An early example of Don DeLillo’s enduring love of lists

Now that I’ve read a few DeLillo novels, I’m continuing my binge from the beginning. Right now I’m reading Americana, DeLillo’s first novel. I’ll talk more about it later, but I just can’t help posting this passage:

What we really want to do, he said, deep in the secret recesses of our heart, all of us, is to destroy the forests, white saltbox barns, colonial inns, riverboats, whaling villages, cider mills, waterwheels, antebellum mansions, log cabins, lovely old churches and snug little railroad depots. All of us secretly favor this destruction, even conservationists, even those embattled individuals who make a career out of picketing graceful and historic old buildings to protest their demolition. It’s what we are. Straight lines and right angles. We feel a private thrill, admit it, at the sight of beauty in flames. We wish to blast all the fine old things to oblivion and replace them with tasteless identical structures. Boxes of cancer cells. Neat gray chambers for medication and the reading of advertisements. Imagine the fantastic prairie motels we could build if only we could give in completely to the demons of our true nature; imagine the automobiles that might take us from motel to motel; imagine the monolithic fifty-story machines for disposing of the victims of automobile accidents without the bother of funerals and the waste of tombstones or sepulchres. Let the police run wild. Let the mad leaders of our nation destroy whomever they choose. That’s what they really want, Black Knife told me. We want to be totally engulfed by all the so-called worst elements of our national life and character. We want to wallow in the terrible gleaming mudcunt of Mother America…We want to come to terms with the false anger we so often display at the increasing signs of sterility and violence in our culture. Kill the old brownstones and ornate railroad terminals. Kill the rotten stinking smalltown courthouses. Blow up the Brooklyn Bridge. Blow up Nantucket. Blow up the Blue Ridge Parkway. We must realize we are living in Megamerica. Neon, fiber glass, Plexiglass, polyurethane, Mylar, Acrylite.

Doesn’t it sound like White Noise? DeLillo published this novel almost fifteen years before White Noise. It’s really funny that he has such an identifiable style even from the beginning. For comparison, here’s the very first paragraph of White Noise:

The station wagons arrived at noon, a long shining line that coursed through the west campus. In single file they eased around the orange I-beam sculpture and moved toward the dormitories. The roofs of the station wagons were loaded down with carefully secured suitcases full of light and heavy clothing; with boxes of blankets, boots and shoes, stationery and books, sheets, pillows, quilts; with rolled-up rugs and sleeping bags; with bicycles, skis, rucksacks, English and Western saddles, inflated rafts. As cars slowed to a crawl and stopped, students sprang out and raced to the rear doors to begin removing the objects inside; the stereo sets, radios, personal computers; small refrigerators and table ranges; the cartons of phonograph records and cassettes; the hairdryers and styling irons; the tennis rackets, soccer balls, hockey and lacrosse sticks, bows and arrows, the controlled substances, the birth control pills and devices; the junk food still in shopping bags–onion-and-garlic chips, nacho thins, peanut creme patties, Waffelos and Kabooms, fruit chews and toffee popcorn; the Dum-Dum pops, the Mystic mints.

DeLillo loves him some lists. They are, of course, about different things, and the second is more of a list in the strictest sense of the word. Something about them rolls off the tongue when spoken aloud like a super-postmodern poem of sorts. I think I could probably get a whole dissertation out of these things: they’re everywhere!

Author: lindsay

I'm 34, and I'm in northwest Louisiana. I work in a library, am married, and have two cats and quite possibly the cutest black lab ever. I am also a staunch believer in the Oxford comma. I like to read books, cook, and occasionally play one of the various Zelda incarnations.

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