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The Body Artist Paperback – 4 Mar 2011
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America's greatest living writer. (Observer)
A novel that is both slight and profound, a distilled meditation on perception and loss, and a poised, individual ghost story for the twenty-first century. (Observer)
A masterly portrait of the impact of death on those who live. (Evening Standard)
A sad, beautiful novel, The Body Artist is an elliptical meditiation on the mysteries of love, life and time.See all Product description
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Where their is difficulty trusting the autonomy of a partner, there may be primitive forms of relating, including incorporation, totemism, co-dependency and other forms of asymmetry which prevent individual flourishing.
Lauren is a highly unusual person. I do not know much about body artists, although have explored the subject a little since reading the novel. It is an extreme form of activity, chosen, I would imagine, most frequently by someone sensitised to all the casual and not so casual brutality that the world serves up every day. It is the activity of a latter day prophet and makes for exceedingly uncomfortable contemplation. It is punitive both to performer and audience, with troubling questions about identity, the difficulty of relatedness, the exploitation that can lurk in very intimate relationships, and the difficulty of integrating sexual feelings with other aspects of life. Male violence and female victimhood also feature.
So what happens in the novel? (NB beware plot spoilers from here on.) How have Rey and Lauren found each other? I don't know the answer to this and DeLillo may have left clues which I have missed. It is true however that damaged people often recognise each other intuitively without reference to their traumas ever being unambiguoulsy referred to. Rey probably seemed like a fatherly type but is in fact too far gone in the latterday failure of his life in films, with subsequent alcoholism and depression, to offer any kind of security to Lauren. She offers hopim youth, which he probably envies, and he fails to connect with her and becomes depressed although conceals it. His suicde suggests unresolved anger to his first wife, third wife (Lauren), and no doubt his mother, whom one assumes he never saw again after his removal to USSR after the death of his father. The telephone conversation between the two wives after Rey's death suggests that Lauren is not in touch with any anger she might justifiably feel, and her tenderness is in stark contrast to the crude and dismissive hardness of the first wife.
Although I don't think it of central importance to the novel, it seems clear to me that 'Mr. Tuttle' exists, has an autistic disorder, and that much of what is described is an overlay and projection caused by Lauren's isolated, vulnerable, traumatised and confused state. When she suffers she tends to cope with her pain by identifying with the suffering of others. (See Melanie Klein- Projective Identification). It is, I think, striking that Lauren does not speak, nor perhaps think, a word of criticism of Rey despite his obvious betrayal of her. However the performance that Lauren gives which is described at the end of the book is full of anger and pain. The description of the naked man and woman running into each other puzzled me because as far as I could tell, it was a solo act. Perhaps one of the figures was a dummy.
Late in the novel Lauren notices an old Japanese woman whose hands are not visible beneath long sleeves and is annoyed she did not use this image in her performance. This is an allusion to the Grimms' fairy tale The Girl Without Hands or The girl With Silver Hands, much referred to by Jungians. Ironically, in view of her German surname, she is unaware of the archetypal reference, which is highy appropriate. (The wounding of feminine feeling by masculine indifference.)
At the end of the book there is a moment of extreme catharsis when Lauren feels for the first time that she was not responsible for her mother's death, a burden she has carried unconsciously all her life. The suicide of Rey, as it were, doubled the burden but shook up the unconscious, hence the catharsis. No doubt the extreme performance which is loaded with feeling, played an important part in shifting the log jam. The book ends hopefully.
I think this is a wonderful book, beautifully written and full of profound psychological insight. It is also a book for our times, with an examination of the problems between parents and children, and between adult men and women.
The protagonist is Lauren Hartke, The Body Artist and the story centres on her being alone in a large house after the death of her late husband. Is she alone though as she discovers someone is living in the spare room. His physical presence never seems to be proved by Lauren and you are never quite sure if he is real or a figment of her imagination. He certainly seems to know a lot about her late husband Rey and even starts talking to her in his voice. A real person, a ghost, the ramblings of a recently bereaved woman; who knows?
In all I found it very strange, but maybe I did not fully understand the style this was written in.