Short story: “Baader-Meinhof”

by look i have opinions

“Baader-Meinhof,” by Don DeLillo

First appeared in the New Yorker on April 1st, 2002 (subscribers can read here); read on the April 2010 New Yorker Fiction Podcast (here); collected in The Angel Esmeralda

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Ugh. Really good piece, but fucked up.

I have to admit that when I read a story like this, I don’t feel the connection between the violence of the Baader-Meinhof pictures and the violence of the plot. Themes and parallels are not things I think about while reading. More to the point, they’re not things I sense, consciously or subconsciously, as far as I can tell. Could it be I’m wrong about my own subconscious?

Or could it be that themes and parallels actually don’t get their power from the reader’s feelings or subconscious, but from cerebral reflection afterwards? Is that a legitimate way for a short story to work? I think of short stories (and art in general, but especially short stories) as things that you primarily feel/experience/intuit things about, with reflection and analysis being secondary. I happen to like the analysis part of things, and I like the unusual types of stories that are all about cerebral stuff, but I don’t think stories are usually about that.

Regardless, the amount of time the story spends on the pictures is very effective for me, for unthematic reasons. It gives the main character some depth, and it further distinguishes and isolates her from the stranger who approaches her.

Actually, maybe I do feel the connection between those two forms of violence. The word “helpless” makes the connection for me, a bit.

I saw an analysis somewhere that described the end of this story as revealing the meaninglessness of the experience, with both characters returning as though nothing happened. That seems wrong to me. It’s a frustrating cycle, but it’s not meaningless.