Category: DeLillo (page 1 of 2)

2014 Book #53: White Noise

whitenoisecomicI didn’t read White Noise because I wanted to. Not this time, anyway. I read it again because I wanted to give Don DeLillo a chance to redeem himself before I stashed him firmly in the Junk Pile. Okay, there’s nothing about DeLillo’s books that deserves to be there except that they’re all kind of the same book, written over and over.

The thesis ruined me.

I wrote a post a few years ago (which I haven’t reread…yet) about how White Noise changed my life when I was 14. I really liked it the first time around – as I did the second, when I read it for a class in grad school. I took a Modernism/Postmodernism class just because that book was on the syllabus.

And White Noise is a spectacular book. A Great Book, in fact. Almost everyone agrees that it’s DeLillo’s best novel (though there are some dissenters who claim that Underworld is. I can’t get through it.). White Noise is one of the few that doesn’t follow his usual plot-line involving running away from the media.

Except here, not just one character, but everyone is running away from death. This novel is about the fear of death and what people do either to overcome it or to distract themselves from it.

Jack Gladney is a professor of Hitler Studies in a small college in a small town. He lives with his fifth(?) wife and a mixture of children, both his and hers. Everyone talks about death. It fits snugly into every single conversation. But I’ll get to that in a minute. When I first read this novel, I thought it was about the Airborne Toxic Event that happens around the 1/3 mark. I thought the bulk of the novel was about that. I even forgot that anything happened after they stayed in the Red Cross shelter. That’s not even halfway into the book. There’s more talk about death and some death-fear-avoidance activities, carried about by various characters in different and increasingly extreme ways. Because DeLillo likes the extreme, and any worthwhile action must be an extreme action. I won’t spoil the fun except to say that it’s probably not what you’d expect, even from DeLillo. (I shouldn’t say that. There’s the Superdrug business in Great Jones Street, to name only one random plot point.)

really didn’t want to take notes while I was reading this novel. It’s just that it reeks of DeLillo (“Once you’ve seen the signs about the barn, it’s impossible to see the barn.”), and there’s the thesis in its final stages, and I somehow can’t disconnect the fiction I don’t have to write about from that which I do. Which is why I’m not refreshing my Goodreads rating: I can’t be objective, so I’ll let the five-star review stand because White Noise is a great novel. I’m just kind of done with DeLillo.

One thing that I don’t like about it is that it’s so minutely planned. There’s a conversation about death around the three-quarters mark that is just too long. It’s like DeLillo had a lot to say and couldn’t stop without saying every single little bit of it even though the novel would be better if half of it had been cut. Every bit of his plan had to be implemented.

That said, doesn’t it have something to do with Great Novels? The best novel I read last year was Stoner. This year, I read Butcher’s Crossing, which is quite possibly the best (though not my favorite). Both are by John Williams, though I somehow didn’t make that connection at the time. Both are intricately planned and structured. Every little bit of the novel fits in perfectly. That’s why they’re so good. Part of Greatness has to be planning and execution of said plans, and that’s a huge point in White Noise‘s favor – if this review was objective. But it’s not because I can’t separate myself from my earlier reactions to this novel and my more recent reactions to other DeLillo novels based on that stupid thesis. There’s too much of a history.

So here is one huge stylistic issue I noticed for the first time: All of the characters sound the same – even the children. Here are two examples from close to the end of the novel (as I didn’t break down and let myself take notes any earlier).

A conversation between Jack and his current wife:

“I don’t mind running clothes as such,” I said. “A sweatsuit is a practical thing to wear at times. But I wish you wouldn’t wear it when you read bedtime stories to Wilder or braid Steffie’s hair. There’s something touching about such moments that is jeopardized by running clothes.”

“Maybe I’m wearing running clothes for a reason.” “Like what?”

“I’m going running,” she said. “Is that a good idea? At night?”
“What is night? It happens seven times a week. Where is the uniqueness in this?” “It’s dark, it’s wet.”

“Do we live in a blinding desert glare? What is wet? We live with wet.”

“Babette doesn’t speak like this.”

“Does life have to stop because our half of the earth is dark? Is there something about the night that physically resists a runner? I need to pant and gasp. What is dark? It’s just another name for light.”

“No one will convince me that the person I know as Babette actually wants to run up the stadium steps at ten o’clock at night.”

“It’s not what I want, it’s what I need. My life is no longer in the realm of want. I do what I have to do. I pant, I gasp. Every runner understands the need for this.

And a conversation between Jack and Willie Mink:

“By coming in here, you agree to a certain behavior,” Mink said.

“What behavior?”

“Room behavior. The point of rooms is that they’re inside. No one should go into a room unless he understands this. People behave one way in rooms, another way in streets, parks and airports. To enter a room is to agree to a certain kind of behavior. It follows that this would be the kind of behavior that takes place in rooms. This is the standard, as opposed to parking lots and beaches. It is the point of rooms. No one should enter a room not knowing the point. There is an unwritten agreement between the person who enters a room and the person whose room had been entered, as opposed to open-air theaters, outdoor pools. The purpose of a room derives from the special nature of a room. A room is inside. This is what people in rooms have to agree on, as differentiated from lawns, meadows, fields, orchards.”

Maybe these aren’t the absolute best examples, but do you see what I mean? It’s the terse sentences, the cadences. They all sound the same. It’s especially noticeable in that too-long conversation I complained about earlier.

All of that said, no matter what unnecessary text made it into the middle, the beginning and ending of White Noise are excellent, and those parts, alone, make this novel worth reading. You reach the climax and the conversation with the nun, and you’ll see what I mean. White Noise is always worth reading, over and over again. This time, as reluctant as I was to stop my pleasure-reading cruise, I’m glad I picked it up again, and I’m sure that, five or ten years down the line, I’ll say the same thing. White Noise really is a Great Novel, and it makes me feel just a little bit better about slogging my way through DeLillo’s lesser works.

2014 Book #34: The Cleanest Race – and a couple additions to the Fail Pile

cleanestraceNorth Korea fascinates me. The culture is so vastly different than my own, and it’s so secretive, that I’m intrigued. I saw The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters on Oyster, and it sounded really interesting. I’d just finished Butcher’s Crossing and had no idea where to go next, so I thought a little nonfiction might be in order.

The Cleanest Race is a succinct look into North Korean culture and how it functions. Evidently, what we see from the outside is entirely different from what the North Koreans, themselves, see. Palmer suggested that they’re living in constant fear of being arrested and tortured for what amount to thought-crimes, but, according to B.R. Myers, that’s not the case. North Koreans see themselves as a pure and innocent race that needs protection from the outside because of said innocent nature. Everyone else wants to break in and ruin them, and the Dear Leader’s aim is to protect his people from these dangerous outside influences. North Korea’s domestic policy is entirely different than it pretends to be in the international community: Myers claims, “Where [North Korea] presents itself to the outside world as a misunderstood country seeking integration into the international community, it presents itself to its own citizens…as a rogue state that breaks agreements with impunity, dictates conditions to groveling U.N. officials, and keeps its enemies in constant fear of ballistic retribution.” He says that within the country, residents hear “news” through carefully controlled propaganda that represents a truer version of official views than international versions. One of the most important ideas for keeping North Koreans compliant is the story that South Korea is basically held captive by America and would join the North in a heartbeat if given the chance. What is “most dangerous to the regime,” Myers states, “is the inevitable spread of public awareness that for all their anti-Americanism, the South Koreans are happy with their own republic and do not want to live under Pyongyang’s rule.” Which is all a problem with the constant influx of smuggled South Korean data appearing in the north.

So what that means is that the North Koreans, themselves, are probably more content than we think they are, but that’s because of the careful filtering of information by the government. In the book, Myers gives a very brief (too brief, really) overview of the basics of North Korean history from Japanese colonization until just before Kim Jong Un took over, as it was published in 2009. He follows with an examination of North Korean internal propaganda and explains how that is a better representation of what the North Koreans think of themselves than what international stories have told us.

The Cleanest Race is a reasonably good book about a fascinating subject. I’d recommend it for someone with a decent background in the history part because I spent some time googling as I read. (That Asian history class I took in college didn’t quite cut it.) Myers is a professor in South Korea and teaches students there about their northern neighbors, and what he says makes sense, so I think he knows what he’s talking about. You can’t always trust nonfiction, of course, especially when it’s about super-secretive Eastern countries with entirely different cultures that misrepresent themselves to the rest of the world.

I’ve been having a hard time choosing what to read – I called it a book rut, and I got some great suggestions from Facebook. Before any of that, though, I made an attempt at yet another DeLillo novel, Running Dog, and stopped halfway through even though it’s short. It’s about double-crossing art buyers trying to get their hands on Nazi porn filmed in the bunker where Hitler died. It’s about how non-moving pornographic art isn’t enough anymore, and they must move to the next extreme, video. The Nazi part just makes it even more extreme because DeLillo is all about new extremes in media. It’s the old shtick, just like every other DeLillo novel, and generally not any good. Here’s a representative quote: “It’s the presence alone, the very fact, the superabundance of technology, that makes us feel we’re committing crimes. Just the fact that these things exist at this widespread level. The processing machines, the scanners, the sorters. That’s enough to make us feel like criminals.” In the dialogue. Come on, DeLillo. Running Dog wasn’t worth my time, so onto the Fail Pile it went.

Next up was Still Alice, by Lisa Genova, one of the Facebook recommendations. It started off well enough. Alice is a 50-year-old professor at Harvard, and she has a husband and grown kids, and such. One day, she’s giving a well-practiced lecture and can’t come up with the word “lexicon” to save her life. Then she starts forgetting other things, like basic tasks, moving onto bigger things, like a flight to Chicago for a conference. The farther I got in, the more I got worried that this was just a list of Alzheimer’s symptoms, and Still Alice is just a novel about the slow steps into Alzheimer’s. I hadn’t, of course, read the blurb, though I’d heard good things about it. So I read the blurb, and yes, Still Alice is about a woman with early-onset Alzheimer’s. So I immediately stopped reading and moved on. It’s not that this is even a bad novel. I just hate books like this. They’re always sappy and preachy and sentimental, and I don’t like any of those things. (Note again: This is my personal list of dislikes and not objective.) I also saw that this is a self-published novel by a neurologist who specializes in stuff like that, and I couldn’t help but scoff. Though, again, it’s not written badly, it sounds like something straight out of a creative writing class, formula and all. It bleeds formula. So. That’s the end for Alice. I’ve moved on to The Flamethrowers, which is more my speed.

In Puppy News, Zelda is 3 months old! She’s growing so quickly that I’m beginning to wonder if we have a Clifford on our hands.

Zelda also had an adventure with an identical puppy on the other side of a floor-length closet mirror at Nunpoo’s!

We went for a visit to celebrate Nunpoo’s 88th birthday. Happy birthday, Nunpoo!

A Really Long Post about Don DeLillo, which mentions 2014 Books #16 and 17: Mao II and Point Omega

The more I read (and reread) Don DeLillo‘s work, the more convinced I become that, in his lifetime, he has come up with one plot idea. That’s one reason I’m lumping these two books together. I’ve read both of them before: Point Omega twice, now, and Mao II four times. (Yes, four. And it’s not even DeLillo’s best novel.) They’re basically the same story, just at different parts on the continuum.


Talking about the general subject of my thesis was not the plan, but here’s how DeLillo seems to work. I’ve summed it up at least once on this blog, but I’ll expand more because I’ve discovered that they aren’t all exactly the same story, just a bunch a of stories that follow the same plot. Which is essentially the same story.

Keep in mind that I’m writing this post off the top of my head and without any of these books in front of me.

It started with Americana. A young man in advertising decides that he wants out of the visual consumer culture in which he has been immersed since childhood, so he takes a road trip across the country to escape it. Some interesting things happen, and he ends up back in New York, probably doing the same thing. He hasn’t changed much, just realized that he can’t escape media culture.

End Zone, DeLillo’s second novel, only occupies a vague back corner of my head, but an up-and-coming college football player continually flunks out (or gets in trouble or something) and ends up at a small college in the desert (along with motel rooms, DeLillo’s favorite place). He escapes the limelight, but I don’t really remember what happens after that. I’m sure he returns to it.

Then there’s Great Jones Street, considered by many DeLillo’s worst novel, but one of my favorites. Bucky Wunderlick, a 25-year-old but old and strung out musician gets tired of being spun on the media-driven market like the records he produces, so he holes up in a hotel, hiding from the world. He accidentally gets mixed up in what basically amounts to a mob war, in which he keeps a superdrug in his hotel room, then ends up being forced to take it himself. It takes away any language in his head, but eventually everything comes back. He returns to media-saturated culture.

Then there’s a string I haven’t read, including Ratner’s Star, about science, which I think I should have liked but that I couldn’t finish…but I digress.

There’s The Names, which I didn’t like, but it’s about the power of language. Someone escapes ye olde media-saturated culture and ends up in Greece, where there’s a language cult. Things go badly. I remember about as much about The Names as I do End Zone, so I’ll stop there.

Then there’s White Noise, arguably DeLillo’s best novel, about a professor at a small college on the run from an Airborne Toxic Event caused by a train derailment. He and his family evacuate and then return, and they’re affected by the media response to the event. There are gas cloud drills, and such. The sunsets in his town are amazing and beautiful because of what they’ve done to the environment: which essentially means that it’s artificial and not authentic, another of DeLillo’s favorite themes. And the lists! White Noise contains some of DeLillo’s best lists. You can read examples from White Noise and Americana in this very early blog post. That’s only grazing the surface of White Noise. If you haven’t read it, get a copy.

Next is Libra, about Lee Harvey Oswald killing JFK and the conspiracy surrounding it, commercialized and commodified by guess what? media-saturated culture. Are you seeing the trend? Media drives him crazy.

MaoII.lg.img_assist_customAnd good ol’ Mao II, which I’m pretty sure I’ve read more than any other novel ever, about a writer who is tired of being commodified by the media, so he goes into seclusion for a couple of decades before he starts to feel trapped and wants to put himself out there again. In his case, his efforts are too little too late, and he ends up dead on a ferry between Cyprus and war-torn Beirut. That’s the third book in the thesis.

I’ve only gotten through about a quarter of Underworld (I’ve tried twice and just can’t do it), another contender for DeLillo’s Best Book. It involves the desert, at least.

I really disliked The Body Artist and have apparently repressed any memory of it, but I’m sure it’s the same thing. I just broke down and ordered a copy, though I was sure I owned it.

Then, there’s Cosmopolis. You might have seen the recent movie starring That Sparkly Kid from the Twilight Movies. I didn’t, and I have exactly zero interest. I didn’t even like the novel. But it follows the trend! Here’s how I summed up Cosmopolis in a previous blog post: “A guy (always a guy: DeLillo writes Man Novels) experiences some sort of postmodern angst related in some way to the media. He runs away from his life or otherwise destroys it. Sometimes he attempts to return and is unsuccessful in reintegrating himself.” Another one I’ve repressed, but it’s about a young man in New York who goes crazy because of media-driven culture and rides around in a limousine (not even to the desert!) for a while, and then things go south quickly.

Next (I’m almost done!) is Falling Man, about how a man reacts to the media’s reaction to 9/11. Same thing again.

Point OmegaFinally, there’s Point Omega, which I just reread. Here’s where the continuum idea comes in: In Americana dude goes on a road trip and ends up in the desert, then back because he gives up. Mao II picks up at the attempted reintegration into consumer society, and the writer in that book fails miserably. In Point Omega, the protagonist was fairly good at reintegration – he was a professor, went out to the desert, came back, and worked for the government for a while. He ended up back in the desert, but not dead – yet. This time, he isn’t hiding: he has a cell phone and has allowed a filmmaker to make a documentary about him (yes, totally reminiscent of Americana and Brita’s photo shoot in Mao II). This time, the world comes after him. His daughter comes to visit and then disappears. He doesn’t deal well with said disappearance, and he withdraws into himself, a sort of final withdrawal that will end in a death similar to but at the same time very different from Bill Gray’s in Mao II. Here, the attempt is not to return to society: the protagonist here is done, but even after he’s put his time in, he still can’t escape his culture. He ends up going back to New York without his daughter, but he’s withdrawing, not reemerging this time.

(There’s also a collection of short stories that’s very spotty, called The Angel Esmeralda, which I’m not going to address because in most cases, DeLillo’s stories are too short to fit the mold, and that’s a good thing.)

That was certainly a spiel – and certainly not what I intended. It reminds me of why I like writing on this blog and why I hate writing for any other purpose: I can just spew out what I want to say without having to prove specific statements or even organize it very well. What I hope you take away is that I’ve expanded my view of DeLillo’s books. It’s still all one big story, but at least he seems to be progressing to later parts of said story. It’s just taking him multiple books and a lifetime to do it.

2012 Book #31 (and 32-ish): To Have and Have Not (and Mao II)

haveandhavenotBut we’re reasonably well into 2013, you (who check my Goodreads account religiously) say! And you finished To Have and Have Not weeks ago! And what’s this new mention of Mao II? How does it have anything to do with anything? What’s the deal?!?

Well, I’ve been busy. Or maybe I haven’t been busy, but I’ve been otherwise occupied. I certainly have lots of things with which to be occupied, so we’ll call that my excuse. But, anyway, here we are in a fresh new year, and I’m still wrapping up the old one, with two books I barely remember. Okay, maybe it’s not that bad, but now do you see why I combined them?

First up is To Have and Have Not (don’t worry: I’m not going to talk much about either of these). As you probably know, I’m a huge Hemingway fan, and I’m slowly discovering his many (many!) books that aren’t normally assigned in college classrooms. To Have and Have Not is classic Hemingway: it’s a Manly Novel that talks about Manly Things. (Which is what this novels has in common with Mao II: all of DeLillo’s novels that I’ve read are Manly Novels. I’m not sure what to make of that, except that I seem to be in the mood for parenthetical asides today.)

It’s about Harry Morgan, a Manly Man with a fishing boat in Cuba. Or at least that’s where he starts. After a fishing trip goes south, he’s forced into shuttling black market alcohol from Key West and other unsavory activities because he has to support his family. And Things Happen. I will provide one warning: there is a bit of a sex scene that involves a “stump” where an arm used to be, and it’s GROSS. Yes. All-caps gross. Or maybe it’s just me.

I’ve only met one Hemingway novel I don’t like: The Old Man and the Sea, which, funnily enough, is the one most people have read and liked. (I have the same problem with Vonnegut‘s Slaughterhouse Five, though upon a second reading, I don’t hate it nearly as much as I used to.) What’s funny is that this novel starts with one of those long marlin-fishing scenes, but it ended eventually, so it didn’t bother me. And that’s about all I have to say about To Have and Have Not. I really liked it.

On to Mao II, which I’ve read before and posted about before. I read it sometime last year, just before I got sick, because I was working on my thesis, and the last chapter is about that novel. Then, of course, I got sick and didn’t write the chapter, and now, it’s been so long that I’ll probably have to read it again when I finally do. Ugh. That said, it’s not a bad novel, but it’s your typical DeLillo (which is what my thesis is about), and I’m certainly not going to rehash it here. The end.

2012 Book #19: The Names

I know it’s been a long time since my last book post, but I’ve been busy. This time, I make no apologies. If you’d like to see what I’ve been doing lately, have a look over here.


I finished reading The Names a few days ago, but I’m so unenthusiastic about it that I’ve been putting off writing this post. In a fit of, I don’t know, insanity, I decided it would be a good time to try another DeLillo novel. I think I read something about this one in an article I was reading for my thesis. It involves a cult, and it’s mostly set in Greece. Sounded like a non-formula DeLillo novel to me. I was intrigued.

But, of course, it is a formula DeLillo novel. It’s just that they guy who’s running away isn’t the protagonist. You might argue that Bill Gray isn’t really the protagonist of Mao II, but that novel isn’t narrated in the first person by an entirely different character. DeLillo went all Nick Carraway on me.

So what, you ask, is this guy running away from? LanguageThe Names is all about language. And it’s not subtle at all just like TV isn’t in Americana, music isn’t in Great Jones Street, and literature/the publishing industry isn’t in Mao II. Once again, DeLillo beats you over the head with it.

I got so annoyed with this book that I skimmed most of the last third of the novel. I just wanted to find out what was going on with the cult. I didn’t care about the talking heads part. And that’s most of it.

Here’s enough of the plot. There’s a cult moving around eastern Europe that murders people based on similarities between their names and their locations. There’s no real explanation for it – they just do it. And the main characters talk about it.

The more I think about this book, the more I dislike it. I’m tired of DeLillo’s formula, and The Names certainly isn’t one of his best novels, anyway. This is the second one I’ve disliked from the beginning: the other was The Body Artist. I’ve been planning on giving that one a second chance because I didn’t see how it could be that bad (especially since I like Great Jones Street, widely considered to be his worst novel.

That’s all I have to say about The Names. I was disappointed. I’ll get back on the thesis soon, and I’m hoping that being so annoyed won’t make me lose interest again.

2011 Book #37: Cosmopolis

cosmopolis_uk_first.jpegI don’t even wanna talk about this one.

I hadn’t read a DeLillo novel in quite a while – we’re faaaar away from the glory days of the DeLillo Binge. While I was working on the Thesis Monster (which I still have to finish), I read most of his novels and realized that he’s just writing the same novel over and over with different characters and settings. Once I saw that, I lost all interest in DeLillo and all interest in the Thesis Monster. Which is why I haven’t worked on it in a while.

Here’s the plot of every DeLillo novel I’ve read (except, maybe, of Underworld, which I didn’t finish): A guy (always a guy: DeLillo writes Man Novels) experiences some sort of postmodern angst related in some way to the media. He runs away from his life or otherwise destroys it. Sometimes he attempts to return and is unsuccessful in reintegrating himself.

There. I’ve just told you the plot of Cosmopolis. And Americana, Great Jones Street, Mao II (the three novels included in the Thesis Monster), Libra, White Noise, Point Omega, Falling Man, and all the others I’ve read. That’s right: all of them.

Really, Don DeLillo? I thought you were better than that. Or at least a bit more creative.

I still say I’ll finish the Thesis Monster, and now I have a wee bit of incentive. Next August, I want to start Librarian School, which means another master’s. Which also means I need to finish the one I’m “currently” working on. I only need thirty more pages, and I have until early April to do it. I need to get my shizz together.

2011 Book #22: Americana

This is the third time I’ve read Americana. I really need to work on the Thesis Monster, and it had been a year since I’d read the book, so I figured rereading it would be a good start. I loved it the first two times: it was probably my favorite DeLillo book (hovering there with White Noise). This time, though, I was bored out of my mind. Michael Douglas narrated it in my head (a la Wonder Boys), and he just droned on and on.

I’ve come to the conclusion that my love affair with Don DeLillo is permanently over. The turning point is when I was researching the Thesis Monster and realized that he just writes the same book over and over: some dude with postmodern angst is running away from identity-creating media to find his own identity. Okay, that’s not exactly the case with all of DeLillo’s novels, but they’re all basically about the same thing.

So much for the DeLillo Binge.

As much as I didn’t enjoy Americana this time around, there are things about DeLillo that I still do love. His language is beautiful. If I could make myself sit down and write a novel, I’d want it to sound like his.

Literature is what we passed and left behind, that more than men and cactus. For years I had been held fast by the great unwinding mystery of this deep sink of land, the thick paragraphs and imposing photos, the galop of panting adjectives, prairie truth and the clean kills of eagles, the desert shawled in Navaho paints, images of surreal cinema, of ventricles tied to pumps. Chaco masonry and the slung guitar, of church organ lungs and the slate of empires, of coral in this strange place, suggesting a reliquary sea, and of the blessed semblance of God on the faces of superstitious mountains. Whether the novels and songs usurped the land, or took something true from it, is not so much the issue as this: that what I was engaged in was merely a literary venture, an attempt to find pattern and motive, to make of something wild a squeamish thesis on the essence of the nation’s soul. To formulate. To seek links. But the wind burned across the creekbeds, barely moving the soil, and there was nothing to announce to myself in the way of historic revelation.

DeLillo’s style is beautiful. It’s just that I’ve become as jaded as the characters in his novels. David Bell would have no interest in reading Americana.
So. On to the Thesis Monster. Now, as reconnected with the novel as I can be, I have no excuse not to write. My outline is done: all I have to do is fill in the blanks between quotes. Because that’s what the Thesis Monster is: a series of quotes. The postmodern problem.
I’ve made a schedule of sorts. On weekday mornings, I work on the Thesis Monster, and that’s that. I’ve never been good for much after lunch, so the afternoon is mine. If I can be productive in the mornings, it’ll be done soon, and I’ll never have to look at it again. I’ll also be done with academia, which is another – much scarier – issue. But I have some time left.

This afternoon, I’ll ride my bike up to Palmer‘s, water some plants, and try to tackle The Moviegoer. I hated it when I read it at least ten years ago, but I change my opinions of books pretty frequently. The weather is nice, and I’m looking forward to propping my feet up and giving Walker Percy a second chance.

In other news, the Shreveport Library Book Sale was last Saturday. I usually don’t buy much of anything since everything is so disorganized and it’s so crowded. Here’s what I got this time:

I discovered once I got home that I already had The Poisonwood Bible, so I donated my copy to Charlotte. I haven’t read any of them.

Airplanes and automobiles

“Why are you driving when you can fly?” she said. “Don’t you love to fly? I love it. It’s the sexiest thing there is.”

“This is a religious journey,” I said. “Planes aren’t religious yet. Cars are religious. Maybe planes will be next.”

“Planes are sexy.”

“That’s right, the way cars used to be. But cars are religious now and this is a religious trip.” [1. Americana 50]

DeLillo Binge, part 6

The thing that sucks about increasingly long, more…academic(?) posts is that I’m beginning to have to psych myself up to write them. So this one’s gonna be short since I’m almost done with the next book in my DeLillo Binge, and I’ve been putting this one off.

I just finished End Zone a few days ago. I liked it more than I thought I would. This was my first impression:

reading end zone. so far, it’s..about football. which is better than being about lee harvey oswald. #delilloFri Apr 30 18:55:43 via Tweetie

I ended up liking it more than I thought I would. There is, though, a really long description of a football game, which almost bored me to tears, except that in introducing it, DeLillo made it just a bit more palatable:

(The spectator, at this point, is certain to wonder whether he must now endure a football game in print – the author’s way of adding his own neat quarter-notch to the scarred bluesteel of combat writing. The game, after all, is known for its assault-technology motif, and numberous commentators have been willing to risk death by analogy in their public discussions of the resemblance between football and war. But this sort of thing is of little interest to the exemplary spectator.  As Alan Zapalac says later on: ‘I reject the notion of football as warfare. Warfare is warfare. We don’t need substitutes because we’ve got the real thing.’ The exemplary spectator is the person who understands the sport as a benign illusion, the illusion that order is possible.) (111-112)

And he goes on and on. I like that he self-consciously acknowledges the reader. While I was reading the ridiculously long account of the game, I kept thinking of this little interlude-of-sorts, and it made me feel better. (Okay, so it’s not that long, but that thirty pages seems to take forever.)

This novel is really interesting in that it goes back and forth between vast, detailed descriptions of football and postmodern theory. After practice, the players sit around and have “real” discussions about not-football, like this conversation about a course one of the team members is taking:

“People keep bringing up that course you’re taking. The untellable. I keep hearing about that course. Nobody talks about it but I keep hearing.”

“So do I,” Ted Joost said.

“There’s not much I can say about it,” Billy said.

“You can tell us what goes on.”

“We delve into the untellable.”

“How deep?” Bobby Iselin said.

“It’s hard to tell. I don’t think anybody knows how deep the untellable is. We’ve done a certain amount of delving. We plan to delve some more. That’s about all I can tell you.”

“But what do you talk about?” Howard said. “There are ten of you in there and there’s some kind of instructor or professor. You must say things to each other.”

“We shout in German a lot. There are different language exercises we take turns doing. We may go on a field trip next week. I don’t know where to.”

“But you don’t know German. I know damn well you don’t. I’m your damn roommate. I know things about you.”

“Unfortunately I’ve picked up a few words. I guess that’s one of the hazards in a course like this. You pick up things you’re better off without. The course is pretty experimental. It’s given by a man who may or may not have spent three and a half years in one of the camps. He doesn’t think there’ll be a final exam.”

“Why things in German?” Ted Joost said.

“I think the theory is if any words exist beyond speech, they’re probably German words, or pretty close.” (181).

There are lots of conversations like this one in End Zone, which is why I think I like it so much. It’s definitely Thesis Material. So far, if I can get my act together, I’ll probably use White Noise, Americana, and End Zone. Using five novels would probably be easiest since I can write a chapter on each, but I think it might be overkill, and when I get to the revision phase and people are actually reading it, I might find my thesis expanding exponentially, which I really don’t want to happen.

Since this is supposed to be a short post, I’ll stop now. I’m almost finished with Great Jones Street, and I’m pretty sure I won’t have much at all to say about it, though it’s not too bad. At least it’s not about Lee Harvey Oswald.

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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