Tag Archives: don delillo

DeLillo the Prophet

Interesting to see that as we approach the ten-year anniversary of 9/11, Don DeLillo is getting name-checked frequently in the commemorative articles. For instance, the New Statesman:

In Mao II, published in 1991, the American novelist Don DeLillo wrote, eccentrically as it was then thought, of how terrorists and bomb-makers had replaced writers and artists as the myth-makers of our age. Their work “involves mid-air explosions and crumbled buildings. This is the new tragic narrative,” DeLillo wrote. “Terror makes the new future possible.”

Certainly when Osama Bin Laden authorised the attacks of 11 September 2001, which were so patiently and meticulously planned, he knew that he and his suicidal operatives had the means to make the new future possible. What would that future hold for us all?

And here’s Michiko Kakutani, notably quoting DeLillo only to to refute him:

Ten years ago Don DeLillo wrote that the attacks of Sept. 11 would change “the way we think and act, moment to moment, week to week, for unknown weeks and months to come, and steely years.” The historian Taylor Branch spoke of a possible “turning point against a generation of cynicism for all of us,” and Roger Rosenblatt argued in Time magazine that “one good thing could come from this horror: it could spell the end of the age of irony.”

They were wrong, of course. We know now that the New Normal was very much like the Old Normal, at least in terms of the country’s arts and entertainment. Blockbuster video stores (yes, that’s how many of us watched movies back then) placed warnings on some films — “in light of the events of Sept. 11, please note that this product contains scenes that may be disturbing to some viewers” — but violent pictures continued to top most-rented lists. Despite rumors of their demise, black humor and satire, too, remained alive and well on “Saturday Night Live” and The Onion, which ran headlines like “Rest of Country Temporarily Feels Deep Affection for New York.”

Ten years later, it is even clearer that 9/11 has not provoked a seismic change in the arts. While there were shifts in the broader culture — like an increasingly toxic polarization in our politics, and an alarming impulse to privilege belief over facts — such developments have had less to do with 9/11 than with the ballooning of partisanship during the Bush and Obama administrations, and with unrelated forces like technology, which gave us the social media revolution of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and which magnified the forces of democratization, relativism and subjectivity.

A couple of observations here: insofar as DeLillo is quoted above, he’s absolutely right, and I don’t know why Kakutani thinks she can read it as a commentary on the arts.

The other two quotes work better as such, although I don’t see why everybody hates irony so much. What exactly would you replace it with? (One of the greatest minds of our time tried to answer that question and failed utterly.) And why is irony so bad? If you’ll recall, Wallace in his famous essay on irony, “E Unibus Pluram,” bemoaned it for being co-opted by corporate culture, not as a bad thing in and of itself (in fact, he praised it for being te best tool of rebellion in the 1960s).

And while I think that Kakutani is right that no single great work of art came out of 9/11 (the day itself) in the way that monumental books and movies were set during the Vietnam War, I think she’s absolutely wrong that literature of the era has not been written in the 10 years since. I also don’t know where in the world she gets the misguided notion that “9/11 did not really change daily life for much of the country,” seeing as it has been used to justify everything from war to torture to tax cuts to surveillance. Likewise, her notion of 9/11’s inability to shock is misguided–I still recall the sensation on that day that this was the one moment that we, as a nation, truly felt was an atrocity (and of course a million people quoted Baudrillard to that effect in the wake of the day):

Compelling as such works are, however, none were really game-changing. None possess the vaulting ambition of, say, Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam epic “Apocalypse Now,” or the sweep of Mr. DeLillo’s “Underworld,” which captured the entire cold war era. Instead, these 9/11 works feel like blips on the cultural landscape — they neither represent a new paradigm nor suggest that the attacks were a cultural watershed. Perhaps this is because 9/11 did not really change daily life for much of the country. Perhaps it’s because our A.D.D. nation — after the assassinations of J.F.K., R.F.K. and M.L.K. in the ’60s, and decades of violence on 24-hour news — has become increasingly inured to shock.

New DeLillo in November

Don DeLillo’s first ever collection of short stories, The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories, will be published by Scribner in November. The marketing copy tells us that they were originally published between 1979 and 2011.

Cosmopolis FIlm

That’s, apparently, the first still from David Cronenberg’s adaptation of Don DeLillo’s millennial novel, Cosmopolis.

More here.

Based on the novella of the same name by award-winning writer Don DeLillo, Pattinson plays Eric Packer, a 28-year-old multi-billionaire finance guru who drives around Manhattan in a high-tech, pimped out limo in order to get a haircut, with many interruptions along the way. Set within a 24-hour period, most of the novel takes place in his limousine and we assume the film will do the same. During his day, Packer loses millions of dollars for his clients by telling them to bet against the yen, and then is stalked by two men seemingly seeking revenge. Obsessed with sex, Packer spends the day cheating on his wife and trying to outwit the men that are after him. He’s got a pretty impressive cast surrounding him including Juliette Binoche, Paul Giamatti, Mathieu Amalric, Samantha Morton and Sarah Gadon, so the RPatz is gonna have to bring it to keep up with everyone around him.

Win a Bunch of DeLillo

Back in November I mentioned Picador’s super-awesome new covers for DeLillo’s classics. The books are publishing now, and to celebrate Picador is offering a chance to win all 10.

As Mr. T says, I pity the fool who doesn’t rush on over and satisfy the incredibly minimal requirements to enter the contest.

Against the Short Novel, Even When Don DeLillo Is the Author

Lately I’ve been pushing Cesar Aira on people, which means I’m having a lot of conversations these days about how Americans don’t respect short novels. They’re insubstantial. They offend our sense of value, always measured by the gross poundage we get per dollar. Let’s just go ahead and say it: they feel European, like one of those pathetic little smart cars.

Cesar Aira seems almost designed to refute these culturally wired reactions against the short novel. Yes, his novels can be read quickly, but they’re so intricately crafted and clever in their ambiguity that any good reader will be pulled back to look back through them again and again. Their value is in the fact that they resist interpretation: they will challenge you far more, keep you thinking longer, and ultimately entertain you better than many a long work. I think of them as the literary equivalent of a beautifully built box that sits on your desk. Yes, it’s a box, that’s all it is. It doesn’t really “do” anything. But it’s so finely crafted and cared over that you’ll find yourself staring at that box for ages, noticing detail after detail, and you’ll love putting stuff in it and watching how smartly the lid slips out just so as you open it, revealing a beautiful inlay. And then one day you will discover the world in it.

Which all brings me to Don DeLillo, who seems to have once again offended many critics by writing another wee, dense novel. Forget that Falling Man is the best post-9/11 novel that I’ve read, dwarfing in stature many swollen collections of pages devoid of the lasting thought and value that you will find therein. Falling Man can’t be that serious because it’s “only” 256 pages, and anyone knows you need at least 400 to do justice to 9/11. (And when did 256 pages become so short? Good thing we weren’t judging DeLillo by pagecount back in the Great Jones Street days.) So with the precedent of Falling Man behind us (to say nothing of Cosmopolis, 224 pages (!)) you can imaging how ripped-off critics felt with the 120-page Point Omega.Only 120 pages? How could DeLillo have possibly said anything of importance with just 120 pages?

John G. Rodwan, Jr has a good reply:

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Mathew Sharpe notices that critics of The Body Artist, Cosmopolis and Falling Man “seem to want DeLillo to be the Babe Ruth of novelist, to keep writing Underworld and Libra, those long, magisterial books about big events.” He correctly anticipated that such readers would not see Point Omega as “a literary home run.” Even though Sharpe is one of those people who reads novels as being only and ever “about” things, he discerns that Point Omega, even without Libra’s political assassination, White Noise’s airborne toxic event or Underworld’s cold war-era atomic anxiety, could still be “a splendid, fierce novel by a deep practitioner of the form.”

Readers who look to DeLillo as “a kind of secular prophet” (as Esquire’s Alsup describes him) seem to expect answers from him, but he prefers to ask questions. What causes people to surrender their individuality, to lose themselves in crowds or causes – or works of art? What convinces terrorists and dictators to disregard and destroy individuals in pursuit of their aims? How do artists retain and develop their individual identities, explore other people’s identities and persuade people that doing such things matters? Practitioners of both creative activity and political violence aim to make people looks at things in a certain way; what are the implications of this?

Indeed, DeLillo poses the kinds of questions that are worth asking, the ones that take a novel-worth of writing (even a short novel’s worth) to pose properly and that can’t be summed up with a nice little moral at the end. For some great responses to these questions, read Rodwan’s piece. For a lot of not-so-great responses to these questions, read most (though not all, it must be said) of the reviews he quotes.


The Surrender is Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning his lifelong desire to be a woman.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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