Dr. Alex E. Blazer

Department of English & Rhetoric

Georgia College & State University

Milledgeville, GA 31061

alex.blazer@gcsu.edu

alexeblazer.com

 

"The simulacrum is real": Rivka Galchen's Atmospheric Disturbances

. . . wasn’t the simulation of Rema’s appearance far more extraordinary than her disappearance?

(Atmospheric Disturbances 186)

Rivka Galchen's debut novel, Atmospheric Disturbances (2008), offers a refreshing spin on the postmodern identity quest detective subgenre popularized by The Crying of Lot 49 (1966). When Thomas Pynchon's Oedipa Maas journeyed through the artificial San Narcisso to unravel the uncertain conspiracy of Pierce Inverarity, the ontology of her quest remained in question: was it dream, hallucination, drug-induced fantasy, or an actual plot against her? The wife of Galchen's psychiatrist Leo Liebenstein has been replaced by a simulacrum; and the lion of love searches the globe for his true dear one. Like its predecessor, the reality of the quest remains radically ambiguous, the psyche of the narrator utterly unreliable: Does thinking that his wife has been replaced with a simulacrum constitute the delusional thinking of the psychotic, or is this simulation a symptom of the neurotic's denial that the woman he loves has changed so much that he no longer recognizes her? Besides blurring the line between madness and reality, Atmospheric Disturbances erodes the fictional frame, as Liebenstein and his ersatz spouse deceive a patient named Harvey, who has paranoid delusions of a conspiracy by the Royal Academy of Meteorologists, into following orders from the fake weather spy Tzvi Galchen, who turns out to be the real author's late father, an actual member of the Royal Academy. Atmospheric Disturbances ultimately signals an important shift in postmodern existence, and perhaps in contemporary writing as well. After unsuccessfully searching the globe for his "real" wife, psychiatrist Leo Leibenstein concludes to live with his simulated spouse: "Yes, I will have the feeling that this life I am living with the simulacrum is real" (239). Simulation becomes reality. The novel settles on neither mourning the loss of authenticity like William H. Gass, Don DeLillo, and Bret Easton Ellis nor reveling in the precession of simulacrum like Mark Z. Danielewski and Chuck Palahniuk. Rather, it suggests that the problem of authenticity is in our psycho-existential relationship with the world and asks if postmodernity's fixation upon simulation signifies either a descent into cultural psychosis or exhibits a neurotic nostalgia and obsessional inability to live and love, feel and exist, in the fluid present.

 

This abstract summarizes my presentation, "''The simulacrum is real': Rivka Galchen's Atmospheric Disturbances," South Atlantic MLA Convention, Renaissance Atlanta Hotel Downtown, Atlanta, 8 Nov. 2009.