Christian Lorentzen (Vulture) asks if critics have judged DeLillo too harshly in light of his success

KERTESZ_1972_World_Trade_Center_800px-don-delilloHave we held Don DeLillo’s Underworld against him? Masterpieces of an epic scale are a tricky business, not least for the distorting effect they can have on the rest of a writer’s works. Tolstoy wrote two, but most mortals — Melville, George Eliot, Joyce — only get one. And while War and Peace and Anna Karenina cycle through screen adaptations, how many readers reach for a major minor work — a work of beauty but of limited scope — like The Kreutzer Sonata? The same question already applies to Zero K, DeLillo’s new novel. “In recent years,” James Wolcott wrote in his memoir Lucking Out, “DeLillo must ask himself the cosmic question, ‘Why go on?,’ his later novels greeted with a fish-face without a trace of affection for everything he’s done before, beating him up with his own achievements (Libra, Underworld) instead.”

“Have we held Don DeLillo’s Underworld against him? Masterpieces of an epic scale are a tricky business, not least for the distorting effect they can have on the rest of a writer’s works”

Underworld was a finalist for the 1997 Pulitzer and the National Book Award (which DeLillo had collected for White Noise in 1985; his acceptance speech then: “I’m sorry I couldn’t be here tonight, but I thank you all for coming”). Underworld lost both — the NBA to Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain; the Pulitzer to Philip Roth’s American Pastoral — but since his 1999 Jerusalem Prize he’s picked up most of the lifetime achievement awards not bestowed in Stockholm or London, and in 2006 Underworld placed second to Toni Morrison’s Beloved in a New York Times Book Review poll on the best American fiction of the past quarter century. If the poll were held today, Beloved, published in 1987, would have aged out of the running, and Underworld’s stiffest competition would be from novels written under DeLillo’s spell: David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest and Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. My vote is for the master. (more…)

Sam Jordison (The Guardian) on the American writer’s critique of late twentieth-century Western culture
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Don DeLillo
Don DeLillo is a writer in love with words. He’s often spoken about the almost physical pleasure he takes in putting black on white, in banging out syllables on his noisy old typewriter, of watching sentences take shape in front of him. He delights in the ebb and flow of language, in riding a lulling rhythm and also in disrupting that rhythm. The sudden shorter sentence. He also just seems to enjoy words for their own sake. Their quiddity; you get the impression that he revels in the fact that if he writes “shoe”, you’ll immediately think of the thing you wear on your foot. He loves to itemise, to catalogue, to amplify.

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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]

Some interesting parallels between the prophetic American writer and the AMC period drama

Anticipating the release of his 2010 novel, Point Omega, The Sunday Times interviewed Don DeLillo about his life and work, exploring some the American author’s ‘writing tics’, and making note of his contemporary relevance.

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The article mentions AMC’s period drama Mad Men (which aired from 2007 to 2015), and it’s easy to see why it shares key thematic links with DeLillo’s work. Set in a New York advertising firm in the early 1960s, the show explores the consumerist manufacture of American aspirations with a sharp and ironic detachment. It has skillfully addressed the Kennedy assassination in a media climate of Cold War anxiety, and includes a cast of characters struggling with personal neuroses and societal repression. (more…)

Nathaniel Rich (The Daily Beast) on the enduring appeal of DeLillo’s 1985 novel
How did the novel that Don DeLillo originally titled “Panasonic” become the phenomenon that was, and still is, White Noise? Canonized at birth by rhapsodic critics and instantly ubiquitous on college syllabi, the novel won the National Book Award and journalists hailed its publicity-shy author as a prophet.

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10 June 2015 • University of Sussex

“Writing also means trying to advance the art. Fiction hasn’t quite been filled in or done in or worked out. We make our small leaps.”Don DeLillo, 1982

Keynote Speaker: John Duvall (Purdue University)

This one-day conference will address the state of fiction in contemporary American culture by focusing on the extensive oeuvre of Don DeLillo, from the 1970s to the present day and beyond. Shortly after the publication of The Names, DeLillo commented that fiction had not yet been ‘filled in,’ ‘done in,’ or ‘worked out.’ How do we read this thirty years later, in the shadow of not only DeLillo’s major works but also the events that have characterised our move into the Twenty-First Century? How have DeLillo’s small leaps between the New York of Players (1977) and the New York of Falling Man (2007) ‘filled in’ fiction? Has DeLillo’s pervasive influence across contemporary American culture ‘done in’ postmodernism? Is the novel in the Twenty First Century already ‘worked out’? (more…)