In the LARB, Cornel Bonca on the anti-hero
in DeLillo's Cosmopolis
Packer is like somebody dreamed up by Martin Heidegger to illustrate the peculiar despairs of technologically advanced civilization. For Heidegger, technology is exactly the distancing device that prevents us from achieving some full and direct encounter with the real — what he called Being itself. The “essence” of technology, Heidegger said, isn’t machines or systems of production, but a point of view that looks at reality only in terms of its instrumental use value: for example, it looks at a tree for the lumber it provides, not for the tree’s intrinsic tree-ness (its Being), or in Packer’s case, looks at, say, trading billions of yen exclusively as a game of profit or loss rather than something that has real-life effects on real-life labor, real-life consumers, the real-life environment. Looking at the world “technologically” is what alienation is, and Packer’s is the ne plus ultra of Heideggerian alienation. What’s worse, he knows it, and so in his despair designs an end for himself that will at last bring him some measure of contact with the real, even if it comes in the form of a bullet to the back of his head.