(RE)READING DON DELILLO IN DARK TIMES

FallingmanAndrea Scrima at The Quarterly Conversation:

What do we expect from literature? Fiction offers writers the chance to formulate uncomfortable ideas, to place words in the mouths of characters that are distinct from the author’s point of view. Written six years after September 11, however, Falling Manstill did not address much of the madness that occurred in the aftermath of this epochal event: the self-censorship that characterized the time; the mindless patriotism; the trauma that was fixated exclusively on victimhood, as opposed to the devastating effects of United States policy abroad; the conspiracy theories—the latter being a particularly noteworthy omission, given that in his research for Libra, DeLillo immersed himself in the sea of speculation surrounding the JFK assassination, the last era-defining catastrophe before 9/11. Was it a cop-out to give the strongest critical voice to a foreigner, the vaguely dubious Martin with the socialist past? Oddly, his nationality is not precisely specified, as though Europe were some indistinguishable entity patently hostile to American values and virtues, and therefore decadent, discredited. DeLillo seems to be asking how much we actually want to know about ourselves, and it seems significant in this respect that Falling Man was one of his least loved books. A similar fate befell Susan Sontag, who famously issued an apology for the short essay she read out loud at the American Academy in Berlin on September 13, 2001 and published two days later in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Finally appearing in The New Yorker on September 24, nearly two weeks after the event, the piece made the comparatively mild and fairly accurate observation that America was attacked for its arrogance and its disastrous international interventions and heaped scorn on “the unanimity of the sanctimonious, reality-concealing rhetoric spouted by American officials and media commentators.” Sontag stood alone in her audacity to state what should have been obvious to everyone, and she was vilified for it. When does it become the writer’s responsibility to put skin in the game, to come out of hiding and state an unequivocal point of view? Are DeLillo’s deflected statements the only way he saw to voice deeply uncomfortable and unpopular ideas, and is this a legitimate literary strategy?

more here.

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