BOOK: Eric Packer and the number twenty-two: Does it chart?

One of the things I loved about Cosmopolis was the style of the story-telling, the sense that each word was chosen very specifically. There is nothing casual about any musical reference, character name or the menu items. Everything has a meaning, or perhaps more than one. Something that really jumped out at me was the repetitive use of the number twenty-two.

He glanced out the one-way window to his left. It took him a moment to understand that he knew the woman in the rear seat of the taxi that lay adjacent. She was his wife of twenty-two days, Elise Shifrin, a poet who had right of blood to the fabulous Shifrin banking fortune of Europe and the world.

Read more and see if it charts, after the jump.

He looked at Chin, adrift in his jump seat, lost in rambling thought. “How old are you?”

“Twenty-two. What? Twenty-two.”

“You look younger. I was always younger than anyone around me. One day it began to change.”

“The way they build a stretch is this. They take a vehicle’s base unit and cut it in half with a huge throbbing buzz-saw device. Then they add a segment to lengthen the chassis by ten, eleven, twelve feet. Whatever desired dimension. Twenty-two feet if you like. While they were doing this to my car, I sent word that they had to proust it, cork-line it against street noise.”

The moon was mostly shadow, a waning crescent twenty-two days into its orbit, he estimated. He stood in the street. There was nothing to do. He hadn’t realized this could happen to him. The moment was empty of urgency and purpose. He hadn’t planned on this. Where was the life he’d always led? There was nowhere he wanted to go, nothing to think about, no one waiting. How could he take a step in any direction if all directions were the same?

So what does it mean? What would Eric make of this number popping up over and over on this particular day? I thought first about his business side, the fact that he’s charting all these “real numbers” as he battles the yen. There is a lot of mathematical significance to the number but on this day, logic does not seem to be his friend. Things aren’t charting.

Then I thought about the way his mind works – his voracious need to know and master everything. He has a meditation room and a Chief of Theory, whom he loves. He had his limousine ceiling painted with the star-alignment at the exact second of his birth. I wondered if Eric would have studied things like numerology and astrology.

So I googled the number twenty-two. Here’s what I found:

Moon phase meaning for the 22nd lunar day: “Waning — the moon is now gradually degenerating from being a full moon to being a mere crescent as the new moon phase is about to occur. The waning moon’s size degenerates from right to left and is considered to be the “left-hand moon” due to the likeness of a man’s left hand arc. The moon’s energy is not as its strongest and can be connected with the Goddess’ Crone character. Vedic scriptures denote that today is indeed lucky for journeys and traveling.” source

Did the word “degenerating” jump out at you? Plus, weakening energy. Although it is a good day for a journey. Whoa.

Then there is this.

Numerology meaning of repeated notice of the number 22: Then there are those who have it in their nature to apply extra effort to everything they do. They don’t just do their jobs. They do it better than is required. They apply themselves completely to everything they do. They are perfectionists. They demand the most of themselves. And not just in their jobs. Their spiritual experiences also reflect this. They don’t accept anything because it is easy, or convenient, or expected, or comfortable. They search and sacrifice. They question, and they put everything on the line for just one more little bit of understanding. They risk friendships and romance in the search for knowledge.

The 22 almost always deals with the productive part of your life; your job, your responsibilities, your creativity. You are either ignoring opportunities, or you are afraid of the potential results – even if they are promising (or precisely because they are promising). You are quite possibly at a stage in your life when the door is open to a promised land. Very scary. Can you handle it? source

Sounds a lot like Eric doesn’t it? Do you think he would have had this knowledge? Did the number twenty-two chart for Eric when the yen didn’t? 😉 Or is DeLillo planting information to deepen our understanding of Eric? Do you know any other meanings of the number 22? What other repetitive or striking references jumped out at you while reading Cosmopolis?

P.S. Look at the date.

It must be discussed!


  • Annie

    Huh. Well that makes it more interesting. I wonder what else in the book I missed. I wonder if they’ll put this in the movie.

    • I don’t know if it would translate to the movie BUT if we see Eric glance at the moon before he goes into the building we’ll all know what it means to him. 😉

  • Kim

    Holy Toledo…someone has been studying & doing their homework. Agree everything in the book is planned and thought out, but numerology? I suppose if numerology follows lunar paths, then so. The first thing I thought about the 22 was one day over three weeks. It takes three weeks to develop a habit and three weeks to break one, so maybe the meditation room is key. Eric would know all of this highly metaphysical stuff. Now I’m thinking that this movie will appeal to a vast spectrum, some won’t know what they are seeing and others well they’ll understand more than us who have been reading and discussing!

    • Oooooo that is a very intriguing thought about the weeks and habits. I like that idea. 🙂

      • Kim

        I will have to look into that numerology…I know I have inserted those numbers before and they seem to work, right! Love this post, beyond my expectations.

        • I’m extra excited about the fact that Eric himself states it’s been 22 days of marriage. He’s been counting the days. Using your idea we can wonder if he’s been waiting for the marriage to become a habit.

  • Holy Smokes Deb. I am not sure I would have ever made that correlation.

    • My brain is a scary place. When everyone else was talking about legitimate themes and symbolism I’m thinking “ooooo the number twenty-two again. Wonder why?” LOL

  • Suzanne Thomas

    That is amazing. The numerology definition almost defines Eric. What insight. I missed that! I am completely addicted to that book. DeLillo’s prose is almost lyrical.

    When is talking about the gull on page 7. He spent a paragraph on the gull – watching, admiring, thinking, trying to know, feeling – the gull.

    He also just puts a sentence in a paragraph where it doesn’t belong. Where you have a stop and go – what?? It’s Eric’s thoughts – sometimes they jump around.

    I love the book. You can’t possibly get all of its meaning in one reading. But I totally missed the number 22!!

    • I LOVED hearing Eric’s thoughts while he watched the gull. And the Nancy Babich soliloquy when Eric is outside Benno’s door is one of my favourite pieces of writing, ever. I adore it.

      Glad you liked the post. 🙂

    • His thoughts jump around becasue he is interfaced with the screens and the traffic. DeLillo writes jumpy because Cosmopolis is in non-linear time, jump cuts, start and stop in quarter inches, No flow because we no longer live in linear flow. DeLillo’s style matches realtime. Events, discontinuous, no progressive historical time anymore, non-linear.

      Baudrillard says that how you write about what you write about must be even more so. So if you are writing about seduction – Twilight – then your style must be more seductive than the seduction you are writing about. Stephenie does just that.

      Packer is in discontinuous start stop time so DeLillo must write even more jumpy start stop than what he is writing about. He succeeds.

      When Eric is in slower progressive time, not with the screens, then DeLillo’s narrative style becomes lyrical. As Eric watches the gull and sees into it. The way Didi has taught him to see through painting.

      I think I’ve spent hundreds of hours with this book to get here.

  • I love it when stuff like this is brought to our attention. This book has opened up a whole new style of writing to me, and I’m really loving it. It’s so intriguing! I enjoyed the book the first time I read it. I plan on reading it again after hearing discussion and theories that so many people have shared. I can’t wait to see how different the story might seem to me the second time. Rob Packinson? Well he will give the word intriguing a whole new meaning. So excited for him!

    • I’m slowly learning more about David Cronenberg’s film making and I can see why he was so determined to make this film. It’s must be a huge challenge to get all that… stuff.. on to the screen. Can. Not. Wait. 🙂

      • If you really want to understand him then listen to the commentary on his DVD for Naked Lunch, his William Burroughs film. Awesome.

    • If you like info about style then see my comment above.

  • IM1LuckyWoman

    One more 22 that’s of significance I think….That’s the age of his wife, Elise.

  • IM1LuckyWoman

    Really interesting read. Thanks for researching and sharing. I hadn’t really “gotten” all those references on my own!

    • Thanks! I knew by the third “22” that something was up. I just checked because I was going to update the post with Elise’s age, but alas, she is described as “in her mid-twenties”. I mean she could be 22 but we don’t know for sure. LOL I do wonder if they’re more 22’s in the story.

      • IM1LuckyWoman

        Sorry about the age thing. I found it on a site when I checked. Guess that site was wrong (I should have just gotten out my copy of the book and looked for it there!).

  • Marina H.

    Chauffeur Deb, I think it’s so cool that you took the time to put this all together.

    I don’t think many of us noticed all of these little details, but now that you’ve pointed them out, I can’t say I’m surprised that they exist. DeLillo did a great job of slipping in tiny bits of symbolism that stick out each time we re-read the text.

    He’s written such a complex character with so many layers, and facts like these make him even MORE intense. I cannot wait to see how this character comes to life on screen.

    Thanks for sharing this with us 🙂


    • Thanks lovey. I’m so glad I have a place to share my crazy ideas. Sure beats talking to myself. 😉

      Looking forward to you paper tomorrow! 🙂

  • The fact that you’re doing books posts again thrills me beyond words, so I’ll try to express myself as coherently as possible.
    The moon excerpt stunned me, it was such a fresh and clear image, it surprised me that I don’t remember ever reading it, even though I’ve read the book a couple of times. Yes, I absolutely agree that it is such a wonderful, challenging (not difficult) read, full of layers of meaning, a book about a day in a man’s life that kind of becomes exactly like that man, a complex entity you get to really discover only if you manage to understand the layers it/he is made of.
    I haven’t even noticed the repetition of 22, though I have noticed the reference to prime numbers, at the very beginning, the building Eric is living in has eighty-nine floors, a prime number, evenly divided only by 1 and itself. Now, 22 isn’t a prime number, isn’t as lonely as the primes are. With this and all of your wonderful insight above, it isn’t hard to put 2 and 2 together 🙂 Eric’s is a one day journey into becoming a number. Such simple but powerful symbolism and I wouldn’t have never thought about it if it weren’t for your post.
    Thank you for this Deb, I’ve become strangely attached to this blog and all the beautiful stuff all of you chauffeurs do here. Discovering new things is always more exciting when done in the company of others, and you have certainly made it so much fun for me.
    I am definitely looking forward to more book posts (deconstructing Eric until we can read him as an open book :), can’t even think about the movie, Rob’s Packer will be B.E.A.U.T.I.F.U.L!
    Till next time 🙂 *singing fly me to the moon and let me play among the stars…*

    • Thank you so much for the lovely comment! I agree, all of this is way more exciting because we’re all in the limo together 😉

      I am notoriously confuzzled by math and I know there is a whole layer devoted to “the data” and numbers. Eric and Benno both talk about prime numbers. Hmm I’d never be able to wrap my head around it.

      “Eric’s is a one day journey into becoming a non-prime number.” So cool. *head explodes*

    • Your statement put 2 and 2 together is perfect. Eric can’t put 2 and 2 together. He doesn’t get why the yen doesn’t chart. Until he does and implodes the currency market. DeLillo is funny I think. Funny ha ha.

  • 4tlashes4erimus

    I am on my third read of this book…there are so many layers throughout. Every time I go through it I find something new that I missed the previous time. Great post, awesome insight! Makes the book so much more meaningful. And add to that @Dalva’s comments…yup….*head explodes* indeed! 🙂

  • Very very nice. I saw 2 of the 22 but missed 2. Yes, anytime DeLillo does this he is using it as a “floating sign”. A “floating sign” may be empty, signifying nothing, it may be simulating, dissimulating, or masking. I think DeLillo is playing as he plays with people’s names. Elise Shifrin, a -lease, he has leased a wife. He has a contract with her, a marriage contract. Didi calls it one of those arranged marriages of two fortunes. Eric describes it within the Order of Production: it is an exchange, so he contrasts each important fact as if they sit on a see saw and balance evenly. Except, there is asymmetry, a radical item, an erratic item, her beauty. And then he wonders later if maybe she isn’t beautiful after all. He is looking for even, symmetry, balance, which lies within the dialectic of opposites, only Hegelian dialectical thinking belongs to the past. Eric is in circulating global capitalism, where “money rises and sets like the sun’ but the sun doesn’t set, it only sets because we are on earth and that’s the way we see it. We circle around the sun, and our earth turns on an axis as it circles around the sun. The moon … I don’t want to get into the moon right now as that is a ball of wax. So Eric wants balance and he keeps coming up with asymmetry. As Benno tells him. Eric Packer is in simulated reality as long as he is in the limo. The screen projects numbers, numbers that have no reference to money, it is all speculative capital. When he gets out of the limo he is in the Order of Seduction, NOT production. Elise Shifrin “shifts”. She is constantly shifting, her journey through the day. She is Gradiva, an apparition, and apparition is always coupled with disappearance. She is seducing him by appearing and disappearing. He is following her all day. She is hiding from him. she always hid from her mother, and her mother would send people to search for her but they could never find her. When Eric looks for her in the apartment he cannot find her. He is not searching for her, not looking for her on his journey, but he keeps finding her.

    I’m quitting. I got everyone upset long ago writing like this. Finally this blog is getting serious but I have already started my own, and commenting doesn’t really work so well because I can’t explain it simply enough in little chunks.

    This is a very complicated visionary book It is way under rated by the critics, and the academics but Cronenberg is considered to be a post modern philosopher and he is very knowledgeable concerning Baudrillard, who happens to be a filmmaker. But as Cronenberg says this is just the way he has always thought. He lets the world think him. He lets the tea drink him. He knows all this. This is what his graphic novel and film eXistenz is all about. He has been moving in this direction all his filmic career. If yo get Naked Lunch and listen to his commentary everything you want to know about him is there. It is the clearest, wisest lecture on post modernism you can imagine. Just the style of writing is Baudrillardian. I gotta stop.

    I could have just said, 22 is a balanced number. 11 and 11 make 22. More balance. Elise is a balanced relationship. They have been married 22 days. The moon is in the 22nd day of its phase. Get into the Chinese character of wisdom and you will find moon, bright moon, full moon. Chinese is much easier to think in this way, so the govt is getting rid of characters and going for pinyin. I don’t need to go there either right now.

    Thanks for bringing up 22 and all the examples. Great detective work.

    The university kids are back at work. DeLillo and Cosmopolis are very hot right now in many different departments, and my cosmopolis stats have gone way up since school started, and I expect the same here to be true. Eric Packer is not a self-destructive loser. He is a visionary prophet, who implodes the currency speculation market, just for fun. Just because he cando it. Just because he is high from the rat poem, the demonstration, from Elise, from killing off Torval who stopped him from the Order of Seduction. Yaaaaaaghhh.

    If anyone wants me to continue I will. But you will have to reply as I could really go on all night and that’s not what I really want to do tonight. I find this discussion fascinatings

    • Glad you liked the post. I really like your comment below too about the kid messing around with prime numbers. Sounds like something Eric would have done/said as a child. lol

  • 11 is a prime. Two primes make an even here. I once had an eight year old i a free school classroom. When I took over the class – they had gotten rid of 2 teachers by the first of October – they quit going to all the special classes. Pandemonium. But I believed in Summerhillian educational philosophy. Anyway Robert, was a math genius, and the math teacher was furious he stopped. What is he doing, she said. I don’t know I said, but I’ll find out. so I asked him.

    Every day he spent some time at one of those (1966)calculators that would grind away the numbers frieden, Monroe’s, Marchants. Big elephants. So he would sit there and I would hear the damn thing grind away. But he was the kind of kid that wouldn’t do anything for 2 minutes that bored him, so I thought he must be doing something. So I asked.

    He looked at the keys. He looked at me. He looked back at the keys, he looked at me. Then he said,

    Fuck it Janet, you wouldn’t understand.

    I’m a decent statistician or I used to be so I wasn’t math illiterate. I spent years asking math friends of mine, What was he doing?

    Finally one of them laughed and said, He was fucing around with prime numbers if it kept grinding away like that.

    Oh, of course. Then I knew.

    I started on Packer’s penthouse. 3 floors, 27 rooms on each floor but all my numbers are somewhere upstairs somewhere right now. But it’s interesting.

    If you haven’t seen the movie BUCK, don’t miss it. He is the real Horse Whisperer that the book and the film were about. Marvelous. nitey nite. I hope.

  • Sorry my URL got messed up by me. I fixed it here.

    22 = 11 + 11.

    11 is 1 and 1

    DeLillo is fucking with us. He is flipping off all the number people who constantly quote stats, hold questionaires – who wears the dress best, her or her – crap. He is making fun. Fuck you buddies. the think in a box people who want everything to make logical sense that doesn’t.

  • Did you pick up the prousted? The cork-lined? Proust cork-lined his bedroom to sit there and lie in bed and write In Search of Lost Time. Eric is searching for lost time, going to the barbershop of his childhood. Meeting Death in Samarkand. Ending where he began (was conceived) the way the Chinese do. Back to your birth place, childhood place to die. Neat.

  • Oh, he’s completing the circle even though he is traveling East to West in a straight line. East is where the star of Bethlehem was in the sky. West is where the sun sets, dies. This is a tight book.

  • DeLillo is so fucking smart. And funny.

  • Betty b

    Blog posted 9/22 at 9:22 am .., wow what are the odds of that O.O

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  • Out of curiousity, does anyone have a hard copy of the book handy?? What is on page 22? Mine is on my Kobo so the page number changes with the size of the font….

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