Icarian Flights: Exiles, Homeless, and Squatters in Hysteron Proteron

On the 110 th floor of the World Trade Center there used to be a poster, sphinxlike, de Certeau writes, which addressed an enigmatic message to the pedestrian cum visionary: “It’s hard to be down when you’re up” (1984, 92). The message seems to sum up Packer’s existence, while its possible chiastic double, “it is hard to be up when you’re down,” could address Francis Phelan’s efforts throughout the novel. Like mirror images, the two characters end up exiled from the paradisical constraints of capitalist mythology. There are, however, variations in these evictions: Francis Phelan is allowed to claim home in the space of the nonspatial; Packer, the cyber capitalist, is only allowed to embrace the desert in his Icarian flight. The desert figures as the real landscape beyond the bronze glimmer of towers and power; as pure horizontality as opposed to the verticality of the abstract city. Situating Francis and Packer side by side allows us to present Ironweed as a hysteron proteron of Cosmopolis, as the eviction and the fall before the rise of cyber capitalism. Similarly, the storming of the NASDAQ building, as well as the immolation of one of the protesters, reverberate in the wave of protests that spread throughout the world in the spring of 2011. Their emptying out of the premises of corporate power seems to be an echo of Bartleby’s occupation, which, in turn, would reverberate in the Occupy Wall Street movement. The juxtaposition of occurrences stands as a powerful instance of the power of literature to reverse the order of the real. First literature, then reality.

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