Newsletter 3.2 (Dec. 2008)

From the President

Don DeLillo has been called “reclusive,” but a more accurate word might be “private.” In the past few years, indeed, he has appeared in public much more frequently than he did earlier in his career. In October of 2008, for example, he delivered the Frances Steloff Lecture at Skidmore College. According to the Skidmore College newspaper, two members of their English faculty had been wooing the novelist for some ten years. His finally agreeing to speak may indicate a slight alteration in his attitude about publicity.

A former colleague of mine also informs me that the theater department at Fordham—DeLillo’s alma mater—will perform The Day Room during next year’s season. When asked to participate in the production, DeLillo responded with a sentence that might easily have issued from Bucky Wunderlick or Bill Gray: “I’m trying to disappear, which is harder than it sounds, and would not envision an active role for myself.” Yet he did agree to talk privately with cast members, so perhaps he is not trying quite as hard to disappear as he once did.

But is this a good thing? During the Steloff Lecture, DeLillo revealed an important aspect of his writing process: “I never know what I’m getting into, never know the ending. I truly work sentence by sentence,” he said. “The book begins to tell you where to go. You can’t just plan ahead as if you were bridge building.” He further explained that while writing he tries to create “a space for revelation” in which “the mind begins to discover things.”* To achieve revelation, then, he must immerse himself in a world inside the world. Hence, we DeLillo scholars and fans must moderate our natural impulse to penetrate the writer’s private space and let him “disappear”:  such temporary withdrawals are necessary so that the novels and plays continue to appear.

Fortunately, DeLillo scholarship shows no signs of disappearing. The past year has seen the publication of several new articles and three pertinent books: Marc Schuster’s Don DeLillo, Jean Baudrillard, and the Consumer Conundrum (Cambria Press); Jennifer Green-Lewis and Margaret Soltan’s Teaching Beauty in DeLillo, Woolf, and Merrill (Palgrave Macmillan), and The Cambridge Companion to Don DeLillo, edited by John N. Duvall. As for public gatherings, the DDS is sponsoring two panels at the 2009 ALA Convention in Boston: Mark Sample, of George Mason University, and Mark Eaton, of Azusa Pacific, have issued CFPs for a panel on DeLillo and Play, and a roundtable on DeLillo and Religion (see below). Mary Holland will chair a panel on DeLillo in the Twenty-First Century at the 20th Century Literature Conference in Louisville. For more information, see “Events” on the DDS Website. We hope you’ll seize these opportunities to make your work known.

Here’s hoping we all keep making DeLillo pages appear.

— Mark Osteen, DDS President

*See “World Famous Author Gives Lecture at Skidmore,” Skidmore News, 17 Oct. 2008.

Recent DeLillo Scholarship

“Presenting Trauma: on Don DeLillo’s Falling Man
American Literature Association Conference
San Francisco, CA (May 22-25, 2008)

On May 23, 2008, at the American Literature Association conference in San Francisco, the Don DeLillo Society held two highly successful panels on DeLillo’s Falling Man.  The first, chaired by Mary Holland of SUNY New Paltz, was titled “Presenting Trauma: Memory and Forgetting in Don DeLillo’s Falling Man,” and asked how the novel, taking the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center as its starting point, allows us to consider the effects of this traumatic experience on our individual psyches and collective culture, our relationships and means of conducting them, our past and future histories, our ideas about historicizing, and the ability or inability of literature and language properly to document, understand, and heal from such traumatic experience.  The three papers collected by this panel responded by considering the variety of ways in which the novel insists on keeping that trauma present and visible, rather than allowing it to be consigned to an unexamined and unarticulated past.

The first paper, by John Duvall of Purdue University, was titled “Trauma and the Image: Falling Man and the Terror of Perception.”  This paper opened by looking at the writing work done by one central character, Lianne, with Alzheimer’s patients, as evidence of the novel’s acknowledgment of the “impossible project of addressing the national trauma of 9/11.”  It then explored the ways in which this novel, itself recursive in structure and therefore refusing definitive narrative progress or closure, repeatedly makes the trauma and the precise moment of the trauma present for its characters and its readers.  Falling Man, a performance artist in the novel who repeats the traumatic moment of the falls of the “jumpers” from the WTC—and the traumatic moment of witnessing those falls—operates in the novel as a reminder that we must look at the trauma that we cannot heal through narrative.  Duvall accompanied his essay with images of other pieces of real visual art, produced in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy, that reproduce the fall and force us to face what still remains visually denied us, just as the famous photograph now called “Falling Man” has been denied us by being banned since its only publication in the U.S. shortly after the attack.  Duvall ended by asking us to consider what kinds of images our government will and will not allow us to see, what kinds of traumas may become canonized, and what political intentions motivate these decisions.

Also taking as his starting point the visual representations of the World Trade Center tragedy produced in its wake, Tim Gauthier of UNLV explored the intentions behind such art, and the effects of the art on a grieving public.  His paper, entitled “Private and Public Trauma in DeLillo’s Falling Man,” examined our and Falling Man’s preoccupation with those who chose falling in that impossible dilemma, and asked what justification the novel gave for such a preoccupation in American culture and in art.  The artists who produced visual representations of the jumpers, like the Falling Man performance artist in the novel, justified their representations of the traumatic moment by the need to make visible this largely unseen moment of suffering.  They also offered their interpretations of the event in an effort to escape the simplification and codification enacted once we accept only a few sanctioned representations of any event.  In this way, Tim Gauthier argued that Falling Man defends the necessity of facing the traumatic moment, both to keep the uninterpretable experience of it present and to retain its complexity, unfixed by any one artistic representation.

Finally, Marni Gauthier of SUNY Cortland presented a paper titled “ ‘Falling out of the world’: Memory, Intimacy and the Post-9/11 Crisis of Meaning in Don DeLillo’s Falling Man.”  Following Wendy Steiner, who, in her essay “Postmodern Fiction 1970-1990” distinguishes “stylistic” postmodern writing from a “humanistic” strain that pays attention to the “imperative of individual pain,” Marni Gauthier argued that DeLillo’s Falling Man develops most poignantly the domestic and marital themes DeLillo explores more famously in novels like White Noise and Underworld.  Acknowledging that DeLillo’s most recent novel shares the stylistic innovations of its predecessors, this paper argued that it is, however, “categorically distinct–chronologically, aesthetically, culturally, and politically–from postmodernism.”  The paper demonstrated that its narrative structure, more than any other DeLillo novel, proceeds according to the workings of memory, and demonstrated its recursive concern with personal and cultural memory and forgetting.  Ultimately this paper asserted that Falling Man’s determination to remember, rather than forget, places it in a strain of postmodern and contemporary literature dedicated to humanistic pursuits of paying attention to the pain of the individual experience of trauma.

With over fifty attendees—many sitting in the aisles of our room—and a lively and interesting question-and-answer session that stretched out into the halls after our allotted time was up, this panel spoke of an impressive and exciting energy surrounding Don DeLillo studies and Falling Man.  Next, we look forward to taking that energy into future panels on DeLillo at next year’s ALA, and ensuing conferences as well, such as the Twentieth Century Literature conference in February.

— Mary Holland, Panel Chair

“Reading Don DeLillo’s Falling Man: Themes and Perspectives”

American Literature Association Conference
San Francisco, CA (May 22-25, 2008)

The panel “Reading Don DeLillo’s Falling Man” brought together an international array of scholars to explore various thematic and narratological points of entry into this most elusive and understated of DeLillo’s novels.  Italian DeLillo scholar Paolo Simonetti presented a panel entitled “Empty Space where America used to be: DeLillo’s Deconstruction of 9/11 Rhetoric” in which he argued that DeLillo’s fictional terrorists stand out as “authors” of a plot in competition with the plot of the writer. In deconstructing any simplistic opposition between terrorist and writer, America and Islam, religious fundamentalism and late capitalism, Falling Man aims at restoring a creative heterogeneity opposed to the one-way rhetoric of the terrorists.  Tanya Peterson flew in from Australia to read her paper “Beyond Time: Photography and Trauma in Don DeLillo’s Falling Man,” which investigated Falling Man in terms of trauma and temporality, using the language and codes of photography as its central mode of analysis. This interdisciplinary paper examined how photography operates within the novel’s narrative structure and content, describing the slippage between traumatic registration and its symbolic representation.  Finally, American scholar Mark L. Sample’s contribution, “The Lucky jack did not fall: The Question of Poker in Don DeLillo’s Falling Man,” explored how Keith Neudecker grows increasingly obsessed with poker in the months after the attack.  Building upon Walter Benjamin’s meditations on gambling and experience, collated in his Arcades Project, and availing himself of the most recent anthropological research into gambling such as Thomas Malaby’s Gambling Life, Dr. Sample showed how DeLillo portrays gambling as a negation of experience which is, DeLillo seems to say, the most legitimate response to an extraordinary act of violence.  The panel was well attended and concluded with a lively discussion, ensuring a stimulating time was had by all.

— Randy Laist, Panel Chair

Call for DeLillo Papers in 2009

“Don DeLillo and Play”
Sponsored by the Don DeLillo Society
American Literature Association Conference
Boston, MA (May 21-24, 2009)

The groundbreaking work of Johan Huizinga and Roger Caillois suggests that play and games are a fundamental part of life, yet set apart from the ordinary and the everyday, occupying a special preserve with unique boundaries and rules. How does the work of Don DeLillo reaffirm or challenge these classic notions of play? From the obvious football and baseball themes of End Zone and Underworld to the understated language games of The Names and performative play in Players and Running Dog, Don DeLillo has repeatedly focused on games and play in a way that has attracted little attention from scholars. The Don DeLillo Society seeks to redress this gap and welcomes papers that explore the role of sports, games, and play in DeLillo’s novels and stories.

Please send 300-500 word abstracts and a 1-page C.V. to Mark Sample at by January 9, 2009.

“Don DeLillo and Religion” Roundtable
Sponsored by the Don DeLillo Society
American Literature Association Conference
Boston, MA (May 21-24, 2009)

The Don DeLillo Society invites short papers of not more than ten minutes on any aspect of religion and spirituality in DeLillo’s work for a Don DeLillo and Religion Roundtable.

Please send 300-500 word abstracts to Mark Eaton at by January 9, 2009.

Recent DeLillo News and Ephemera

A Note from the Editor

I’d like to thank all those who submitted contributions to this edition of the newsletter, and take this opportunity to solicit letters to the editor, comments, reviews, or questions for the next issue.  In particular, in addition to scholarly news about DeLillo, I’d be interested in following up Wade Lewis’s suggestion on the listserv that DDS members share any experiences hosting or organizing book groups about DeLillo’s work.

With the optimism that comes from inexperience, I’m hoping that we can ensure regular biannual publication of the Newsletter in future. Bearing this in mind, I’d request that contributions for the next edition of the newsletter reach me no later that April 15th, 2009.  All submissions should be sent to me at

— Anne Longmuir


Mary Holland is Assistant Professor of Contemporary British and American Literature at SUNY New Paltz.  Her research focuses on poststructuralist American novels and film of the past twenty-five years, in which she reads characters’ struggles to create and maintain family bonds—largely unrecognized in criticism—as resistance to antihumanist models of language and culture.  Published articles include “‘The Art’s Heart’s Purpose’: Braving the Narcissistic Loop of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest” (in Critique) and “Morality in a (TV) Box: Lessons on Mothering and Media from The Ring and The Ring Two” (forthcoming in The Journal of Popular Culture).  Her present book project, Reading Beyond Words: Towards a Twenty-first Century Literary Hermeneutics, expands beyond these observations of postmodern American fiction and film, arguing that literature of the nascent twenty-first century has shifted away from the postmodern questions of how we know and what is true to a newly humanist question of how we believe.

Randy Laist is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Connecticut where he is finishing up his dissertation on technology and subjectivity in Don DeLillo’s novels.  His articles have appeared in Critique, Modern Language Studies, and CEAMagazine.  He currently teaches at the University of Connecticut and the College of the Holy Cross.

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.

Mark Osteen (DDS President), 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.


No one sees the barn

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