D. T. Max on what the Harry Ransom Archives reveal about the American writer’s oeuvre
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Don DeLillo, White Noise
The DeLillo finding aid shows which folder contains which draft of which novel, but not whether the draft is different in important ways from a previous one. It records that DeLillo’s 1972 novel “End Zone” originally bore the title “The Self-Erasing Word,” but you have to open the proper folder and look at the title page to see that it also had been called “Modes of Disaster Technology.” (The phrase appears in the book.) Similarly, the finding aid tells you that DeLillo’s original title for “White Noise” (1985) was “Panasonic,” but you have to burrow into his correspondence from 1984 to discover how upset DeLillo was when the Japanese electronics manufacturer that owns Panasonic declined his request to use the name. “ ‘Panasonic’ as a title is crucial for a number of reasons,” DeLillo wrote to his then editor, Elisabeth Sifton. He went on, “The novel is filled with the sounds of people’s voices, with sirens, loudspeakers, bullhorns, kitchen appliances, with radio and TV transmissions, with references to beams, rays, sound waves, etc. . . . Jack, listening to people talk on the telephone and musing on his own death, thinks ‘all sounds, all souls.’ (Page 369.) Again the notion of pan-sonus connected to a fear of death. There is still another instance in which Greek roots are important. Jack associates the god Pan with his fear of death.” The archive also contains two pages of other titles that DeLillo concocted—from “All Souls” and “Ultrasonic” to “White Noise”—written in jumpy capital letters. [Read More]

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Saul Bellow
He’d work long hours, stopping only for a sandwich at lunch, now and again a five-minute yogic headstand against the bookcase, maybe tea in the afternoon. We know that stamina and persistence are essential ingredients of great art, don’t we? Saul was in fighting trim. That gorgeous prose, with its sinewy elegant hilarity and syncopated rhythmic intensity—you don’t think it was composed by a slob with poor muscle tone, do you? Still, there was plenty of time for unwinding and for talk. About everything under the sun—art, music, politics, cats and dogs, friends and enemies, and of course novels and novelists. He was scandalized I hadn’t yet read Frank Norris, or Kawabata, and followed up to make sure I remedied the lack. A magical teacher.

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