“A writer takes earnest measures to secure his solitude and then finds endless ways to squander it.”
– Don DeLillo, The Art of Fiction, The Paris Review No. 135
The following is a discussion of the world and effects of the works of Don DeLillo. The books focused on are chosen more by my emotional state than by pragmatism, however all of his works will make an appearance at some point. The assertion here is both personal and universal, stating that Don DeLillo changed my life, and gave new breath and scope to the world of literature.
Don DeLillo began writing later than many the American prodigy to change the movement of our country’s letters. His first novel, Americana (published when he was roughly 35 years old)—a winding tale of one man’s devolving lunacy reflecting a life of advertising, television, and travel—to hear him tell it, came from a quick sight of a man standing on a road staring off at nothing, that brief vision was enough to carry him through the beginnings of his first novel and, in light of that, the early stages of what has been one of the more tumultuous careers in history.
When the idea came to me to write about Don DeLillo for HTMLGiant, it was first slated to be an exploration of his novels Great Jones Street and, ideally, White Noise—comparing something less-discussed to something hailed as one of the masterpieces of the latter half of the 20th century; what fueled this? What brought about this response? Etc. etc. etc. ad infinitum. However, I found myself unable to hold back certain instincts as I began to reflect over his impact on me and this world as a whole, and in spite of myself began falling deeper and deeper into a DeLilloan stupor with every interview, novel, and anecdote explored. I found the intricacies of his books that I’d call my favorite proved far less ambiguous than I’d thought and that–say, with the discussion of contemporary (in 1985-ish) universities in White Noise–his work was sewn deeper into me than I’d realized.
There was, I think, initially an aversion to his writing due to the fact that the only copy of DeLillo’s work we had in my house growing up was a very daunting paperback of Underworld (interestingly, I was only completely drawn back to it when attempting an essay on the Spaldeen, a little Hi-Bounce Ball made by Spalding that I’ve become quite obsessed with that DeLillo notes in the novel, as they were the primary ball used in stick ball games in New York City in the heyday). I remember picking it up one day after reading Bret Easton Ellis considered him a great influence and finding myself lost beyond salvation. The words didn’t exactly register and when they did they seemed strange, infused with a level of what I’d now call reified Americanism that wasn’t apparent in anything I’d been reading at the time (Ellis, Fante, Kesey, et al, authors of fiction that seemed to be right there, which I found in DeLillo only after reaching the necessary level of paranoia to understand the first book of his I read and loved, Mao II) and in spite of a burning curiosity, I tucked the paperback where I’d picked it up on the shelf to remain for several years until I found those radiant little pink Spaldeens in a hardware store in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
October 26th, 2012 / 12:00 pm
You ever have one of those books you just can’t seem to hold onto? For me, Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis is one of them. I’ve bought it several times over now–always in hardback, at the severely discounted price of $5, and always from The Strand–most recently yesterday. And I swear this is the last @#&$%-ing time. What happened to my other copies? I feel like one got left behind in a move. Maybe one is at my friend Amanda’s house in Portland, Ore, or else in storage in Nashville, TN where my parents put my shit when they got divorced and sold their house a couple years ago (unless the Nashville and Portland copies are *different* copies, which is also possible). Basically, by this point I’ve sunk enough money into cheap used Cosmopolises that I could have bought one at regular sticker price, which if I had done I probably would have actually taken care of. The funny thing is that it’s not like Cosmopolis is the greatest book ever, or anything. I’m a big DeLillo fan, to be sure, and I think it’s got a lot to be said for it, but it’s certainly not Underworld or The Names. It’s a short novel, and like all his work incredibly beautiful. It’s about a multi-multi-billionaire taking his limo across town to get a haircut. It’s a poem, really, a sort of elegy-in-advance for technologies that are obsolete before they’re even fully emergent (it’s set in the year 2000), and how money makes a man vast until he is no longer a man at all anymore, but something enormous and organic, powerful in ways the self cannot account for or comprehend. Imagine if the ocean tried to know itself, or a nebula did. I’ve always thought of the book as a sort of working-through of Marx’s proposition that “all that which is solid melts into air.” Maybe you’re getting a sense of why–even though it’s a relatively “minor” work–I keep finding myself drawn back to it. I wake up one day thinking, “Man I’d really like to take another look at Cosmopolis” and I reach for it and then it isn’t there. I’d say I’ve been feeling this way for about a month now, but especially since I read Nick Paumgarten’s “The Death of Kings” in The New Yorker a week or two ago. So, here I am, a humbled but determined owner–yet again–of Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo. I swear I’m going to take care of if this time, to hold it close.