DeLillo Binge, part 5 (or 7)

DeLillo Binge, part 5 (or 7)

And my DeLillo Binge continues. The 7 in the title takes into account White Noise and The Body Artist, a couple of DeLillo’s books that I’d already read. I’ll probably reread White Noise when I get down to it, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t like The Body Artist since I remember nothing about it. Maybe that means I should read it again.

This time it’s Americana, DeLillo’s first novel. After Libra, I kind of shifted into an I-want-to-study-DeLillo mode, so I figured it was best to start at the beginning. So here I am. I really liked Americana. DeLillo’s style didn’t change between this one and, say, White Noise, like I’d assume it would: my last post included lists (he loves his lists!) from both novels that had lots in common. I can, though, see marked differences between Americana and Point Omega. But I’ll talk about that later. For now, here’s another list in Americana that definitely brings White Noise to mind:

I visualized my apartment then, empty and dark and quiet, furniture from John Widdicomb, suits from F.R. Tripler and J. Press, art books from Rizzoli, rugs from W&J Sloane, fireplace accessories from Wm. H. Jackson, cutlery from Bonniers, crystal by Steuben, shoes by Banister, gin by House of Lords, shirts by Gant and Hathaway, component stereo system by Garrard, Stanton and Fisher, ties by Countess Mara, towels by Fieldcrest, an odd and end from Takashimaya. (353)

The narrator, David Bell, says all this as he’s hitchhiking along the edge of the desert, having left his apartment, his job, and all this stuff behind in New York City. DeLillo addresses consumerism in some form in all his novels.

Speaking of consumerism and other Postmodern issues, I’ve begun studying DeLillo in earnest. I’m even seriously considering changing my entire thesis from Shakespeare (i’m totally burnt out on him) to DeLillo. So I figured it’d be good if I learn something about Postmodernism since I only had vague ideas about it. I ordered Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge and The Routledge Companion to Postmodernism, and, in the meantime, I discovered that I owned Butler’s A Very Short Introduction to Postmodernism, which I read while I was waiting for Amazon to send the first two. Once I started to get a better idea about what Postmodernism really is, the types passages I found myself marking in Americana changed: they went from “I like this passage” to “Oh! I can probably use this in a paper!” You can see from this photo about where it hit me:

DeLillo is ridiculously postmodern. Ridiculously. Here’s another list that directly addresses consumerism. It’s a dialogue between David and another character, Glenn Yost:

“We begin, simply enough, with a man watching television. Quite possibly he is being driven mad, slowly, in stages, program by program, interruption by interruption. Still, he watches. What is there in that box? Why is he watching?”

“The TV set is a package and it’s full of products. Inside are detergents, automobiles, cameras, breakfast cereal, other television sets. Programs are not interrupted by commercials; exactly the reverse is true. A television set is an electronic form of packaging. It’s a simple as that. Without the products there’s nothing. Educational television’s a joke. Who in America would want to watch TV without commercials?”

“How does a successful television commercial affect the viewer?”

“It makes him want to change the way he lives.”

“In what way? I said.

“It moves him from first person consciousness to third person. In this country there is a universal third person, the man we all want to be. Advertising has discovered this man. It uses him to express the possibilities open to the consumer. To consume in America is not to buy; it is to dream. Advertising is the suggestion that the dream of entering the third person singular might possibly be fulfilled.” (270)

So maybe I should talk about consumerism, but that’s another post. This one is getting too long already. Here’s one more quote (then I’ll stop!). At one point, David is filming a sort of autobiography, and he films an actor who is playing him (David). This section not only involves consumerism but what I’m pretty sure is self-conscious reflexivity, which I really don’t understand but am better able to identify now. This dialogue is scripted, and they’ve just begun filming.

I sighted on Austin against the wall and then started shooting, my voice a cheerful machine designed for the interrogation of the confused and the dislocated.

“Marital status.”






“What do you think of the war?” I said. [The novel is set in the 1960s.]

“I’ve seen it on television. It’s sponsored by instant coffee among other things. The commercials are very tasteful in keeping with the serious theme of the program’s content. Some of the commercials are racially integrated. Since I worked for seven years as an employee of the network responsible for the warcasts, I am in a position to point out that the network and the agency joined forces in order to convince the sponsor that integrated commercials were desirable. Their argument was that the war itself is integrated. Balanced programming has always been one of the network’s chief aims.” (283-284)

The interview continues, and has Austin address the camera rather than himself: “Can you tell the camera why you didn’t have children?” and later, “The camera dislikes evasiveness,” and so on.

I’ll stop talking now.

Up next is End Zone, DeLillo’s second novel, which is about football. I’m slowing down because it’s the end of the semester (papers!), and I’ve added all those books about Postmodernism to the list.

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  • You know, DeLillo is just one of a bunch of other writers who used to work in advertising. Though now that I’ve said that, the only other one I can remember is James Dickey, who worked for Coca-Cola for a number of years.

  • The fact that DeLillo worked in advertising kind of explains his obsession with consumerism. I figured he’d been reading postmodern philosophers, but they weren’t writing yet, for the most part anyway, when DeLillo wrote his first few novels. Baudrillard, who has probably written the most on consumerism (though I haven’t read much of anything) had written a few books, but I don’t think he was well-known yet.

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Indices, etc, coming soon!