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Chapter 13, Lianne’s Online Search for the Falling Man artist, Falling Man

                  In chapter 13 of Falling Man, Don DeLillo adds a layer of mediation to Lianne’s experience of 9/11 and, in doing so, gets closer to understanding not the event itself, but how we experience the event. Through the ultimate failure of her research into the identity of David Janiak, the Falling Man, whose stunts left a powerful but mysterious impact on her, Lianne reveals how the language of post-9/11 news media shapes our experience of the event and of other mediations of the event.

                  Entering the chapter, our understanding of “David Janiak” is as limited as Lianne’s, and even less contextualized than Lianne’s; his name first appears as the title of Part Three, a sort of headline on p. 179 separated by a thin vertical rectangle. Its appearance in the narrative feels, at first, as random as Lianne’s “[coming] across the obituary late one night, looking at a newspaper that was six days old” (DeLillo 218). The obituary, the first account of his life she encounters, gives little justice to Janiak, the man or the performer, feeling “written in haste to make a deadline” (219).

                  Unsatisfied, she eventually abandons print media as her source of information about Janiak, the next day’s paper mysteriously missing and affirming the appearance of the six-day-old article as a randomly appearing artifact. As she takes her investigation online, the sounds of city security and automated panic penetrate her room and consciousness, framing her Janiak based inquiry. She first waits for the “car alarm to stop,” but then waits “for something to happen….a noise, a drone, an appliance” (219). Lianne has come to expect these noises, and their absence is as disruptive as their presence. It is almost as if the lack of white noise compels her to “the computer in the next room” (219).

                  Here, at the computer, her thoughts are replaced, or supplemented, by a stream of “David Janiak, in pictures and print” (219). Fragments describing the images (“Sitting in the back seat of a police car,” for example) follow, each as their own stand-alone paragraphs. DeLillo does not explicitly distinguish her thoughts and these caption-like fragments for us, however; the presentation of the captions is similar, if not identical, to DeLillo’s description of Lianne’s experience, to her own stream of consciousness. The only way the reader might be able to make the distinction is through the clipped, stilted style of these sentences, but the ambiguity of the presentation is such that we cannot be sure if she is reading captions or if her own instant reactions to the photographs bear a resemblance to the incomplete sentence structure of photo-captions.

                  Regardless, Lianne submits, for the next four pages, to the stream of this news material. Very quickly, for both the reader and Lianne, the information about Janiak, through its repetition, is emptied of its affective power and slowly reverts to a state of data. When the operation of, and approach to, processing news is supposedly in our control, it risks more than ever becoming a recursive loop; I’m thinking of a Google image search item yielding the same results with only minute variations, of YouTube montages of 9/11 coverage including footage from different outlets, the content of this footage differing only slightly. At a more textual level in Falling Man, “Dead at 39, apparently of natural causes,” “Dead at 39. No sign of foul play,” “The preliminary finding is death from natural causes, pending an autopsy and toxicological report,” and “this was an apparent coronary event, tests pending” all appear distinctly from one another from pages 220 to 222, conveying the same information but at separate intervals. Other repetitions fill in the gaps between this death notice, redundant details such as his brother’s name, Roman Janiak, and his brother’s occupation, “software engineer” (221, 222). The pattern of recurring data is such that the repeated statement of death becomes a refrain within a cycle of other information, a cycle in which verses of new, minute details surface. The plot no longer moves simply deathward, as DeLillo himself has said all plots do, but circles around it.

                  Even within this cycle, however, there are interruptions. Lianne must sift through data communicating even less information than the repetitions, coming across “entries in Russian and other Slavic languages” (220) and other “burst[s] of foreign language” (221). The mediated experience of 9/11 isn’t just Lianne’s, and it isn’t just America’s; the worldwide resonance of the event spurs a worldwide remediation of it as well. One bit of information, taken outside of the context of its original article and placed in a global context, takes on an eerie resonance to other figures related to 9/11. “It is not immediately known what brought David Janiak to a motel outside of the small town more than five hundred miles from the site of the World Trade Center” (223), in reference to Janiak, recalls the mysterious travels of Mohamed Atta, the unknown motives for his visit to Portland, Maine before his acts of terrorism.

                  The more Lianne reads, the more “David Janiak” comes to signify, but the less this signification bears any significance to her own powerful memory of the Falling Man performance artist, and the more she is reminded of the original photograph depicting the so-called Falling Man.

                  In Audrey’s discussion questions regarding the novel, she spoke of the power of the image in DeLillo’s work, particularly in Falling Man and Point Omega, and the tendency of the characters in these works to exhibit a “watchfulness” and even a “vigilance.” This chapter, though mainly composed of text displayed through the interface of the computer screen, ultimately depicts this vigilance through the power of the still image and of unmediated experience among the very flow of imminently available information. The impact of the photos captured of Janiak’s attempted appropriation of the original falling man image, for example, seems to pale in comparison to the original image. Though Janiak’s appropriations are appropriately accompanied by the present tense, describing frozen yet ongoing scenes, their sharpness and perpetual presence weaken in comparison to the deeper penetration, mystery, and almost larger-than-life quality of the real event depicted in the original photo. Lianne can recreate every aspect of the photo in her mind: the towers, which she describes as “contiguous,” “enormous, soaring lines,” and “rows of darker and lighter stripes,” and the details of the man himself, “with blood on his shirt…or burn marks” (222).

                  For Lianne, and perhaps DeLillo, the original photograph achieves something closer to art than any of Janiak’s stunts do, with a natural composition that seems precisely calculated. Lianne’s description of the photograph’s contours, in fact, focuses on its resemblances to a sketch or painting, a linear piece of visual art. The powerful experience of seeing the photograph for the first time turns Lianne into a camera-like recording device: she absorbs the image as it burns “a hole in her mind and heart,” (222) and through this absorption her memory becomes a medium by which she can recreate and internally remediate.

                  DeLillo makes the instrumentalization of Lianne explicit through the similar power of the Falling Man stunt she witnessed. During this incident, “She was the photograph, the photosensitive surface. That nameless body coming down, this was hers to record and absorb” (223). There is a sense of permanence in this experience of penetration. The stunt, though removed from the actual event of 9/11 by several layers of mediation, gains personal importance to Lianne; it lacks the ubiquity of the original Falling Man photograph, but its looming suspension above her demands, even more strongly, to be understood. As she seeks this understanding, she finds that an “advanced search took no time” (219) and she skips from resultant article to article, from image to image. But, as she looks into her keyboard, a system of disconnected signifiers that, much like the stream of bits about Janiak, gain meaning only through actively connecting them, she finds that “the man elude[s] her” (224). At the end of the chapter, and the end of her Internet browsing, she describes Janiak as both “detailed and looming” (224) but also feels that she cannot claim to know him. The details she finds amount only to data-like clues devoid of significance or context, much like the characters on her keyboard to which her eyes consistently return.

                  Despite this failure of the Internet-based news stream to connect with the more powerful “reality” of the Falling Man stunt and original photograph mediations (both of which, themselves, aren’t real either—Lianne has no hope of understanding the event apart from mediation), a crucial element of this news stream seems, perhaps unconsciously, to be affecting her understanding of the mediations, and of another death she has experienced and felt more directly. In her discussion questions, Audrey also asked how/why the novel distinguishes between conscious and non-conscious cognition. This chapter provides us, if not with an answer, then with an example of how Falling Man might resist this categorical distinction. Lianne’s interaction with the Internet and news media seems, even before her conscious search for meaning to attach to David Janiak, to have affected both her non-conscious and linguistic methods of understanding her father’s death. Before discovering Janiak’s obituary, Lianne seems to meditate upon her father’s death, having repeated to herself, “for nineteen years…periodically, in memoriam,” a single, taut, subject-free phrase: “Died by his own hand” (218). The language here foreshadows the phrasing of Janiak’s death, but it reveals that Lianne’s processing, understanding, and articulation of death has already been affected by the impersonal vernacular of news media; that is, until Lianne herself senses in them “an archaic grain, Middle English, Old Norse” (218). She imagines the phrase on old tombstones in a “neglected churchyard” (218). This language of death is no longer fixed and archaic, nor is it reserved for tombstones. What Lianne sees as “archaic,” as the language of death, is now the language of the news and, perhaps unconsciously, the language she has used to try to understand the Falling Man who, both in photograph and in stunt, has a way of both calling death to mind and defying it through its perpetual suspension.