(Re)Reading Don DeLillo in Dark Times

Adapted from a talk given on April 28, 2017 at the New School, New York City, as part of The Body Artist: A Conference on Don DeLillo.

“Live outside your native culture long enough, and you begin to see it as a sort of double exposure in which your sense of family and identity and belonging is overlaid with a strange, shape-shifting disturbance pattern in which everything seems normal until it suddenly doesn’t, and you begin to see the country from a foreigner’s point of view. For as long as I can remember, America has enjoyed its superpower status, exporting the products of its creative industries around the globe, often through aggressive means, and showing little sustained interest in the cultures of other countries. Lawrence Venuti, the translation theorist, has spoken of ‘a trade imbalance with serious cultural ramifications’ resulting in ‘a complacency in Anglo-American relations with cultural others, a complacency that can be described—without too much exaggeration—as imperialistic abroad and xenophobic at home.’ Only a tiny percentage of all publications in the United States are works in translation, meaning that we have comparatively meager resources to examine our society and culture in comparison to other societies and cultures, and that this impedes our ability to reflect objectively on ourselves.”


Originally published in Quarterly Conversation

Republished by Three Quarks Daily, January 2021.

  1. StAug said:

    Such a pleasure to read a new, substantive piece on DeLillo, with the pleasure increased by the fact that I’m a long-haul Expat in Berlin, too (out of the US for 27 years this November). Quite right: the perspective gained by seeing the US from this (safe) distance is clarifying… every American should try it! (Not that I want them all to try it *here*…. )

    As a writer I place DeLillo somewhere between Harold Brodkey and Joan Didion (the three bears of “paranoia”), but I consider myself more a connoisseur of DeLillo’s sentences (which often achieve the beauty of a Twombly squiggle or a Sonny Rollins solo) than a member of his cult. I rate Libra and Mao II very highly, and like White Noise well enough but consider Underworld his masterpiece (or the drain around which the totality of his texts circle) while I believe the underrated, Swiftian, Cosmopolis is a gem in the triptych comprised also of Underworld and Falling Man. Falling Man I consider to be the beginning of a strangely muted period from which DeLillo has yet to emerge (too many gnomic abstractions, not enough Bronx). Beyond that, for me, the most mysterious/ mystifying thing about DeLillo is his friendship with Paul Auster…! Laugh

    Thanks again for the piece, which I will want to have a second and third read-through of tomorrow.

    • Hello! For some reason I never saw this comment. Thanks for your take on the piece.

      • StAug said:

        Hey, no problem! I’d totally forgotten that I left the comment!

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