Volume 3, No.
1 - May 2008
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.
Dear DDS Members:
Along with the recent publication of Falling Man, a wealth of new critical works on DeLillo have either appeared (monographs by Joseph Dewey, Peter Boxall, Elise Martucci) or are on the way (the Cambridge Companion to Don DeLillo, edited by John Duvall). The Don’s recognition in the popular press as one of the most influential figures in contemporary American fiction is fully established. All in all, it’s a good time to be a DeLillo scholar.
Riding this surge of interest, the DDS sponsored one panel at this year’s American Literature Association convention, which was held on May 22-25, 2008, at the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero in San Francisco.
Here they are:
Don DeLillo’s Falling Man: Themes and Perspectives
Chair: Randy Laist, University of Connecticut
- “Beyond Time: Photography and Trauma in Don DeLillo’s Falling Man,” Tanya Peterson, Sydney College of the Arts
- “‘The Lucky Jack did not Fall’: The Question of Poker in Don DeLillo’s Falling Man,” Mark L. Sample, George Mason University
- “Private and Public Trauma in DeLillo’s Falling Man,” Tim Gauthier, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Randy Laist: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tanya Peterson: email@example.com
Mark L. Sample: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tim Gauthier: email@example.com
* * *
Presenting Trauma: Memory and Forgetting in Don DeLillo's Falling Man
Chair: Mary Holland, SUNY New Paltz
- "Trauma and the Image: Falling Man and the Terror of Perception," John Duvall, Purdue University
- "World Trauma Center," Linda S. Kauffman, University of Maryland, College Park
- " 'Falling out of the world': Memory, Intimacy and the Post-9/11 Crisis of Meaning in Don DeLillo's Falling Man," Marni Gauthier, SUNY Cortland
Mary Holland: firstname.lastname@example.org
John Duvall: email@example.com
Linda Kauffman: firstname.lastname@example.org
Marni Gauthier: email@example.com
* * *
The DDS also sponsored a panel at the 39th Annual College English Association Conference in St. Louis, March 27-29, 2008. Here it is:
"Terror at the edge": Don DeLillo's Passages, Transitions, and Liminal Spaces.
Chair: Jesse Kavadlo.
- "'Better Things for Better Living': Recovering from the American Thanatos Syndrome in Don DeLillo's White Noise," Beth Hubbard, Fordham U
- "Postmodern Transcendence: Sunsets in Don DeLillo's White Noise," Randy Laist, U of Connecticut
- "'I'm standing here. . . I'm standing here.'": The Terror Dream and Don DeLillo's Falling Man," Natalie Leppard
- "Falling Men: Don DeLillo and the Plot of 9/11," Jesse Kavadlo, Maryville University
* * *
Members might also wish to take a look at a new, post-Falling Man interview with DeLillo, which was published in Guernica magazine. It’s available here: http://www.guernicamag.com/interviews/373/intensity_of_a_plot/.
Finally, I’d like to remind you that the new DeLillo listserv is up and running. I invite members to revive our dialogue. If you’d like to join, please contact Matt King at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following pieces were originally intended for the 2005 DDS Newsletter. Due to unforeseen circumstances, we were unable to publish them at that time. We provide them below for your interest.
Valparaiso in Philadelphia
Hard as it may be to believe, some of my friends and, yes, even some of my colleagues claim they “don’t get” Don DeLillo. Had they all seen the Theatre Exile company’s production of Valparaiso, however, I’m sure that most of them would have had to admit that the rest of us may be on to something. Valparaiso tells the story of the media frenzy that ensues when Michael Majeski sets out on a business trip to Valparaiso, Indiana, but ends up in Valparaiso, Chile. Theatre Exile’s production of the play, which ran from May 5 through May 25, 2004, on the second stage at Philadelphia’s Adrienne Theatre, brought DeLillo’s prose to life in a sharp, witty fashion. The show’s economical set—Majeski’s living room doubled as the set of the talk show that dominates Act Two—underscored the fading distinction between the worlds of “reality” and television, and Matt Saunders ably portrayed Majeski’s swift transformation from a seemingly unwitting innocent to a media-savvy pop icon. Highest honors, however, go to Jeb Kreager as talk show co-host Teddy Hodell. Picture Will Ferrell as Regis Philbin. As an intermediary for talk-show host Delfina Treadwell (an Oprah Winfrey-esque television oracle played by Kimberly S. Fairbanks), Kreager-as-Hodell effectively drew the audience into the play by transforming us into a live studio audience for the Majeski family’s climactic on-camera revelations. Directed by Joe Canuso, Theatre Exile’s production of Valparaiso was an excellent production. For more information, visit www.theatreexile.com.
— Marc Schuster
“They Laugh in Chicago, but not in Los Angeles”: Don DeLillo on Tour
23 September, 2003
DeLillo at the movies: Cologne’s Odeon Theatre provided a perfect venue to launch DeLillo’s third reading tour in Germany. Sponsored by the newspaper Die Zeit, the tour went on from Cologne to Hamburg and Berlin, before continuing on to Zurich, Switzerland.
Frank Heibert, DeLillo’s German translator, opened the evening by asking about audience reactions on the American tour for Cosmopolis. DeLillo replied that the characteristic humor varied from city to city: “They laugh in Chicago, but not in Los Angeles. Tonight—we’ll see” (laughter in Cologne).
The reading was split between English and German. DeLillo read from the narrative sections of Cosmopolis, stressing the hypnotic rhythm of his prose, while Frank Heibert read from his translation of the dialogue in the limo. Here is the discussion that followed the reading.
Question: Why does Eric Packer destroy his whole life, fortune, and in the end even his physical existence? Is it the author’s intention to illustrate decadence, nausea and perversion?
DeLillo denies that this is his intention. He explains that many actions, like Eric Packer’s, are carried out without logic, plan, or strategy. When constructing Packer’s persona, he had in mind a particular clinical condition, the so-called Icarus Complex, named after the figure in Greek mythology who flew too close to the sun. The term is used to describe extremely powerful men who move toward their own destruction. Eric Packer is a brilliant, ruthless young man who wakes up one morning with a compelling sense of his own mortality. The novel, DeLillo continues, moves inevitably in that direction.
Question: In the novel, Vija Kinski talks about the need for “a new theory of time.” The novel is saturated with allusions to this motif. What might a new theory of time look like? What might it involve?
DeLillo responds that time was the dominant topic in The Body Artist. A smile. Silence. Enough said? (Laughter). He elaborates. Cosmopolis is essentially a novel about time and money. It occurs on a day that marks the end of the end of a particular era: the period between the end of the Cold War and the beginning of what is now known as The Age of Terror—essentially, the 1990s. It was a time whose theme was money, DeLillo adds. Corporate executives became global celebrities. Ordinary people spent enormous amounts of time staring at their computer screens as their money began to increase and the stock market kept rising. DeLillo calls attention to a special phenomenon of this period: something in the confluence of capital and technology seemed to make time move faster. We were all living in the future, he observes, at least for a while.
Question: A young woman in the audience confesses that eight years ago she was so moved by one of DeLillo’s books that it raised some questions she felt she could only ask him personally, but didn’t dare to at the time. Tonight, she has one simple but fundamental question: Why do you write?
It’s kind of a mystery, DeLillo replies. He explains that for a young person, starting to write is mostly connected with the essential urge to make sense of the world. For him, writing is just a deeper, more concentrated form of thinking. Often he does not know what to think about a particular subject until he sits down to write about it. With luck, it will become clear in the process of writing. But he feels there is a deeper answer to this question, which is quite difficult to give. Writing became for him the way one eats or sleeps or breathes—not only what you do, but who you are. He confesses that he always thought about himself as a writer even when there was absolutely no evidence of it (laughter): “And now here I am reading to a group of people in a city in another country. I have no explanation.”
The next question is aimed at DeLillo’s reputation as Mr. Paranoia. Question: Is there a specific image or event to which he owes this interest?
DeLillo remains calm. No, he is not paranoid himself—except about certain questions! His interest in the topic came out of American culture in the most compelling way imaginable in the 1960s. “What I drew from the culture seemed to me to be powerfully located there, not in something I invented.” Although he does not wish to identify a single formative event, he stresses the importance of the Kennedy assassination. It seems that the assassination triggered a fall into suspicion, distrust, or paranoia in response to the actions of the government—or the lack of actions of the government. Vietnam and Watergate added fuel to the fire. As the paranoia of the ‘60s and ‘70s receded, the topic became less dominant in his novels.
Question: Is there a between Eric Packer and Bret Easton Ellis’s Patrick Bateman, the protagonist of American Psycho?
DeLillo says that he wasn’t aware of a parallel and hasn’t thought of it until now. He sees some basic differences between the two characters: Eric is not at all a typical Wall Street person: he speaks several languages, collects serious art, reads serious poetry, and loves women, quite in contrast to Bateman (laughter). In fact, the only person Eric listens to in the course of the novel is his chief of theory, Vija Kinski. But DeLillo confesses that his memory of American Psycho isn’t that sharp, though he did admire the book at the time.
The next question concerns the different aspects and functions of art and artists that run through his novels. In Cosmopolis, some of the art functions similarly to art in Running Dog, where film and art serve mostly as a vehicle for perversion, sex, and power (e.g., Packer’s trying to buy the Rothko Chapel just for the sheer idea of buying it, or the way Packer’s limo works in terms of power, decadence, and aggression). But in other novels artists---for example, Klara Sax, Lauren and Sully, Acey and Moonman---take up serious parts and carry dominant topics. This accounts for a deeper function and meaning. How does he see the role of art in Cosmopolis and the artist as a special type of protagonist in his books?
In regard to Cosmopolis, DeLillo agrees that people of a certain type do gain power by spending enormous amounts of money on art, in a form of conspicuous consumption with art as a special type of consumer good. In his works, he elaborates, there are often instances of movies, of pieces of art (he refers to radio programs and Lenny Bruce in Underworld), references to TV commercials and many other manifestations of sound and images that surround us. They play a dominant role in the culture and thus appear in his books---as parts of our lives. Since we spend enormous amounts of time watching television and going to the movies, why not give these events some presence in our fiction? Lacking a deeper answer to the appearance of artists in his work (“I have no idea what the answer is”), he adds that it might just be his own interest in painting, film, and jazz that makes him enter the characters of such people.
A young man refers to the fact that DeLillo is known for doing a lot of research for his novels and mixing historical facts into his fiction---the Warren Report for Libra, the pictures of Salinger or crowd photographs for Mao II, newspaper articles for Underworld. Was there a similar trigger for Cosmopolis, such as an ad in the news or the like?
DeLillo explains that the book started with one very simple idea: a man traveling across town in Manhattan. He knew at once that the trip would take him all day and shortly afterward that the trip would take place on only one street. The only research for Cosmopolis concerned financial markets “about which I knew very little and still know very little” (laughter in Cologne).
The Literaturhaus’s moderator closes the evening and redeems the slightly exhausted Don DeLillo: “Mr. DeLillo, thank you very much for your coming. If you are ever in need of evidence that you are a writer, please give us a call---we will organize a meeting.”
— Julia Apitzsch, Bonn
The German DeLillo
Cologne: A talk about black and white limos, tough beginnings and titles’ hidden surprises
Bärbel Flad, DeLillo’s editor at the German publisher Kiepenheuer & Witsch in Cologne, has a knack for discovering American literary icons. She put DeLillo’s name on the German book market and into people’s heads. And he is in good company. The coincidences seems to be taken straight out of a DeLillo novel: the same publishing house released Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger, whose terrified photograph after being hunted down by a journalist provided inspiration for DeLillo’s Mao II. Flad’s latest “catch” is young novelist Jonathan Safran Foer (Everything is Illuminated), proud collector of blank yellow pad pages of famous authors---among them one of the few from DeLillo’s early days in advertising. Everything is connected!
It is the fall of 2003, and Flad has just returned from DeLillo’s Cosmopolis tour, which stopped in Cologne, Hamburg and Berlin. Following reading tours with Mao II and Underworld, this marks DeLillo’s third appearance before live audiences in Germany. But let’s “illuminate” the beginning…
More than just White Noise: From Struggle to Success
The 1987 publication of White Noise marks the beginning of DeLillo’s introduction to the German market and confirms a truism of the trade: the first translation of an author is rarely a success. After Flad’s efforts to get DeLillo under contract and getthe book translated, the resonance of the novel is less than satisfactory: the hardcover release of White Noise (Weißes Rauschen) turns out to be a near disaster. But Flad knows that there is another rule: patience. “Personally, I could not understand that the world didn’t share my enthusiasm for White Noise! The decision to continue with the translation of DeLillo’s work was due to the author’s unquestionable literary quality---luckily, a fact of which not only the editor was convinced.” Flad smiles, recalling the tough beginnings. Success came with the publication of Mao II, which doubled the number of copies sold. The students at DeLillo’s first appearance at the Amerika Haus in Colognefor the Mao II reading in 1992 rewarded him with standing ovations. The translation of Underworld in 1998 turned out to be the biggest success yet, with over 50,000 copies sold. Cosmopolis followed before The Body Artist, Running Dog (!), Mao II, Libra and White Noise. DeLillo’s 1997 Underworld tour was his German breakthrough; he became known as the author of an American bestseller, rewarding the publisher’s patience and ongoing translation efforts. If DeLillo was known to only a few in the ‘80s, this situation has profoundly changed as the following anecdote illustrates. In a recent German love story (Mondscheintarif) in the style of Bridget Jones’ Diary, the protagonist tries to score intellectually on her first date with Mr. Perfect by referring to her reading of DeLillo’s bestseller, Underwear.
Behind the scenes
Before the English publication, manuscripts were sent out to the publishers by DeLillo’s longtime agent Lois Wallace via a London subagent. Ever since Weißes Rauschen, Kiepenheuer & Witsch is master of the Polo Grounds when it comes to DeLillo‘s work---no matter how many Lightbornes and other “running dogs” may be on the hunt. As is common procedure for the sake of the author’s privacy in terms of interviews and other journalistic interests, the publishing house also controls access to DeLillo. Reporters contact Kiepenheuer & Witsch, who then arrange a meeting. The publishing house also holds the right for the German translation of the Harper’s article “In the Ruins of the Future” which was made into a special insert for the magazine Literaturen. In the case of DeLillo’s short story “Baader Meinhof,” which appeared in the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine and an essay scheduled to appear in the newspaper Die Zeit, Kiepenheuer &Witsch arranged the contacts.
Translation – A Logicon Project
The Greek landscape in The Names is a powerful illustration of DeLillo’s language: sharp and clear as a paper cut, hard-edged in the fierce light, accompanied by the precise rhythm of the turf. And the soul of the Mani desert in its beat: bare, without decorative elements to hide behind--- pure form of naked stones, a desert purity with a killing beauty.
A good translation is always a tough fight. Translating DeLillo takes this enterprise to the edge. Leafing through DeLillo’s translators, one is surprised to find quite a list of names. “Translators were gladly turning down a second offer for a DeLillo translation,” Bärbel Flad recalls---a mild re-formulation of the resolute “Never again!” she heard on more than one occasion. DeLillo knows all about language’s challenges: in Ratner’s Star, a scientist who has failed at translating a code into a meaningful message seeks refuge in a hole in the ground while members of the Logicon Project, trying to work out language’s essence, are faced with madness.
Translating Underworld: Of Shoes and Bombers, or How to Make It through the Polo Grounds
When the Underworld manuscript was released in the late nineties, DeLillo judged it to be untranslatable: too many neologisms, too imbedded in American pop culture, too saturated with linguistic and cultural complexities. A high fluency in American pop culture is indeed demanded just to make it through the Prologue: isn’t it asking too much of the German reader to figure out all the ‘50s celebrities involved in vomiting on Sinatra’s shoes while watching a sport that remains alien and strange to the soccer-loving soul? Naturally, DeLillo’s publishers were of a different opinion. The Cologne editors had already made contact with a new translator, Frank Heibert, who was unfazed by previous DeLillo translations.
To discuss the problems of translation, Wallace arranged a meeting in London between DeLillo ---who had picked out problematic passages---and several translators of different nations (France, Germany, Greece Italy, Netherlands, Spain). The model for these sessions were the famous meetings between the German author Günter Grass and his translators. The meeting in London concludes with translation strategies which most interestingly highlight DeLillo’s own writing style. One of the major difficulties a translator faces is DeLillo’s unique rhythm and phrasing. As DeLillo elaborated during the Berlin reading, the sound of words holds an essential fascination for him, like the phrase “raw sprawl” he uses in a sentence in Underworld. “The repetition of the sound in those two words thrills me---maybe I’m the only one that is thrilled by it but this fascination is a basic element of my writing.” These major elements of his prose face a serious clash when it is to be translated with one of German’s (in!)famous nouns ending with “-ung” or “-heit”---thus transforming the English expression into a multi-syllable word. DeLillo announces a radical rule for his translators: Let the rhythm dominate! Change the meaning rather than break the rhythm! This strategy mirrors DeLillo’s own credo of letting the beat dictate the story. The problems of neologisms should be approached from a similar perspective. If they are untranslatable where they appear, they have to be made up at another. Thus, the translation may sound different if only a few lines are read, but it mirrors the tone of the original if the reader looks at a passage in its entirety.
DeLillo’s use of many connotations often requires a choice in favor of a single aspect when being translated. One has to choose the essential meaning or try to vary the translation of an expression; this is a job that requires a great deal of sensitivity---and sometimes Sherlock Holmes-like qualities. The journalist Alex Rühle demonstrates Frank Heibert’s research in a newspaper article (Süddeutsche Zeitung, 21.03.01): Heibert visits the butcher’s for a detailed demonstration of the professional slaughtering and calls an old lighthouse janitor at the Baltic Sea, the only person who still knows how to work a particular type of oil lamp. It takes Frank Heibert a year to translate Underworld: “A year that completely changed my perspective on looking at the world,” he later states. K&W finally seem to have found the right match with Frank Heibert: after Underworld he successfully translates The Body Artist, Valparaiso, and Cosmopolis.
“Well, it’s always astonishing what you encounter when working with fiction,” Flad laughs and provides the following anecdote: “Helping to prepare the translation of Underworld we were faced with the detailed description of the stripping away of a B-52 in the Arizona desert. Of course, none of us had knowledge about the interior of this high-tech death machine, so we sat down and made a list of every little screw and particle mentioned in the passage. Handily enough, the Ministry of Defense and Counter-Intelligence (MDA) is located in Cologne as well, so we sent them the list and asked for help translating the terminology. We never got an answer but after a further inquiry found out that we were placed on a list for suspicious behavior!” But it doesn’t take a bomber to test your nerves---a simple shoe can do the same. “Oh, that Jesuit passage,” Flad laughs. “Well, I definitely know my shoe by now!”
Cover, title & Co., Or: How Many Unterwelten Are in Underworld?
The title may be one of translation’s first and most crucial points, carrying unexpected surprises that require interpretative investigation. Titles like Americana, Players, or White Noise are easy and straightforward, but Running Dog already carries a challenge. A literal translation such as “Rennender Hund” or even “Der mit dem Hund rennt” (“running with dogs”) sounds more like a potential title for a Kevin Costner comeback film than anything else. The alternative Bluthunde (Bloodhounds) was agreed upon to express the hunt on different levels, while maintaining the image of the dog. Last year, Running Dog surfaced anew with an unforeseen problem: “We already had a white limo on the cover of Running Dog!” How could anyone anticipate that DeLillo would place Eric Packer in a white limo for his long day’s journey into night? After a few bad nights in Cologne and with the author’s OK, it was agreed to use the picture of a black limousine cruising through New York City for Cosmopolis.
Libra proved to be the toughest case. Field studies showed that no one associated the Latin title Libra with the zodiac. In fact, most Germans associate it at first with Libbra, the Italian pound, Italy being a popular German travel destination – welcome to Europe! The German translation was at first to be Waage, for both the zodiac and scales. The new title was taken from one the novel’s essential quotations: “the seven seconds that broke the back of the American century.” Sieben Sekunden (“Seven Seconds”) wasn’t DeLillo’s favorite, but after a brief but heated discussion it was agreed upon. The reprint in progress will carry the original title Libra--- DeLillo’s growing popularity and the Euro create a winning alliance.
Underworld and The Body Artist are partners in the question of title translations. Both titles may remain as they are---the English original being familiar to the German audience. The decision to take the German expression in the case of Underworld (which sounds almost the same: “Unterwelt”) was also based on the argument that the title refers to the Sergeij Einstein movie. This is naturally a judgment that is open for discussion, as there are many underworlds in Underworld . The term Body Artist clashes with the term for the art movement (“Körperkunst”). Thus the title of the German publication is taken from Lauren’s performance, Body Time, Körperzeit---which, at the same time, mirrors DeLillo’s major concern with time in the novel.
From White Noise on, all the novels were accepted in manuscript form. Translations followed the chronological order of the English publications---only The Names and Running Dog were added later. The average time span of 12 to 18 months between the English publication and the German translation was only exceeded by Libra. All of the titles prior to The Names are under paperback license at the publisher Rowohlt. In contrast to the hardcover editions of the other novels at Kiepenheuer & Witsch, these books were directly printed as paperbacks. The German translation of Cosmopolis was published only half a year after the English publication (August 2003). End Zone, Ratner’s Star, Great Jones Street and a number of his short stories and plays (The Day Room for example), as well as Amazons, remain untranslated.
DeLillo novels at Kiepenheuer & Witsch
Weisses Rauschen/White Noise. 1987. Translation: Helga Pfetsch.
Sieben Sekunden (Seven Seconds)/Libra. 1991. Translation: Hans Hermann.
New Edition: Libra, 2003.
Mao II. 1992. Translation: Werner Schmitz.
Die Namen/The Names. 1994. Translation: Matthias Müller.
Unterwelt/Underworld. 1998. Translation Frank Heibert.
Bluthunde (Bloodhounds)/Running Dog.1999. Translation: Matthias Müller.
Valparaiso. 1999. Translation: Frank Heibert.
Körperzeit (Body Time)/The Body Artist. 2001. Translation: Frank Heibert.
Cosmopolis. 2003. Translation: Frank Heibert.
— Julia Apitzsch, Bonn
Julia Apitzsch studied at the University of Bonn and Washington State (US). She holds a MA in American Literature, Art History and Philosophy from the University of Bonn and is co-editor of Space-Place-Environment (Narr, 2004). She received the Ambassador’s Award in American Studies for her MA Thesis on “Postmodern Identities” in the works of Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo and is currently finishing her PhD in American Studies on the power of images in the works of Don DeLillo. Prior to her current position in the German National Academic Foundation (Studienstiftung des deutsche Volkes) in Bonn, Ms. Apitzsch worked as a freelance art instructor for the Art and Exhibition Hall of the German Republic and as a freelance art and music critic.
Mark Osteen (DDS President and acting Newsletter Editor for this issue), Professor of English at Loyola College, Baltimore, is the author of American Magic and Dread: Don DeLillo’s Dialogue with Culture (2000), and author or editor of five other books and dozens of articles. His edited essay collection Autism and Representation was published by Routledge last year.
Marc Schuster is the author of Don DeLillo, Jean Baudrillard, and the Consumer Conundrum (2008), and The Greatest Show in the Galaxy:The Discerning Fan's Guide to Doctor Who (2007). For more information, visit his webste, here: http://www.marcschuster.com/