Volume 4, Nos.
1-2 - June 2011
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.
Recent DeLillo News
DeLillo is currently being featured in an exhibition, “Culture Unbound,” at the Ransom Center at University of Texas, Austin. The exhibit includes selections from DeLillo’s correspondence with David Foster Wallace and with Norman Mailer, as well as a portrait of DeLillo from Arnold Newman’s collection (http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/53466541/Arnold-Newman-Collection). “Culture Unbound” runs until July 31: http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/exhibitions/2011/unbound/
Picador published new editions of ten of DeLillo’s novels with cover art by Noma Bar in March 2011. You can see the covers here: <http://www.dutchuncle.co.uk/illustrators/noma-bar/portfolios/don-delillo-covers>
DeLillo published a new short story, “Hammer and Sickle,” in Harper’s in December 2010.
DeLillo was awarded the 2010 PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction on October 13, 2010.
DeLillo was awarded the St. Louis University Literary Award on October 21, 2010.
A film of Cosmopolis is currently in pre-production. Directed and adapted by David Cronenberg, it will—reportedly—star Robert Pattinson, Paul Giamatti, and Juliette Binoche.
— Anne Longmuir
Recent and Forthcoming Books on DeLillo
- Giaimo, Paul. Appreciating Don DeLillo: The Moral Force of a Writer's Work. Prager: Santa Barbara, 2011. Print.
- Olster, Stacy. Don DeLillo: Mao II, Underworld, Falling Man. Continuum: New York, 2011. Print.
- Schneck, Peter and Philipp Schwieghauser (eds.). Terrorism, Media, and the Ethics of Fiction: Transatlantic Perspectives on Don DeLillo. Continuum: New York, 2011. Print.
Meeting Don DeLillo
On the day of the announcement, friends from all over the country forwarded me link: Don DeLillo would appear in my city to accept the Saint Louis Literary Society Award. A book signing, talk, interview, and banquet. Although I heard DeLillo read from Underworld in 1997, he didn’t answer questions or sign books. All the better, I thought at the time. I wouldn’t have to decide whether a signature from an author who seems so uncomfortable with the public constituted some kind of literary betrayal. Yet now I was guiltily, self-consciously, excited. More than most novels, DeLillo’s work complicates the simple Meet the Author, since, from Americana onward, DeLillo has complicated the concept of authorship itself. In Great Jones Street, Ratner’s Star, Underworld, of course Mao II, and now Point Omega, DeLillo has continuously, self-consciously, and ironically questioned the rhetorical triangle between the viewer, the art, and the artist. Yet his readers can’t be immune to the allure and aura of the author himself. Bucky Wunderlick’s and Bill Gray’s self-imposed exiles and diatribes against fame couldn’t keep me away. They just made me feel sheepish about it, then silly for feeling sheepish.
And so on October 21, 2010, I made sure to arrive over an hour before the signing, which was already an hour before the talk. After all, this was Don DeLillo, and I would be lucky to make it to the front of the line in under a mere hour. In retrospect, my anticipation seemed sweetly misguided—no one was there yet, and only three other people arrived over the next hour: an Italian (from Italy) grad student writing a thesis on DeLillo, his German (from Germany) Political Science grad student girlfriend, who had road-tripped together from Pennsylvania, and a man in a Saint Louis Cardinals jersey who told me that he wasn’t an academic, but he “really liked Don DeLillo.” In a way, along with me (former musician turned college professor and New York City émigré to the Midwest) and the venue—the Jesuit-affiliated Saint Louis University—it represented a perfect cross-section, not of DeLillo’s readership, but of his books’ themes. And of course, just before the signing began, a few dozen others arrived.
When DeLillo was eventually escorted into the room, despite knowing his photos by heart, I didn’t recognize him. He was much smaller than I’d anticipated, which of course struck me as another cause for DeLillo-esque embarrassment. Why should I care about an author’s physical presence? Why should we expect writers, of all people, to be larger than life? Of course, stature is equally unexpected: in person, Jonathan Franzen’s and Octavia Butler’s imposing heights had surprised me as well. And Michael Chabon was exactly as tall as I expected, whatever that means. I was awash in sheepishness.
Yet when my turn came and I presented my first-edition hardcover of White Noise, I also gave Mr. DeLillo (a name I’ve now written hundreds of times in academic criticism, syllabuses, and comments to students, but never before with an honorific) a copy of my book, Don DeLillo: Balance at the Edge of Belief. As I did, I ad libbed, despite the hour to plan, “I’ve spent the last decade thinking about your work.” Which wasn’t really true: I’d spent the last thirteen years, but “decade” sounded cleaner, and rounding down made me seem less like a Scott Martineau-style stalker or JAK Gladney-esque fraud. After giving me a humble look of surprise and gratitude, he returned White Noise and graciously took my book. But as I walked away he called back: “Jesse!” No amount of Barthes or Foucault, reception theory or reader response, could have prepared me for the visceral fanboy jolt of hearing DeLillo call my name, or what came next: he asked me to sign my book for him. (And so: “I never imagined I’d sign a book for you.”) Then he amended his own signature in White Noise, no longer just “To Jesse, A reader, Don DeLillo,” but now, to “A reader and writer.”
Instead of being a scholar, or even an admirer, I got to be the boy in the Mean Joe Greene Coke commercial: “Hey, kid. Catch!” Despite, then, the hours reading the novels, and years writing the scholarship, the dozens of classes I’ve devoted to helping students ponder DeLillo’s work, it’s impossible to discount the palpable presence of the author himself, however much I—or Don DeLillo—would like. DeLillo’s own responses in the subsequent Q&A only deepened this contradiction. Asked about his much-touted reclusiveness, DeLillo denied shunning the press and public, instead suggesting, of his pre-Names career, “No one wanted to talk to me, and I didn’t want to talk to anyone, and everyone was happy.” Yet he didn’t seem unhappy on the day of the award, only cautious and contemplative, a man who wants his words to embody him rather than allow him to embody the words. And while many of his other responses to the questions would be familiar to anyone who has followed DeLillo over the years (cheat sheet: “the way the words look on the page,” “typewriter,” “Kennedy,” “Greece,” “Joyce,” and “Godard”), I certainly enjoyed meeting the man and, his response to the contrary, hearing the words outside of the page.
According to interviewer Tom LeClair, Don DeLillo has an engraved card that says “I don’t want to talk about it.” But that doesn’t mean that we don’t—or shouldn’t—want to listen.
Don DeLillo Conference 2012
Is there an interest in a (second) Don DeLillo conference, this one to be held at the College of Mount Saint Vincent, located in the Bronx (Riverdale)? Jackie Zubeck has marshaled considerable interest in the faculty and administration for such a conference, proposed for Spring 2012, along the lines of the first DeLillo Conference at Rutgers University in March of 1998. Those of you who attended the 1998 event might remember that we distributed papers beforehand, and kept presentations to about 10 minutes. Thus, there was lots of time for discussion and scholarly exchange. Several DeLillo scholars–well met at literature conferences this year–have voiced an opinion that it’s time for a reprise of the 1998 event!
Mount Saint Vincent is particularly well suited to host a DeLillo conference, with its beautiful campus overlooking the Hudson River. We might include papers (in our previous “conversation” format) but also a performance or reading of a DeLillo play, as we have two theatre spaces. And of course, there are many NYC sights to see that also appear in DeLillo’s fiction: just down the road is the subway station where Lee Harvey Oswald boarded for a ride, in close proximity to the neighborhood where DeLillo was raised and the university (Fordham) where he studied “something called Communication.” Manhattan is not far at all, and trips to Great Jones Street and the grounds of the Twin Towers, among other sights, are well within the realm of possibility.
However, while the administration has shown interest, the Mount is having financial difficulties (who isn’t?) and I have yet to receive an answer regarding this proposed event. Because the newsletter is going to press, I am simply putting the message to you: Is a Spring 2012 Don DeLillo Conference of interest to you? What do you think it should include? Would you be interested in presenting a paper?
Interest from the scholarly community would indicate the direction such a conference might take. Please send your replies and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. This mail will help me to galvanize our administration and encourage them to acquiesce.
Looking forward to hearing from you!
— Jackie Zubeck
A Note from the Editor
I’d like to thank all those who submitted information and contributions to this edition of the newsletter, particularly Jesse Kavadlo whose account of meeting DeLillo surely strikes a chord with many of us.
If you’d like to send comments, reviews, or short articles for the next issue, please email them to me at email@example.com no later than October 17, 2011.
— Anne Longmuir
Jesse Kavadlo is an Associate Professor of English at Maryville University in St. Louis. He received his Ph.D. in English from Fordham University in the Bronx (DeLillo’s alma mater) and has written a book, Don DeLillo: Balance at the Edge of Belief, as well as essays about DeLillo in Studies in Popular Culture, Academic Exchange Quarterly, Critique, and Don DeLillo (Bloom’s Major Novelists). For the record, he has written about other topics, too.
Anne Longmuir (DDS Newsletter Editor) is an Assistant 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, and Journal of Narrative Theory.
Jackie Zubeck is an Assistant Professor of English at the College of Mount Saint Vincent, with research interests in DeLillo (of course), Flannery O'Connor, and the war story. In the summer, she switches gears and builds wooden boats and spends as much time as possible in the water.