The Epochal Time in ‘Point Omega’
Point Omega by Don DeLillo is a short novel that consists of three narrative parts delivered by two different narrators. Although the general emphasis is on the middle part where we hear the story from Jim, it is also important to give due attention to the parts called ‘Anonymity’ and ‘Anonymity 2’, for they envelop the main narrative in a physical way for a thematic reason. Time is a theme that is brought forward again and again both in the narration and in the form. The novel, in its form and plot, argues for the theory of epochal time which is significant in our understanding of the function of the first and last part, which are not explicitly in line with the rest of the novel, in their relation to the discussion.
The argument of epochal time in the storyline is delivered through the elderly character Elster. The phrase is articulated by Elster in his discussion about the time in the desert. The section is as follows: “’Time falling away. That’s what I feel here,’ he said. ‘Time becoming slowly older. Enormously old. Not day by day. This is deep time, epochal time.’” At this point, we may refer to Alfred Whitehead’s theory of epochal time1 which suggests that the sense of time is the succession of our experiences. He says “…in every act of becoming there is the becoming of something with temporal extension; but that the act itself is not extensive, in the sense that it is divisible into earlier and later acts of becoming which correspond to the extensive divisibility of what has become.” Although our experience of time is not divided, the book tries to deliver a tangible example in the installation of the movie, as we can sense the divisibility of time in the slowed-down flow of the actions of the movie. The unknown narrator remarks “The man could count the gradations in the movement of Anthony Perkins’ head. Anthony Perkins turns his head in five incremental movements rather than one continuous motion”. The experience of savoring each moment of an action makes him think that this 24-hour installation is the real movie and the real-time, not the standard version. This is also relatable to Elster’s words when he tells Jim that “his life happened when he sat staring at a blank wall”, in that the experience slows down the time and entails attention to small details, and Elster defines it as the “true life”. He argues that the divisibility of experience that is realized during his contemplation while staring at a blank wall is what constitutes his life, not the actual time he lived.
Moreover, the form of the novel contributes to the discussion of epochal time as well, for both narrated and narrative time wander towards different directions at certain times. The opening part is on September 3 at the 24 Hour Psycho installation in The Museum of Modern Art in New York. After reading the lengthy monologue of the nameless character, we move on to hear Jim Finley’s time in the desert with Richard Elster. Even if his narration is linear in general, it has certain points of deviations and recollections. One moment he thinks of an elderly neighbor climbing the stairs backwards, then goes back to the desert, and at a seemingly arbitrary moment he wonders why the neighbor was doing so. The same pattern repeats in his reminiscence of the separated wife. He thinks of her and what she said to him about his being dense, the narration goes on and at some point, out of nowhere he remembers another thing she said to him. Finally, following the weeks in the desert, the narration goes back to The Museum of Modern Art on September 4, closing upon itself and surrounding the main story with a conceptual movie Elster defines as “watching the universe die over a period of about seven billion years.” The story ends where it began, structurally in three parts that divides a one-day period while narrating a distant time in the desert, which itself is problematic time-wise as discussed above.
In the light of these, we may discuss that the novel with its form and narrative style provides a division of time in its parts. Such a conception helps us comprehend the concept regarding the divisibility of the yet-non-divided time. In doing so, it paces down the reader to have a close and attentive look at the lives of the characters as they would watch the movie, grasping every single detail such as the number of shower curtain rings.
1Felt, James W. “Epochal Time and the Continuity of Experience.” The Review of Metaphysics, vol. 56, no. 1, 2002, pp. 19–36. www.jstor.org/stable/20111783.