The Don DeLillo Society Newsletter
Volume 8, No. 1 – March 2015
The Don DeLillo Society
The Don DeLillo Society exists for the benefit of readers and scholars of Don DeLillo throughout the world. The Society welcomes new members. If you are interested in joining, please log onto http://www.k-state.edu/english/nelp/delillo/about.html#join for more information.
From the President
Make It New
First page of DeLillo’s annotated Underworld, auctioned at Christie’s PEN American Center’s First Editions/Second Thoughts benefit on December 2, 2014.
2015 celebrates the 30th anniversary of Don DeLillo’s White Noise. It’s still my favorite of DeLillo’s books, and simply my favorite book. It’s tempting to brag that one of his less lauded novels is my favorite, like The Names (cult following, darker feel, not funny) or maybe Ratner’s Star (long, unpopular, incongruously funny), the way a poseur might extol Revolver while secretly savoring Meet the Beatles. Then again, like Beatles albums, I don’t feel as though DeLillo has a single bad novel.1
That may sound biased, given DeLillo’s prolific output and the fact that several of his novels were not particularly well received. But it’s as though I have to like everything as DeLillo Society officer; I just do, so that’s why I’m happy to be in DDS. And so I found myself for the past year rethinking three DeLillo novels that I didn’t love at first at first cite: Cosmopolis, Falling Man, and Point Omega. None received the accolades of White Noise—or Libra or Underworld, a cavernous novel I’m about to spelunk again as well. Yet in reexamining each to decide how best to write about them, I was surprised at how new and rich they turned out to be. Each was far better reread than first-read, with the ironic caveat that any reader not beguiled the first time would be unlikely to give it another go.
By contrast, White Noise was always an easy read and reread—I own four different editions and have read it at least seven times, each time coming away with something new. First, it was the style—those gem-like sentences—plus the humor and Hitler, while it took longer for me to notice the significance of threes, the recurring image of rain, or the traces of spirituality as well as terror that seem so clear in other of DeLillo’s works. I was happy to find new meaning in the newer novels as well. I began writing about DeLillo’s novels as a graduate student in 1997, so it’s striking to think that I’m still working on them almost two decades later. Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. Then again, it can take a long time to make it new, as DeLillo observed in his recently auctioned annotated copy of Underworld: “My editor was waiting for the manuscript … and I kept telling her that I was working on a new first sentence” (http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/don-delillos-annotated-underworld).
The years of 2014-2015 are turning out to be a new time for the Don DeLillo Society as well. I’d like to welcome webmaster Aaron DeRosa, who replaces Philip Nel, a decade-plus DDS veteran and the last founding member to part ways. Special thanks to Phil for all he has done. And with our new webmaster comes our new website, https://delillosociety.wordpress.com/, as we continue to make DeLillo’s work new and invite new readers to do the same.
 In one of those strange intersections of interests, for White Noise’s 30th anniversary Pitchfork invited musicians to reflect on the novel. Why? Why not? http://pitchfork.com/thepitch/641-no-one-sees-the-barn-musicians-discuss-don-delillos-white-noise/
Notes for a Novel of Capital
Eisenstein’s influence on DeLillo is not a new issue in DeLillo studies, especially since the publication of Underworld. Eisenstein’s theories of montage have been frequently discussed as a possible reason behind DeLillo’s decision to insert an apocryphal movie into his novel, attributed to the famous avant-garde and revolutionary filmmaker (see Catherine Morley especially). In this essay, however, the focus will be on Eisenstein’s ideas about the possibility of appropriating Marx’s dialectical methods as the structural principles behind the organization of an artistic representation¾a movie¾about everydayness. Many of the stylistic, thematic, compositional, and narrative devices employed in Underworld suggest DeLillo’s familiarity with Eisenstein’s plans for making a film of Capital. There are also certain affinities between Eisenstein’s and DeLillo’s conception of the relationship between economy, dialectical thinking, and narrative.
Das Kapital¾the title of the Underworld’s epilogue¾is the point of intersection between Eisenstein’s and DeLillo’s understanding and representation of everyday life caught in the dense, inextricable, flexible, and expanding webs of capital’s flows and weavings. Eisenstein explicates the function of alluding to Marx’s Capital in his “Notes”: more than merely criticising capitalism and the capitalistic working environment and modes of production/accumulation, Eisenstein argues we should apply Marx’s analytical and dialectical methods to the representation of everyday life, in order to reveal its non-obvious conditions and determinants. The plan for “a film treatise” (4) is based on the thesis that the true and real content of a work of art is, actually, its “method,” e.g., its form, its structural and compositional devices: “The most important thing ‘in life’ now is to draw conclusions from formal aspects”; “To show the method of dialectics” (emphasis in original) (9-10). As Michelson puts it, “The notes for Capital, then, are a program for the development of the cognitive instrument […]” (35). But how should it work?
Eisenstein discusses his own creative methods in the context of contemporaneous modes of production. Following Marx, he implies interdependences and analogies between various levels and types of production, both material and symbolic. His notes and sketches explain how the structure or the construction of an artistic work implicitly signifies and criticises modes of producing meanings, beliefs, and ideologies. DeLillo does the same, at the beginning of the Epilogue, for example. There he introduces Nick’s thoughts about new, globalist strategies of capital, inciting readers to think about new economy of meaning, too. Capital tends to connect everything and everybody, making them exchangeable; things that used to be independent have become “more or less inter-dependent branches of the collective production of an enlarged society” as Marx puts it in Capital (Ch. 14, Sec. 4). However, the same is the case with the significance and semantic function of numerous apparently absolutely heterogeneous and seemingly independent details in Underworld. At one and the same time, DeLillo discovers and creates various types of their interdependences. Because of the hint at similarity, even complicity between “the logic of production” (Eisenstein, qtd. in Michelson, 36) and the logic of creating meanings, barely comprehensible and overwhelming chains and webs of secretly connected events, situations, characters and things seem to work throughout the novel as “the force of converging markets produces an instantaneous capital that shoots across horizons at the speed of light, making for a certain furtive sameness, a planning away of particulars that affects everything from architecture to leisure time to the way people eat and sleep and dream” (DeLillo 786). The “[r]andom arrangements” (786) Nick discovers in the design and atmosphere of a Russian night club refer to key aspects of the novel’s mechanism as well. This suggests that in making senses of inscrutable and fortuitous connections DeLillo wants both to simulate and dismantle production practices that his novel otherwise shows and talks about.
Emphasizing new explicative and interpretative frame that Marx’s Capital could and should have led Eisenstein towards conception of a film that would synthesize Marx’s and Joyce’s approaches to everydayness. He wanted to apply both ways of searching for non-visible, underground, synchronic and diachronic abstract relations among phenomena and situations (historically specific production relations and ahistorical archetypal patterns). He relied on both models of uncovering processes of reproductions and transformations of the mechanisms and forms from one sphere of life into the other, seemingly totally autonomous. Concrete, naturalistically rendered details of everyday life should serve as the springboard for “the play of concepts,” which are their “offshoots” (15). Among the techniques and devices for realizing this intellectual play that Eisenstein sketched in his “Notes” is the shifting between ironic and pathetic, between dark and comic. In a word, he proposed formal and stylistic particularity of every part of the work, which characterizes DeLillo’s novel too, the aim of which is to intensify perception through constant and unpredictable oscillation between opposite moods and emotions. This includes hyperbolisation (10) of the pathos as is the case with DeLillo’s representation of Esmeralda’s and Sister Edgar’s posthumous “existence,” for example. In addition, Eisenstein conceived of a work the content of which would be made primary of banalities and irrelevant details of everyday life–“triviality for the ‘spinal’ theme”¾which would develop associatively and under the pressure of “‘extra-thematic’ imagery” (10). It is not very hard to recognize the associative nature of connections DeLillo constructs among otherwise very distant and divergent phenomena and things, such as the situations connected through the motif of the left shoe or the chain made of various orange things. These associations lead to the prevalence of “extra-thematic imagery” and the absence of a single, all-encompassing theme. The film should have had its “little story,” its historiette (16), as Underworld has Nick’s story, “sometimes, les débris d’action deliberately plot-like and continuous” (22), but it should not be based on the recognizable plot but founded on the inner relations and links, on the “sequential arranging of ‘distancing elements’” (16). In addition, Eisenstein imagined the final chapter that would produce “a dialectical decoding of the very same story irrespective of the real theme” (22). In this context, the Epilogue of Underworld could be read as a “dialectical decoding” of the effects and results of the Cold War politics and political economy and its nominal closure.
The structural characteristics of DeLillo’s Underworld also correspond with Eisenstein’s ideas about his hypothetical movie. However, DeLillo has not only maximally expanded associative capacity of every detail and possibilities of associative connections, of repetitions that manage to bestow different, even contradictory and antithetical meaning on one and the same thing. He has realized some of the concrete scenes that occurred to Eisenstein. For example, Eisenstein planned to “provoke a head-on collision between a stimulus and the final link of a complex chain of conditioned reflexes,” so that it would appear that between the initial situation and the final effect there was no more connection. Specifically, he thought about the collision between an erotic stimulus and an act of sublimity, spirituality (19). This idea is present in the hotel scenes from the third part of Underworld (“Cloud of Unknowing”). Nick’s adultery, depicted in juicy details, with the woman he finds simultaneously attractive and repulsive, includes Nick’s digressions into mysticism and the possibility of knowing God, which is an unexpected theme, totally inappropriate for the situation. This leads to the “head-on collision” of a mild pornography and a sudden moment of catharsis of repressed memories. This kind of shocking and provocative, even rude collision is the key point of Eisenstein’s conception of the montage. Bearing in mind that the scene is explicitly filmic, ironically framed (first “B movie”-like and later “movie scenes, slightly elliptical in tone […]” (DeLillo 282, 292)) we could suggest another “head-on collision”: the one between a famous twentieth century Russian artist who wanted to propagate (to absorb, not educate (Eisenstein 14)) and to condition recipients’ reflexes by means of art, to fill their minds with constructive and progressive ideas, and an anonymous, unknown fourteenth century English mystic who wanted to communicate the emptiness of mind and the force of humbleness of unknowing.
DeLillo, Don. Underworld. New York: Scribner, 1998.
Eisenstein, Sergei. “Notes for a Film of ‘Capital.’” October 2 (1976): 3-26.
Marx, Karl. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Vol. 1. Marxist Internet Archive. Web. 28 June 2014.
Michelson, Annette. “Reading Eisenstein Reading ‘Capital.’” October 2 (2006) 26-38.
Morley, Catherine. Don DeLillo’s Transatlantic Dialogue with Sergei Eisenstein. Journal of American Studies, 40.1 (2006): 17-34.
Reflections on Don DeLillo’s Underworld
I discovered Don DeLillo after reading Infinite Jest the summer I graduated from college.
I was working as a production assistant on an independently produced film and snuck into the actors’ trailers to read during lunch breaks or when I was not needed on set. I could not believe such a novel existed and that it had captured the historical significance of my generation’s lifestyle so perfectly. It was the first time I felt inclined to research an author’s influences and although I was led to Thomas Pynchon, Jonathan Franzen, and Cormac McCarthy, every biography or article I read made clear that Don DeLillo was the most influential figure in David Foster Wallace’s life. While driving back to New York from Milwaukee (where the movie was filmed), I stopped at a Barnes and Noble and picked up White Noise, devoured it, and have been hooked on DeLillo since.
After completing Underworld I’m left awestruck and dazed. It has given me a cleansing awareness of paranoid systems and has touched something more intimate than flesh; the book has instilled a kind of knowing that breaches a cellular level and lingers in the mind long after the last page is read.
Underworld dives into under-history, examining the imaginations, longings, guilts, triumphs, and secrets of men, women, and nations. DeLillo contemplates the lasting fight for stability paralleling the lasting threats of destruction. He magnifies the oppressed voices of history that continue to speak to their fringe groups of followers and believers yet remain no match to the states military devices.
The book questions what the creation of nuclear weapons means to humanity; from who invented them to who controls them, to who will wreak the havoc of them, and what harm they have already caused the earth. It’s interesting that the plutonian seeps to a sort of Plutonic underworld.
I read Underworld in the fall of 2014, while constantly being swamped with news on the escalating crisis in Ukraine and rekindled tensions between the US, NATO and Russia.
Underworld could not be a more relevant novel today and provides an excellent backstory for the events taking place in this Post-post Cold War era we are entering. DeLillo tackles the largest global issue since World War II, The Cold war, from the inside out. Infinite Jest examines the psychological torture of children growing up in this age and some of the horrors the future may hold, whereas Underworld does a hauntingly wonderful job of realizing how we arrived here
Recent and Upcoming DeLillo News
The University of Sussex will be hosting a one-day conference titled “Don DeLillo: The State of Fiction” on June 10, 2015. They keynote speaker is John Duvall (Purdue University)
DeLillo is scheduled to appear at the First Annual Gilbert Sorrentino Birthday Tribute in Brooklyn, NY on April 27, 2015. See the event listing at the Green Light Bookstore for more details.
As Jesse Kavadlo notes above, DeLillo’s annotated copy of Underworld was auctioned at Christie’s PEN American Center’s First Editions/Second Thoughts benefit on December 2, 2014. It raised $57,000.
DeLillo received the Mailer Prize Lifetime Achievement on October 27, 2014.
DeLillo reviewed Taylor Swift’s “Track 3” for The Atlantic on October 22, 2014.
DeLillo’s play, The Word for Snow, was published by Karma and Glenn Horowitz in June 2014.
Lois Wallace, DeLillo’s literary agent for many years, died on April 4, 2014. \
DeLillo was named as the initial recipient of the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction at the National Book Festival in Washington D. C. in September 2013.
Don DeLillo Society News
The Don DeLillo society has a new webmaster, Aaron DeRosa, and a new bibliographer, Karim Daanoune.
The Don DeLillo Society Officer positions will remain in effect until January 1, 2016. Any member of the Don DeLillo Society may submit nominations for any or all of these positions. The next group of officers (which may include current officers, if they run and are elected) will serve three-year terms, starting January 1, 2016. Nominations must be received by June 1, 2015. Please include contact information for nominees. Send them to Aaron DeRosa at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will hold elections in the fall of 2015.
The Don DeLillo Society is sponsoring a panel at the American Literature Association’s 26th Annual Conference in Boston, MA on Saturday, May 23 2015:
DeLillo’s Influence/ Influences
Chair: Andrew Strombeck, Wright State University
- Our pretense is a dedication: Surface and Sacrament in White Noise, Ray Horton, Case Western Reserve University
- Staging the World on 47th Street in Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis Jung-Suk Hwang, University at Buffalo
- The Megaton Novel of U.S. Bureaucracy: Libra’s Influence on The Pale King, Jeffrey Severs, University of British Columbia
A Note from the Editor
I’d like to offer thanks to all those who contributed material to this issue of the newsletter.
If you’d like to send comments, reviews, or short articles for the next issue of the newsletter, please email them to me at email@example.com (deadline: October 15th, 2015).
Samuel Fuhrer studied Theater and Neuroscience at Muhlenberg College, and was the Baccalaureate speaker at his graduation in 2013. He fronts the band Sam & Margot and works as a cognitive aide and yoga teacher in New York City. Sam is honored to be getting published in The Don DeLillo Society and hopes to contribute more in the future.
Jesse Kavadlo is President of the Don DeLillo Society and a Professor of English at Maryville University in St. Louis. He is the author of Don DeLillo: Balance at the Edge of Belief and the forthcoming American Popular Culture in the Era of Terror: Falling Skies, Dark Knights Rising, and Collapsing Cultures.
Anne Longmuir (DDS Newsletter Editor) is an Associate Professor of English at Kansas State University. She completed a Ph.D. on the fiction of Don DeLillo at the University of Edinburgh in 2003 and has published articles on DeLillo’s work in Critique, Modern Fiction Studies, Journal of Narrative Theory, and Modern Language Studies.
Violeta Stojmenovic is a PhD candidate at Faculty of Philology, University of Belgrade, Serbia and a senior librarian at the Public Library Bor. She has recently submitted her doctoral thesis under the title “Chronotopes and Carnivalisation in Don DeLillo’s Novels.” She has published numerous articles, essays, reviews and a few translations in Serbian journals, among which are four papers on Don DeLillo in Serbian academic, peer-reviewed journals (https://filoloskibg.academia.edu/VioletaStojmenovic) and reviews of Cosmopolis and Body Artist.