, and the Mob). Lightbourne on the quest for the tape taps into his underground network of erotica dealers but also porn-kingpin Richie Armbrister. Since Richie is in the underground world of porn, the mob is also away of Richie as well. We later find out that Lomax has been keeping tabs on Richie (going as far as sneaking on his party plane), and later Richie meets Vinny the Eye and Lomax in Dallas to negotiate locating the sex tape. This encounter makes Richie even more paranoid. Lomax later kills Richie Armbrister, after Richie tried to take him out. Lomax is a central figure in that he connects Mudger to Senator Percival and has mob ties. He is a puppet master. We later learn that Lomax is having a sexual affair with Grace Delaney by holding information about her tax issues over her head, and Lomax used Grace Delaney to keep Moll in line and discourage her from writing a story on Senator Percival.
As the story commences, Lightborne eventually meets with Christoph Ludecke’s widow to discuss an exchange of the film. By this point in the book, Selvy is not much of player in the search for the sex tape, but instead is one a one-man vendetta campaign against his former trainer, Edgar Mudger, who trained him a remote Texas proving ground called Marathon Mines.
Mudger’s two goons have been hunting Selvy and as a result Nadine too, since Selvy took her with him on his journey back to Marathon Mines. Selvy had earlier beat up Van and Cao near a state park when they were posing as Part Rangers searching for him, so both men take killing Selvy personal. Selvy knows too much about Radial Matrix, PAC/ORD, the quest for the Nazi Sex Tape (which is at the cross juncture between a US Senator and the mafia).
Towards the end of the novel, Lightborne and Moll watch the Nazi sex tape but realize that it is not a sex tape but rather a reel of Hitler acting like Charlie Chaplin for children before they commit mass suicide. Being obsessed with a mystery and a search is a theme here. When the results of a journey do not live up to expectations people react in different ways, such as Lightborne not being happy that it was not a sex tape. The importance of the sex tape (reel) being of Hitler posing as Charlie Chaplin for children, helps to reduce Hitler to a person rather than a larger-than-life character, but it also goes to show how powerful cinema is across political, racial, national, etc., divides. For example, Chaplin was Jewish, so by DeLillo having Hitler imitate a Jew it throws the larger-than-life persona that Hitler was given, especially through pop culture, which is a theme explored in White Noise (1985), into question. The fact that he had emotions meant that was capable of fear for example, and people result to escapism when confronted with fear.
After the final revelation that the film is not a sex tape, Lightborne and Odell Armbrister (Richie’s cousin who help set up the film equipment for the viewing for Moll and Lightborne) are approached by Augie the Mouse. Augie the Mouse is a disturbed man, a hit man for hire for the mob. He came to collect the Nazi film reel. Fate of all parties is quite ambiguous.
Meanwhile, Selvy and Nadine have parted ways and Selvy is back at Marathon Mines. Van and Cao have been loaned a helicopter to search for Selvy via one of Edgar Mudger’s Vietnam war buddies who is still in the US Air Force leading Security Services. Selvy at Marathon Mines is surrealist survivalism. Like Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now before he kills Colonel Kurtz is a way to describe the upcoming showdown between Selvy, Van and Cao. Levi Blackwater is former employee of Marathon Mines who is a former POW. Being a survivor of torture, Levi has become one with survival, thus he lives as sort of desert sage. Selvy was trained in part by Levi, so when Selvy returns the two catch up, and Levi reminds him of what he taught Selvy, which was not being afraid of death. With a knife and a utility belt, Selvy sees Van and Cao’s helicopter.
Selvy ends up killing one of the brothers but is ambushed by the other and dies. Selvy’s head is removed as a trophy for Edgar Mudger. Levi watches from abroad witnessing the events, and then mourns Selvy with a sort of Buddhist ceremony, i.e., death is not the end and Selvy died with honor. Mudger is important to all these events relating to Selvy. It is a game of hunting to Mudger who just like other Vietnam veterans cannot turn it off. There’s something very Cohen Brother’s No Country For Old Men about this showdown in that the fight between the main protagonists and antagonists is almost a godlike struggle dealing with the fates.
5. Thoughts about the Book, its themes, similarities to other pop culture visuals:
Running Dog by Don DeLillo, published in 1978, was the first time I experienced the crime and mystery side of the writer. Running Dog involves an elaborate post-Watergate-like plot with multiple characters caught in interwoven subplots all relating to the same subject, that being, a US Senator with a hidden secret who is investigating the intelligence community.
It must be noted that this book for me visually inspires a Woody Allen 1970s New York (cliché at this point – I know – yet, still iconic visuals despite Woody Allen unfortunately being himself), but more importantly, it harkens back to the decades real sense of dilemma being that the nineteen-seventies was a decade defined by Richard Nixon’s Watergate impeachment, CIA intrigues relating to the Cold War, the OPEC Energy Crisis, a general sense of austerity (New York City did go bankrupt during the time this novel was released), stagflation, price controls, the social ills of the post-Vietnam War (rising crime rates, heroin addiction), the fall out of Counter (FBI infiltrated) Culture movement (e.g., burnouts, hippies, tabloid conspiracy theories, real life cults, missing children), the Trans-Atlantic Jet Set Crowd, the birth of the Divorced household (swinger parties with keys in fish bowls included – think the movie, The Ice Storm by Ang Lee), and an emergent urban art and musical scene ranging from disco at Studio 54 to iconic post punk acts at CBGBs calling into question the subtle horrors of a decaying American dream with quirky postmodern irony (think the song Heaven by The Talking Heads) and/or a cold industrial gloominess to the pulsars of synthesizer machines (Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures).
Yet, despite all the socio-economic and cultural happenings of this decade, with the Cold War still in full swing, the United States in real life still maintained its place as the world superpower, and three-piece suit bureaucrat of the DC Beltway was with plenty to do.
The Cold War was still largely dictated by the Ivy League Brains of the Eastern Elite establishment, so there was always a cross-juncture (or, labyrinth) between intelligence and titans of big business be they West Texas crude oil barons planning future Middle East exploits or industrialists who made everything from toxic chemicals, napalm, gizmos for NASA, secret still-classified weapons systems for Israel and Christmas ornaments.
This novel by DeLillo, channels all of this, yet also deals with the shadowy links of the US Establishment with the Nazis before and after World War II relating to Nazis, and this trope is similar – loosely speaking – to how DeLillo in White Noise (1985) used the pop culture’s fascination to appropriate the object of Hitler as a real-world monster into something akin to a commercial commodity, i.e., for example how the History Channel has documentaries about “Hitler’s Mega Weapons”, “Dark Secrets of the SS”, “Eva Braun’s Lingerie Collection” [commercial break for annuities and car insurance, included], etc.
DeLillo as a postmodern writer was calling into question how objects take on different or subjective meanings due to external forces such as capitalist consumerism, i.e., a monster like Hitler becomes a TV celebrity and the actual horrors he did become diluted over time and his value as a monster finds a sense of acceptability within mainstream consciousness. It is a side note, but to finish this point, one could say that “Pop Nazism” has helped to continue the legacy of right-wing ideas, but the capitalist market is so indifferent to ethics that as long as it pushes product, advertising, etc., then “no harm, no foul”.
DeLillo uses Nazi artifacts (which in and of itself generates a wealth of moral questioning within the reader about the human condition) only as a background device to drive the plot of Running Dog, but the main central questions he analyzes in this novel is erotica and material fetishism, but also the paranoia of large bureaucratic conspiracies. This motif employed in this book seems like it influenced White Noise, where similarly, Nazis play a background role (for reasons stated previously above), but the central premise of White Noise is the fear of death and the nausea or neurosis caused by mass consumerism and being near the zenith of technological innovation where authenticity is subjective (the postmodern condition, i.e., the incongruity of narratives and meanings, etc.).
6. Foreshadowing Technology
“When technology reaches a certain level, people being to feel like criminals,” he said. “Someone is after you, the computers maybe, the machine-police. You can’t escape investigation. The facts about you and your whole existence have been collected or are being collected. Banks, insurance companies, credit organizations, tax examiners, passport offices, reporting services, police agencies, intelligence gatherers. It’s a little like what I was saying before. Devices make us pliant. If they issue a print-out saying we’re guilty, then we’re guilty. But it goes even deeper, doesn’t it? It’s the presence alone, the very fact, the superabundance of technology, that makes us feel we’re committing crimes. Just the fact that these things exist at the widespread level. The processing machines, the scanners, the sorters. That’s enough to make us feel like criminals. What enormous weight. What complex programs. And there’s no one to explain it to us” (page 93).
The fear of technology getting of out control in ways that are beyond human comprehension (what we are living in now, circa 2021-2022) is a theme in many DeLillo books such as Cosmopolis and White Noise. This is a common theme amongst postmodernist writers. For example, “Technology with a human face” (page 211). “We are the sum total of our data” (page 202). The greater the scientific advance, the more primitive the fear” (page 161). “Technology is lust removed from nature.”
Don DeLillo for the nineteen-seventies was hyper-aware about the growing computer industry and its relationship to the government, i.e., considering in real life most of our technology are creations of the military, e.g., ARPAnet via DARPA which would go to build the internet, or one could even state more innocuous innovations such as Barcode technology consulted by McKinsey.
I would not be surprised if DeLillo read Zbigniew Brzezinski’s (1976) boo, Between two ages.
“The technotronic era involves the gradual appearance of a more controlled society. Such a society would be dominated by an elite, unrestrained by traditional values. Soon it will be possible to assert almost continuous surveillance over every citizen and maintain up-to-date complete files containing even the most personal information about the citizen. These files will be subject to instantaneous retrieval by the authorities. ” (Brzezinski, 1976)
“In the technotronic society the trend would seem to be towards the aggregation of the individual support of millions of uncoordinated citizens, easily within the reach of magnetic and attractive personalities exploiting the latest communications techniques to manipulate emotions and control reason.” (Brzezinski, 1976)
Technology getting out of control is a motif within postmodern fiction be it science fiction such as Blade Runner (based on the work of Philip K. Dick) or high literature such as DeLillo’s works himself such as White Noise, considering the hyper-pace of technology can have a nauseating or alienating effect on people, especially for those within late-stage (postmodern) capitalist societies. Within such societies where such societies are defined by the “incongruity of metanarratives” (inability to trust grand narratives or objective truths), simulation and simulacrum, the dilemma of discerning the authentic versus the inauthentic (such as the central premise found Philip K. Dick’s postmodern sci-fi classic, The Man in the High Castle), and the relativity of aesthetics (low art as high art or low art mixed with high art, for example the works of Andy Warhol).
In such societies people inhabit systems where corporate mass scale consumerism and capitalist symbols dictates culture and social habits (as in the case of the field of semiotics, e.g., the McDonalds arches having as much semblance as the Christian Cross, or, morality largely comes from television), and Western philosophical thought appears to have reached its zenith (from the pre-Socratics to the postmodernists), i.e., we have run out of things to do at the apex.
Postmodern thought can be defined as a reactionary movement to Enlightenment thought and postmodernists rejected or mistrusted objective truth claims (since tangents of “Modernism”, i.e., scientism, resulted in mass danger to the species, e.g., the eugenics of the Nazis or the advent of the Atom Bomb). Thus, people are simultaneously living in systems created from such Enlightenment thinking while living in a rejection of such thinking, thus we fall subject to existential nihilism, novelty intellectualism, pseudo-science, or conspiracy theory posing as being legitimate and/or used as a tool of purposeful misinformation campaigns, but also anachronisms (recycling previous tropes or styles from other areas since there is no more advancement).
However, before I go on, I must state that postmodern thought is not necessarily problematic (it can be depending on the practitioner of it), but is more of a field of study, analytic, or framework, that simply accepts where we are within contemporary society (based on the things I wrote above), yet this field acknowledges the complexity or nuances of things rather than setting on hard definitions of things. If anything, postmodernism is great because it challenges power. It is a scanning device sort of philosophy able to scan structures to see latent defects with notions of foundational thought. There is postmodernism as a framework or worldview, i.e., a lens of skepticism in the face of objective truth claims, which were created out of noble intentions as a rejection to the atrocities of the predecessor Modernist movements and its precursors, but separately there is the “postmodern condition” which is more of a mood or social phenomena of people living in a civilization which has seemingly pushed its logic to the point where things seem illogical, and might fall victim into becoming what I call the “debased consumerist proletariat”. In summary, there is the postmodern condition but also the field of postmodernism.
The modern world is defined by an odd marriage of what I consider to be the “Analytic” with the “Continental”. In other words we live in world of high technology, empirical sciences, data, the scientific method, etc., yet it exists and merges with the existential, i.e., reality is what you make it.