THE RE-MODERN DELILLO

Don DeLillo is commonly known, and studied, as a postmodernist
author. Indeed, his 1986 novel White Noise has been canonized on
college syllabi across the world, just behind Pynchon’s The Crying of
Lot 49, as a quintessential postmodernist text. This is in many ways
a logical critical positioning. Since his earliest writing, DeLillo
has employed postmodernist techniques to great effect, and has
explicitly taken postmodern civilization to be his critical subject.
From his foregrounding of the image culture and surface-obsession in
Americana (1971), to the cartoonish concept-characters of Ratner’s
Star (1976), to the dismantling of metanarratives both local and
global in Libra (1988), to the heteroglossic language and ontological
conundrums of The Body Artist (2001), to the will to silence in Great
Jones Street (1973), Mao II (1992) or Falling Man (2007), DeLillo has
flashed all of his postmodernist credentials at one time or another.
Given the complexity of the theoretical issues at work, Delillo scholarship
has understandably focused on exploring and exposing its
postmodernism. One need only glance at any critical bibliography to
become convinced.

In the early stages of DeLillo scholarship, this laying bare of
postmodernist mechanisms was a task of primordial importance, and it
continues to be essential today. More recently however, what seems to
be increasingly clear is the problematic and equivocal nature of
DeLillo’s postmodernism, and the manner in which it is his subject as
well as his method. His work is rarely, if ever, as performative as
Coover’s, as inclusive, encyclopedic and centrifugal as Pynchon’s, or
as jubilantly frustrating as Barthelme’s. Ratner’s Star , the novel
brandished most frequently by critics such as Tom LeClair and Brian
McHale to develop their theories of literary postmodernism, is also
arguably the least typical of DeLillo’s novels, one which DeLillo
himself has bracketed off from the body of his writing. White Noise,
although hailed as a postmodernist masterpiece, critiques
postmodernity more than it practices postmodernism. Formally,
DeLillo’s recent novels seem to have in part backed away from his ostensibly
metafictional early writing.

Despite their best efforts to undermine their own discourses,
DeLillo’s novels often close upon themselves with a formalistic unity
that we recognize as distinctly modernist. Thus Oswald’s life in
Libra or Eric Packer’s in Cosmopolis become not mock-tragic but
tragic. The writer-artist is transformed into a hero-figure.
Underworld ingests all of Cold War culture to produce not a
Cooveresque circus but a sweeping humanistic drama where personal
history and national history merge. Language and mystery become
metanarratives unto themselves. This modernist impulse has been
commented upon to various degrees by Frank Lentriccia, Mark Osteen,
Catherine Morley, and Philip Nel, among others. Tom LeClair, when
speaking of the systems novelists in his groundbreaking study The Art
of Excess, hints that it is perhaps more exact and more telling to
refer to them as "re-moderns" or the "new scientifically and
aesthetically sophisticated naturalists." This
spreading critical recognition that DeLillo’s writing resists the
traditional postmodernist label perhaps indicates the way forward for
DeLillo criticism in general.

Suggested Submission Themes :
Ideally, submissions should therefore approach DeLillo’s writing from
the perspective of its problematic or equivocal postmodernism,
including but not limited to :

  •  the manner in which it resists or rejects its own postmodernist impulses
  •  the manner in which it creates myth itself despite its dismantling of myth
  •  Unity, formalism and ceremonial grandeur
  •  DeLillo’s problematic endings : a reluctance to closure despite a totalizing narrative architecture that seems to demand or desire it.
  •  The Joyce, Hemingway, and Dos Passos influences
  •  Faith in and celebration of narrative and heroic artist-figures
  •  Logocentrism
  •  Epiphany
  •  Pattern, echo
  •  The epistemological vs. the ontological dominant (cf. McHale)

    Electronic submissions should be addressed to Aaron Smith
    Deadline for submissions : June 13, 2009
    Online publication in September 2009