The Prescience of Delillo's Cosmopolis
The plot of Cosmopolis is something close to, “Eric wants a haircut
and he goes to get one”, along the way he barely moves. He just
sits in his huge limo and watches the world outside. Eric lives a
life of luxurious anomie and he plays with money every day. He
watches stock numbers go up and down then waits for the yen to fall.
It never does. All the while he journeys through Manhattan while
watching the world through his window.
In a Paris Review interview from the nineties Delillo was asked what made him want to become a writer and he said that it was because;
Maybe I wanted to learn how to think. Writing is a concentrated form of thinking. I don’t know what I think about certain subjects, even today, until I sit down and try to write about them. Maybe I wanted to find more rigorous ways of thinking. http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/1887/the-art-of-fiction-no-135-don-delillo
This attitude towards thinking and analysing the world through writing is what would lead him to write about a future which was coming very soon in Cosmopolis. The whole novel is, in some senses, a concentrated form of thinking about the world of money and those who were born to control the fates of the world through the all-powerful financial markets.
The novel was written five years before the collapse of the world financial system at the hands of powerful men who had been given far too much power and influence over the lives of others. The character of Eric is one of these men. He plays with the markets and exults in his own influence on it while he simultaneously loses vast amounts of money betting against the Yen; the most stable of currencies.
He does this because he wants to see a pattern in the numbers and he wants to influence the world so much that it follows the pattern which he has set for it. When it fails to work he doesn't feel the consequences of his actions. In fact he almost never faces any consequences because he does not live in the same world that others do. He controls the lives of others from his car in the same way that a renaissance king controlled his subjects. He is aloof and autocratic and, importantly, often totally wrong.
These same people, those who played with the world's money at a whim and largely because they were allowed to. Delillo had come through the age of ideologies in the seventies and eighties and, with the collapse of communism in Europe in the late-eighties and the rise of smooth politicians like Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, he had seen the power of the world shift into an unbroken trust of the money men. Men who were seen to have no affiliation with anything besides the clear pursuit of profit. The idea, of course, was that the profits which would be created would come to all of us and raise us up on the shoulders of the new world Gods who would make a new world without the beliefs which held back previous generations.
Yet Eric's life shows all of this up as the lie that it is. He is the only one who sees the benefit of his work and nothing filters down from his limousine besides the fumes which harm those on the streets outside. Cosmopolis is the story of the financial crash told before the financial crash. Eric is the main character and the main villain who never got punished for what he did to the world. Him and the people like him are still around in the world, gliding free through the streets of the world.