If you have read several books by Don DeLillo, sooner or later you will have a Don DeLillo moment. Mine occurred in May 2010, in the Museum of Modern Art, at the Marina Abramović exhibition “The Artist Is Present.” I was fascinated, but not by the particulars of her performance art, although they were interesting enough. Her manner of sitting utterly still for hours and staring at one volunteer after another positioned a few feet across from her compelled the attention of the crowd, as did the naked (and often jarringly beautiful), immobilized, blank-faced models and dancers who were also part of the exhibition.
What made me think of DeLillo at MoMA was not the art, however, but the spectators. They were all transfixed. They stared at Abramović and her collaborators as if the performers’ trance states were contagious. A kind of communal hypnosis seemed to be at work. I had never seen anything like it. On the day I was there, the usually noisy galleries had settled down into a low murmur, though I did hear nervous laughter coming from unhip oldsters. An intriguing collective project was going on, but no one seemed to know exactly what it was. I half-expected to spot DeLillo somewhere in the crowd, patiently watching the spectators who were watching the immobilized performers who, like pretty narcissists, were staring off into space at nothing. You could glance at anything, but your glance would never be acknowledged by anybody. Something importantly autistic was in the air.