A Review of Beigbeder’s Window of the World

As Beigbeder peers through the window of the world, his grim reflections stares straight back at him with a slightly ironic sneer as the reflection is aware that through the pursuing of writing this novel about the death of thousands it has made his own death very apparent and real.  

Windows Image

Windows on the World uses the monstrosities of the September 11th attack as a footing to gain more of an understanding into life and being. The meaning that Beigbeder comes across is the idea that life is fragile and death can strike at any moment, what stronger symbolism could have been used to portray this other than the twin towers. This realisation of fragility has such an impact upon people’s lives, within the novel you witness Beigbeder himself obtain this realisation causing a shift within his state of happiness and personal philosophy. This to me is the important section of this novel. The fictional accounts following the life of Carthew Yorston provides a canvas for Beigbeder to project his own life, allowing background and context to depict this semi-Heideggerian philosophical idea of death.

Other Reviewers have picked up on the strength of the philosophy within this novel;

‘This book is an attempt at the hyperreal novel. Where fiction becomes more real than reality. What can you say about that? I don’t like the main character, or, honestly, any of the characters. But the philosophy, the philosophy is real. Beigbeder understands generation and thought and the reality of horror. He deconstructs symbolism when the world is making nothing but symbols. He sees the meaning in meaning nothing.’[1]

The importance of this review to me, lies within the final words, and that is the identification with nothing. Windows on the World is a novel which records Beigbeder’s journey to understanding nothing. The idea of the connection between being and nothing can be found within Heidegger’s work who ‘believes […] that during moments of deep anxiety we can […] sometimes become acutely aware of the Nothing in such a way that it opens our understanding of the true nature of Being’[2]

Whilst in France, Beigbeder is depression and unhappy. ‘My life is a disaster, but nobody notices, because I’m too polite – I smile constantly. I smile because I think that if you hide your suffering it disappears.’[3] In France there is no presence of death and this is only the beginning of his research into the events of 9/11, therefore he has not felt the full weight of death yet due to his life of safety. Whilst in France he compares life to that of one in New York, socially and architecturally predominantly. This comparison shows his efforts to gain a connection with the trauma and the victims, but it is not until he actually reaches New York that this connection occurs. With this connection marks the shift in his attitudes and beliefs, gone is the cloud of depression that surrounded him and now he is beginning to realise what he is actually achieving by writing this novel. ‘It’s insane how at home I feel in the most threatened city in the world.’[4] He questions ‘What did I come here to find? Me. Will I find myself?’[5] He contextualised this feeling of self-realisation due to the reality of a present death by discussing New Yorkers as a whole and the changing attitudes after the attack.

‘Something else is new: New Yorkers have become unbelievably considerate, helpful, thoughtful, polite. I remember the fanatical individualism of the eighties, when you’d see a New Yorker stepping over the corpse of a homeless person on the sidewalk without breaking stride. There’s nothing like that now’[6]

Social elements have changed, ‘apocalyptic politeness’[7] is the term that Beigbeder uses to coin this shift. The attack upon the Twin Towers, has ruptured the idea of invincibility, even if this belief was subconscious, it was not until such a huge event, such a large massacre occurs within the boundaries of their own city where attitudes begin to change. Death becomes present, no longer can the prospect of death be put to the back of the mind. There is the constant reminder that it can strike at any time, ground zero has become a monument to not only the thousands who have died, yet also to death itself. New York can no longer escape the cold tendrils of death, forever will the remembrance be there creeping up the spines of all residents, fresh in the mind still and always. This is what Beigbeder is emphasising and putting forward within his novel, it is not the attack itself, yet the continuation of the effects and the impact it has upon his own life. September 11th marks a shift in attitudes and an age of fear and uncertainty. ‘reality has not only outstripped fiction, it’s destroying it. It’s impossible to write about this subject, and yet impossible to write about anything else. Nothing else touches us.’[8] This is discussing directly the impact of September 11th, yet this his personal belief. I believe that Beigbeder is expressing the significance of the event as a catalyst into the realisation of the fragility of his own existence.

Through fiction Beigbeder manages to tap into a depth which could not be achieved without the characterisation of Carthew. The blurring of lines between fiction and fact have been cleverly achieved with Beigbeder himself meeting Candace, Carthew’s wife, in a bar. This cross over shows an identification that death is not novel, part of this representation reflects that the unexpected can occur.

I began by describing Beigbeder as semi-Heideggerian, this is because Heidegger emphasises that other people’s deaths are not the same as your own, therefore they do not allow self-realisation to occur, yet Beigbeder by using another means to converse, the novel, he has been able to procure a realisation of his personal finite existence through the pursuing of others death. Therefore, through hyper reality, where the impossible becomes possible Beigbeder has been able to use death and 9/11 as a springboard to understanding his own life.

[1] Good Reads, Windows on the World. Retrieved [10.03.2016] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/58384.Windows_on_the_World

[2] Michael Watts, Heidegger a Beginner’s Guide (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2001) 20

[3]  Frédérick Beigbeder, Windows on the World (London: Harper Perennial, 2005) 30

[4] Ibid 171

[5] Ibid 171

[6] Ibid 195

[7] Ibid 195

[8] Ibid 8

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A Review of Beigbeder’s Window of the World

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