Last week it was the third three episodes of the current season of Doctor Who, with a planet called America and the moon landing and Richard Nixon and aliens you completely forget about once you turn your back and then pirates and alien medical Sirens and this week it’s dead spaceship graveyards and the creepy disembodied voice of Michael Sheen and a mad woman who’s bigger on the inside and who might just be “The Doctor’s Wife” and also the guy who brought you The Sandman is writing the words…
“Writing is a form of personal freedom. It frees us from the mass identity we see in the making all around us. In the end, writers will write not to be outlaw heroes of some underculture but mainly to save themselves, to survive as individuals.”
And, yeah, I mentioned it last week, but I have to say again how excited I am about a new Don Delillo coming out this year – next month, in fact – entitled Point Omega. It’s a short novel, but one that sounds classically Delillo, and here’s a plot description for you:
In the middle of a desert “somewhere south of nowhere,” to a forlorn house made of metal and clapboard, a secret war advisor has gone in search of space and time. Richard Elster, seventy-three, was a scholar – an outsider – when he was called to a meeting with government war planners. They asked Elster to conceptualize their efforts – to form an intellectual framework for their troop deployments, counterinsurgency, orders for rendition. For two years he read their classified documents and attended secret meetings. He was to map the reality these men were trying to create “Bulk and swagger,” he called it. At the end of his service, Elster retreats to the desert, where he is joined by a filmmaker intent on documenting his experience. Jim Finley wants to make a one-take film, Elster its single character – “Just a man against a wall.” The two men sit on the deck, drinking and talking. Finley makes the case for his film. Weeks go by. And then Elster’s daughter Jessie visits – an “otherworldly” woman from New York – who dramatically alters the dynamic of the story. When a devastating event follows, all the men’s talk, the accumulated meaning of conversation and connection, is thrown into question. What is left is loss, fierce and incomprehensible.
It’s kind of funny now how relevant Delillo has stayed over the years, but how he’s become more relevant as events began to mirror things he’s been talking about for decades. He’s essentially been writing 9/11 novels for thirty years and talking about the race between terrorists and novelists and those who try to make sense of things, either by persuasion or by force. He’s been trying to blend in a post-apocalyptic world into the one we already live and exist in, and it would appear to be a frighteningly easy and seamless fit at times.
And like Pynchon, he’s certainly been mapping the increasing ubiquitous paranoia that has become part of our American DNA. “It was as though Hemingway died one day and Pynchon was born the next,” he’s said about the contributions of both men to the changing nature of fiction, “from pure realism to something more cosmic.”
And I think it’s fascinating that he used to work in advertising when he was younger, back when it was primarily print work and hadn’t quite jumped into the medium of television yet. The difference between the advertising industry and writing fiction? At least one is honest about what it’s doing and selling you. Most, including his friends, assumed he left the business to begin writing, but he says: “Actually, I quit my job so I could go to the movies on weekday afternoons.”
Delillo has been called, along with Cynthia Ozick, one of the English languages’ two greatest writers by David Foster Wallace, and that’s fitting here since DFW’s great big 12 years in the making novel, The Pale King, is finally coming out (although not til next year, sadly) in it’s unfinished but edited form. The book deals with a group of IRS workers and the monotony and “intense tediousness” they encounter in their jobs, and also employs a little of the good old classic meta post-modern.
Here is an interesting look at DFW’s career, his final years, and his work on The Pale King.
And four excerpts from the novel have already been published in US magazines:
And again, the new Delillo short story, “Midnight In Dostoevsky,” unrelated to the new novel.
And “Still Life,” an excerpt from his previous novel, Falling Man.
Who knows, “The Year We Make Contact” could very well become the year of many happy returns. Hell, one writer is even making contact with us again from beyond the grave. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? How’s your writing going?
So I’ve told you that my favorite author is Amy Hempel, right? Let me share with you what is possibly my second favorite author (though it’s a tight knit cluster towards the top of great literature, the post modernist), Don Delillo.
I’ll make this simple and easy…
Name: Don Delillo.
Born: November 20, 1936 in New York.
Died: Thankfully not yet. He’s 72.
Best known novel: Either White Noise or Underworld.
Last published novel: Falling Man, about a survivor of 9/11. The title, of course, is based on this classic image:
Which is entitled “The Falling Man” and was taken by Richard Drew at 9:41 AM on September 11, 2001.
Next novel: Omega Point is the title, which is… so very intriguing. It’ll be his 15th novel. It’s scheduled for release in February, 2010, which is too far away.
Plot description: “A young filmmaker visits the desert home of a secret war adviser in the hopes of making a documentary. The situation is complicated by the arrival of the older man’s daughter, and the narrative takes a dark turn.”
Things that primarily inspire him: “Abstract expressionism, foreign films, and jazz.” Also, the things we do to history. And the things that history does to us in return.
Themes he likes/keeps returning to in his work: rampant consumerism, novelty intellectualism, underground conspiracies, the disintegration and re-integration of the family, and the promise of rebirth through violence (from wikipedia, but wikipedia is right). Also, mass media pollution, the collision and interchangeability of words and images, and the draining of meaning and context from an event as our lives are filled up with more and more simulacra.
His place in the world: Harold Bloom has named him as one of the four major novelists of his time, the other three being Cormac McCarthy, Thomas Pynchon, and Phillip Roth.
His humble beginnings: The world of advertising. He wrote image ads for Sears Roebuck amongst others but eventually quit to start his writing career, including his first novel.
About the start of his writing career, he said: “I did some short stories at that time, but very infrequently. I quit my job just to quit. I didn’t quit my job to write fiction. I just didn’t want to work anymore.”
Forays into film: Only one screenplay so far, for a film entitled Game 6, about the 1986 World Series. The script was written in the 90s, but the film (I don’t know when it was actually produced) came out in 2006, and stars Michael Keaton (who would later go on to do a shitty looking thriller entitled White Noise that has nothing to do with the Delillo book), Griffin Dunne, and Robert Downey, jr. and has a score by Yo La Tengo. The story is classic Delillo.
Theatre: He’s written four plays, two of which, The Day Room and Valparaiso, I’m happy to say I own and have read. The other two, Love-Lies-Bleeding and The Word For Snow, I have not yet.
Just a few of his awards: The National Book Award (for White Noise) and the Jerusalem Prize, which is given to writers who deal with the themes of human freedom, society, politics, and government. And he also won the 2009 Common Wealth Award for Literature.
The first line of Underworld: “He speaks in your voice, American, and there’s a shine in his eye that’s halfway hopeful.” The opening prologue of the book was also released as it’s own novella, with the separate title, Pafko At The Wall.
Some real talk from White Noise: “All plots move deathwards.”
Musical name checks: Conor Oberst/Bright Eyes, Rhett Miller, Luna, and a band called Too Much Joy. Also, the band called The Airborne Toxic Event got their band name from White Noise.
The first line of Great Jones Street: “Fame requires every kind of excess.”
Don Delillo, as depicted by Brian Wood. From here.
One of my favorite quotes from his books #1: “I don’t want your candor. I want your soul in a silver thimble.”
Fictionalized version of him: blogs for The Onion covering last year’s election.
His three favorite things: “Silence, exile, and cunning. And so on.” Also, paraphrasing James Joyce.
The criticism: There’s been a lot. While there can be no argument that Delillo is a smarter author than a large majority out there, many would say that his books tend towards being over stylized and perhaps a bit intellectually shallow. I think that argument is fair in certain cases.
More criticism: George Will described Delillo’s Libra, which is a study of Lee Harvey Oswald, as “sandbox existentialism,” and then added that the book is an act of “literary vandalism and bad citizenship.”
Delillo’s response to Will: “I don’t take it seriously, but being called a ‘bad citizen’ is a compliment to a novelist, at least to my mind. That’s exactly what we ought to do. We ought to be bad citizens. We ought to, in the sense that we’re writing against what power represents, and often what government represents, and what the corporation dictates, and what consumer consciousness has come to mean. In that sense, if we’re bad citizen, we’re doing our job.”
One of my favorite quotes from his books #2: “History is the sum total of the things they aren’t telling us.” So true.
One of my favorite passages from his books: “I went out on the terrace. Automobiles were moving across Central Park, ticking red taillights trailing each other north and west and toward the darkness and the river, headlights coming this way, soft orange, the whistling doormen. The park’s lamplights were dull cold steady silver. I was wasting my life.” From Americana, his first novel.
What he’s said about his first novel: “It’s no accident that my first novel was called Americana. This was a private declaration of independence, a statement of my intention to use the whole picture, the whole culture. America was and is the immigrant’s dream, and as the son of two immigrants I was attracted by the sense of possibility that had drawn my grandparents and parents.”
The above quote was from an interview that was referenced on a great site about the author: Don Delillo’s America. It’s a really good resource about the author.
One last thing, how is “Delillo pronounced?” Like this: Duh Lih Lo.
One last great quote from Don Delillo: “Years ago I use to think it was possible for novelist to alter the inner life of the culture. Now bomb-makers and gunmen have taken that territory. They make raids on humn consciousness. What writers used to do before we were all incorporated.”