The Angel in a Country of Last Things: DeLillo, Auster, and the Post-Human Landscape

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Author: Clara Sarmento
Editor: Jelena O. Krstovic
From: Short Story Criticism(Vol. 153)
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 6,391 words

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[(essay date 2006) In this essay, Sarmento discusses the surreal, post-human, urban landscapes depicted in Paul Auster's In the Country of Last Things and Don DeLillo's Underworld and "The Angel Esmeralda," focusing on their use of imagery to support the themes of violence and despair.]

Our language can be seen as an old city; a maze of little streets and squares, of old and new houses, and of houses with additions from various periods; and this surrounded by a multitude of modern sections with straight regular streets and uniform houses.(Tractatus, 8)

When studying the urban space in literature, scholars tend to privilege Wittgenstein's old city, trying to draw up the map of its maze, and only recently did they start to explore the suburbs and its mysteries, its connection with the original city and how people manage to live inside such spaces.

In the Country of Last Things is an apocalyptic novel that takes place in a decaying urban landscape, where everything is constructed so as to give the illusion of a future resolution that is always dispersed. All around, it is the rule of objects that rot and crumble, order that breaks down. Inside this walled city, mere survival, violence and death rule. The streets of this Country trace a border between life and death, they prevent every memory of the past and any escape towards some kind of future. People walk a monotonous dehumanizing labyrinth of streets, all exactly alike, and wander in circles with no sense of direction. Houses are destroyed in this warlike city and their inhabitants are forced into the streets without either a metaphorical or a literal protective shell for the self.

In this dark fable, everything means violence, aggression and death. Loneliness (not solitude) is everywhere, in the general obsession with death and survival at any price. The other is always a potential enemy that one has to fight with all the time, without mercy for the losers; and the wall of death crosses the story in every direction. In the devastated city of In the Country of Last Things, terrible barricades, the "tolls", appear and disappear like mushrooms in every street. The city itself is walled by the Fiddler's Rampart, its westernmost barrier, and, to the south, by the Millennial Gate. There is also the mad and cyclopic Sea Wall project that would take at least fifty years to build. There is no reliable news about anyone who had survived the crossing of those walls of death, which calls into our mind the memory of the Berlin Wall. Whoever manages to enter the city is imprisoned by its horrors and transported into a hell that is not, however, totally unknown to residents of certain neighborhoods in New York, though the setting stays unnamed. The landscape is an intense evocation of what could already be some parts of the Bronx, if buildings there were actually allowed to fall down and remain.

We also think of Emmanuel Ringelbaum's memoir of the Warsaw...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420105580