Don DeLillo Continuum Studies in Contemporary North American Fiction Series Editor: Sarah Graham, Lecturer in America. In the words of a New York Times review, Don DeLillo's Underworld is a at New York University, ronaldweinland.info, May. “Don DeLillo's Underworld () comes close to being an all-inclusive a shot are not the sole metaphors DeLillo hangs Underworld on—another is waste.
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Also by don Miguel Ruiz THE FIFTH AGREEMENT A Practical Guide to Self- Mastery THE FOUR AGREEMENTS The Four Agreem. Underworld by Don DeLillo; 7 editions; First published in ; Subjects: Baseballs, Cold War, Ex-convicts, Executives, Fathers and sons, Fiction, Public. Don DeLillo's Underworld. Home · Don DeLillo's Underworld Don Delillo: Mao II, Underworld, Falling Man · Read more.
When The New York Times surveyed writers and critics to determine the best work of American fiction during the last twenty- five years, Don DeLillo's Underworld finished in second place with eleven votes. Only Toni Morrison's Beloved , which received fifteen votes, ranked ahead of DeLillo's massive novel. Almost a half-century of history is crammed into Underworld, and the constant interaction of the diverging plot lines with pop culture events and socio-political milestones adds to the piquant flavor of this rambling novel. All human knowledge gathered and linked, hyper-linked. World without end, amen. Instead he jumps freely, and without warning, from vignette to vignette, character to character, decade to decade.
We are brought once again to Kaufmann's claim that the sacred and the secular always operate in tandem. The end of the novel is perplexing. We are still in cyberspace and a word appears: "you try to imagine the word on the screen becoming a thing in the world The final line, "Peace," echoes the end of Waste Land, "Shantih, Shantih, Shantih" or "the peace which passeth understanding" Duvall It is a whisper of reconciliation, of longing.
But as Nick has said, "Most of our longings go unfulfilled" What are the possibilities embodied by "a single seraphic word"? Are these This content downloaded from Or, as Osteen says, is this a "hopeful benediction"?
A postsecular reading would say, both. The novel's mysterious ending is an assault upon easy redemptive readings. DeLillo is by no means ready to offer a spiritual solution to the world's prob lems. Like so many other postsecular works, DeLillo's novel supports "play" and open-ended readings over the affirmation of any existing discourse or the formulation of any new master discourses. As Amy Hungerford writes of DeLillo, "He imagines an enlightenment that consists not in doctrine, but in prayer; not in instruction, but in vision; not in reason, but in rap ture; not in knowledge, but in mystery" It is in this way that DeLillo presents a picture of the religious in our age that may be characterized as postsecular.
Like T. Eliot's Waste Land, the novel refers to waste to define a period of history. But, Paul Gleason suggests, instead of urging, as Eliot seems to, a return to the idealized past? DeLillo thrusts his readers farther into the uncertainty of the present so that we may "reinvent and redeem the waste that defines America in the second half of the twentieth century" Consider the figure of Klara, the artist who is salvaging bomber planes as an art project.
Though she longs for the structure of times when the balance of power was intact albeit menacing , in this project she is moving forward, with trepidation, into a more complicated time. She knows the im measurability of color. She knows that violence is undone, that it is easier now. But she is willing to think about the unthinkable. Her task is still rife with risk, just like the planes she works on; after all, decommissioned planes are kept in case they ever need to be used again.
Therefore, they still hold the potential for violence. Yet Klara's project works against the violence by maintaining difference. Nick says that the colors of the project push and pull, that they are in competition with each other. Klara says she is drunk on color, immersing herself in it after many years of only working in black in white, willing to wade through it toward some potential balance. What connection is there between the artist Klara and the writer DeLillo?
When Nick views the bomber project from above, he thinks of the fittingness of what she has done, rethinking old weapons in this way. He sees it as a work of art that marks the end of an age. She gives herself over to the project, despite its scale and complexity, just as DeLillo tackles, in his page novel, a massive retrospective of the half-century in a way that also rethinks "old weapons" and redeems waste.
Don DeLillo said in an interview, "We're in between two historical pe This content downloaded from This may just be the interim" Williams It seems that for DeLillo life in "the interim" is actually life in the space between. First, we inhabit a world suspended between old categories of sacred and profane.
Second, we accept the vul nerability of porousness in favor of experiencing that other great between, the betweenness that can occur in our relations. It is in this space between that we find the work of the postsecular. See my article, "Postsecularism and a Prophetic Sensibility. DeLillo drew his inspiration for the novel's prologue from the cover page of the Oc tober 4, New York Times, in which news of the two events were given equal weight.
See Buber, Mark Osteen discusses waste containment in relation to Cold War containment policy in chapter 8 of Ame? Wearing her habit after Vatican II is a protective barrier. Narrative, O'Donnell writes that paranoia permits us both to claim "historical revelation and conceal as mystery or conspiracy what we don't want to know" See Duvall's discussion of "aura.
Nick's problem is that his approach to waste is not redemptive. It is founded in fear and denial. He creates landfills in an attempt to "entomb" waste, rather than attempting to see the waste and redeem it as the character Klara Sax does in her art projects. In Girard's non-sacrificial reading of the Gospels, the Passion is meant to expose and subvert the violent foundation of the sacred.
See Girard, Violence and the Sacred. Here I am reminded of Hamner's discussion of faith as "risk. See Nicholas of Cusa on coincidentia oppositorium. Duvall points out that "Each section [of the novel] has an artist figure that either narrates or focalizes the reader's perceptions": Russ Hodges, Ismael Mu? Nahum Glatzer. Syracuse: Syracuse UP, DeLillo, Don. New York: Simon and Schuster, Duvall, John.
Hall, Underworld: A Reader's Guide. New York: Continuum, Girard, Ren?. Violence and the Sacred. Patrick Gregory. Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, Hungerford, Amy. Ludwig, Kathryn.
Christianity and Literature O'Donnell, Patrick. Durham: Duke UP, Osteen, Mark. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, Cambridge: Belknap of Harvard UP, The whole novel is approached in relation to that decade and that specific identity set up in the Prologue, in order to reveal the inherently fragile nature of national identity.
National identity is not only a product of current political and cultural circumstances, whose means of propagation include the media, but also a dynamic notion behind which usually stands the force that at the time has the most power, be it the Cold War or capitalism as such because, it must not be forgoten, the Cold war and the issue of capital were intricately connected.
The Epilogue, though, offers new technology and cyberspace as possible means of closure which enable the final consolidation of all possible realities, including the past. However, this came at the cost of the dissolution of the authentic individual and a new form of paranoia: The Triumph of Death October 3, The main event around which the prologue revolves is a famous baseball game between the Giants and Dodgers that took place on October 3 in at the Polo Grounds in New York City.
American society was at the time marked by global political tension between the United States and the Soviet Union, as well as the Cold War paranoia. While the author touches upon this matter, he also, using the motif of the crowd at the stadium, explores how the crisis affects a sense of national collectivity that is heavily implied, although it is debatable whether the unity indeed is genuine or it serves only as a screen for the shaken up society.
It is significant, however, that at the beginning the crowd is represented as a unified whole, a mass of people who not only act and respond in the same way, but also accumulate and possess a certain kind of power. At this moment the reader for the first time becomes aware of the Cold War crisis that dominated the period and whose impact will be felt throughout the novel. The prologue also, as further discussion shall clarify, functions as a reference point for the whole novel, while the fifties are at the same time represented as a formative epoch for the characters.
It was unable to transmit full experience of the event because it lacked the visual component, so people had to get together to relive it and let it sink in, while television presented them with a more engaging and complete experience. In other words, radio, by means of baseball, took part in shaping and strengthening the national identity: Radio stands in a certain opposition to other media by being the only one explicitly upholding the illusion of national unity and the dominant model of a constructed identity.
In future, many characters would recollect their personal experience of the game and cherish it as part of their past in an attempt to restore a feeling of stable identity in their conflicted present.
The only mentions of print media include Life magazine with the reproduction of Bruegel's Triumph of Death, and ads from various magazines and newspapers.
More important for the discussion, though, is the opposition between history, represented as something obsolete and easily forgotten, and present, characterized by a prosperous economy. Bruegel in Life magazine evokes feelings of terror and chaos in relation to current political climate and therefore reveals that the self, as well as the present, is underneath all euphoria fundamentally paranoid and fragile.
Television still does not seem to influence the American identity that much in , although the example of the cult of celebrities indicates its future popularity. A comedian, Jackie Gleason, is at the same time watching the game from the box at the stadium and being watched by fans that surround him: This reveals the growing popularity of TV and movie industry, which helped in propagating new model identities as an alternative to the one already established under the influence of the Cold War.
The aim of this discussion is to make clear media's formative influence and involvement in everyday affairs, as well as their specific ways of communicating information that in result could have both individual and collective consequences, such as a change in the way of perceiving oneself, others, past and present.
It is important to note that the Cold War crisis had a major role in shaping the national identity that was at the time heavily, if not in most part, characterized by the opposition to the USSR — the Other.
Although war was persistently looming, collective identity was strongly defined and therefore perceived as stable. Precisely because of the crisis based on national opposition, people had a strong sense of national identity and it was easier for them to feel united in a shared experience.
The memory of the event would eventually endure the test of time and later on be regarded as a valuable personal memory. More than that, in future the characters would long for a sense of the firm national identity established here as a reaction to and consequence of the crisis. Media would, on the other hand, by adapting to current trends and being influenced by the workings of capital, reinforce the conflict by providing alternative models of both individual and national identity.
Anderson 25 The turning point was a new concept of homogeneous, empty time in which simultaneity is a temporal coincidence. This means that national identity, in itself an ideological construct based on the imagined community, is prone to the influence of media.
Even more so, media are a very part of the culture that takes part in forming the national identity. As the analysis has indicated, it seems that in the fifties the print media have in great part lost the role attributed to them by Anderson.
Print media did continue to support the paradigm of We vs. Even more so, they advocated for a breakup with history, as well as the shift towards a more economy-oriented present. Radio took over the role of being a generator of the sense of national identity.
The prologue thus registers a specific shift in time, a turning point in the complex relationship between history, media, and national identity.
The fifties in this case function as a certain intermediate period in which power relations between the three previously mentioned factors are being realigned. As the following discussion will show, the fifties had formative influence on the characters in a sense of being the last decade in which a single model of national identity, characterized by a strong sense of unity, stability and national consciousness, was still actively propagated by the media. Albert Bronzini, one of the key protagonists, meets with Father Paulus and discusses with him the Times front page with juxtaposed and symmetrical headlines about the Giants capturing the pennant and the USSR exploding an atomic bomb: The Times cover is a curious example of the way in which print media can encourage feelings of paranoia, but at the same time counteract the shock and panic by providing entertainment.
By presenting the Other as a threatening and militant force, and sport of national importance by its side, print media in fact reinforce a sense of national identity — and not just any national identity, but the one that was specifically marked by the polarizing political climate of the time. The nation at the same time has the opposition against which it can establish its identity, while sense of collectivity is strengthened by appealing to national pride via baseball.
In the following decades the print media would, in line with cultural changes, abandon the logic of propagating a sole, unified, almost totalitarian model of national identity. It would become a thing of the past. Radio in general has a prominent role within the Italian community of the Bronx, as Italian radio or radio tuned to the Italian stations are mentioned a few times.
Representing an already finished process of dissolving a sense of national identity, confining it to history and making it accessible only through the radio, it is an example in a nutshell of the same process which has already been under way in a broader sense. A politically charged and very dominant identity constructed as a product of a Cold War climate, actively upheld on all levels including the media, was now becoming obsolete. It was gradually being replaced by a variety we could even say a more democratic version of model identities, oriented towards consumerism and the present.
At the same time, popularity of television and movie industry was experiencing rapid growth. They, more than anything else, provided alternative identities modeled on artificial and embellished public image of a movie star. They created what would appeal to consumers enough to set up a reference point upon which one could model their behavior, desires, and through which one could, ultimately, escape the reality.
It can be seen, therefore, that in the early fifties the Cold War was still a defining element of national identity although its dominance over the public imagination had started to wane, which was both perpetuated by the media and reflected on media content occupying most of the public space. Within much broader cultural and political mechanisms, media influenced the American identity by continuing to reinforce opposition to the Other.
Print media strengthened a sense of collectivity by juxtaposing the American nation and the threatening Other, and appealing to a sense of national pride. TV and movie industry were part of the same process that was pushing forward this new trend. They provided an alternative to the old national identity marked by the crisis. Driven by profit, these industries produced celebrities who came to be regarded as someone to admire and model ourselves upon.
In other words, they represented an alternative to the reality burdened by crisis and politics. What is, therefore, already noticeable in this chapter is the way in which media enforced conflict within the self, in the context of a national identity, by polarizing it. By suddenly providing alternatives to an already if only seemingly stable system which no longer appeals to power structures, conflict within the self, be it an individual or a nation, becomes a necessary consequence.
Better Things For Better Living Through Chemistry Selected Fragments Public and Private in the s and s The next chapter, which covers the period from late to late , points out that the American reality was, even more evidently than before, disturbed by the Cold War crisis. The cause was a slow disintegration and a final collapse of the dominant model of national identity, which was being replaced by a variety of new ideological constructs in the making, that is, identities no longer based so predominantly on national consciousness.
Once such supreme ideological model started to crumble, the process in which media also played their part, the illusion of a stable nation and collectivity could not longer be maintained. An example which does not deny a lingering presence of the Cold War in the American present, but which exposes it as something that has become absurd and hollow, involves a stand-up comedian, Lenny Bruce.
His show in October is held on the day the president addressed the nation about the Soviets putting missiles on Cuba. Lenny parodied the situation by inventing an example of a woman in Centralia who comes home tired and turns on the TV. For the Beatniks it was America's degeneration that caused the bomb and crisis: It always had been. The beats didn't need a missile crisis to make them think about the bomb.
The bomb was their handiest reference to the moral squalor of America, the guilty place of smokestacks and robot corporations, Time-magazined and J. Edgar Hoovered.
This autocritique, something new in the context of the novel, represents a departure from the established model of national identity according to which the impeccability of the self was indisputable. Another episode that testifies to the changing cultural landscape and uneasy social climate of the United States at the time is related to the Black and White Ball held in at the Plaza Hotel in New York, which J. Edgar Hoover and his partner Clyde attended. At the same time, outside the hotel, there were protests against America's military intervention in Vietnam.
Clyde said that the protesters were mostly kids who waved flowers at the police, alluding to the hippie movement, and made the following remark: This is the movie, where the scripts are written and the actors perform. American kids don't want what we've got. They want movies, music. Media's involvement in this consisted of providing the audience with the new content and, in turn, another reality free of the Cold War. This example summarizes previous two arguments: A third consequence, illustrated by incidents such as the Cuban missile crisis or Sputnik satellite, was increased social tension and paranoia as the national identity was at last exposed as not stable.
The era of the fifties with the Cold War as its most defining element remained deeply embedded in the national subconsciousness and had a potential to resurface in the form of nostalgia for the past, mostly by means of the radio. Current priorities such as America positioning itself as the leader of a globalized market and culture were too numerous, dispersed and fragmented to unite the nation as successfully as the Cold War had. Media were also, under the influence of capital which had become the main driving force in society, providing new alternative identities and pushing society forward.
In such circumstances, the characters who evaluate their present through the prism of the Cold War- affected past find themselves in conflict with the present and the new concept s of the national identity.
At the very beginning of the chapter, Klara reflects on the current state of art: She could look at it and respect it, envy it, even, in a way, but not, herself, place hand to object and make some furious now, some brilliant jack-off gesture that asserts an independence. Klara is disoriented in the new reality which in most part, excluding countercultural movements, still venerates America but without opposing it to the Other, and longs for the past that felt more stable precisely because it had the opposition against which it could define itself.
Print media perpetuated sensationalism and, under the influence of TV, mastered the art of spectacle. According to Guy Debord, the spectacle can falsely be seen as a device of unification. The screening event of Unterwelt, a fictitious s film by the Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein, represents a platform for exploring the American psyche in the context of the post-Cold War trauma.
Morley 27 One of the points that this paper is intended on putting forward is precisely the claim that the Cold War did not only alter the USA, but also functioned as key element in constructing the illusion of a stable and firm national identity. The link between mass entertainment the Rockettes and masses of troops the military troops in the movie , according to Philip Nel, suggests that both have a similar effect of repression.
Nel 4 Klara, aware of the connection, immediately thought of the Cold War and said: They can say who they are, you have to lie. And the camp elements of the program [ Parrish Moreover, it has revealed how dependable the definition of the self was on the Other. Just as the Cold War crisis united people and strengthened, with the help of media, a sense of the self, so a collective mourning after JFK's death united the nation.
Media — in this case television - enabled an episode from the past to become alive and at the same time devised means for devoiding it of the content.
At the screening of Zapruder, a famous footage of the president J. Kennedy getting assassinated in , the film ran in different ways on many TV screens. In this way, people remained defined by history, but stayed outside of it.
This condition, in a way reinforced by the media, is in fact the main source of conflict for most of the characters in Underworld. Fifties come to represent a desired history once the period can be looked back at from a temporal distance; when the threat is no longer present.
Marvin is obsessed with tracking down the ball from the game. However, by tracking down its history, Marvin is in fact attempting to restore the past.
The store providing consumers with print media that they directly related to a long lost sense of collectivity, a forgotten human murmur in a culture that has shifted its focus towards individualism, seemingly satisfied the consumers' desire to restore the past. However, the print media are in this case clearly subjected to the logic of capital, which was the main force behind the process of reimagining the nation after the Cold War.
Thus the desire stays ultimately unfulfilled, nostalgia is further enforced, and a seemingly stable national identity based on the Cold War model remains in the past, out of reach. If the sense of national collectivity achieved during the Cold War was to be maintained, a new unifying and supporting force had to be established, and new national myths created.
In this post-Cold War process, as it has clearly been seen on the example of sixties and seventies, media represented a platform for generating new model or alternative identities, causing conflict within those individuals who could not find their place in the new circumstances and who rather turned to the past in an attempt to restore the sense of stable national identity and collectivity that was felt during the early phase of the Cold War.
Even without the immediate presence of the media in this chapter, subtle hints make it clear that certain characters have continued to feel discomfort in the present and are still longing for the past, whereas media no longer play their part in uniting the nation.
In the mid-eighties and early nineties, the overabundance of print media market and deeply diverse range of choice, combined with the rise of new media and more prominent visual stimuli which shortened the attention span of the audience, signified a highly fragmented society.
As the characters find themselves in a situation in which it seems that a national identity cannot be strictly designated, individuals like Nick try to restore their past and in the process rely on whatever played the fundamental part in promoting the identity at the time, which is, in most of the cases, the radio. However, such desire to reinstate the lost sense of firm and homogeneous identity remains unfulfilled, as many forces, including the media, push the society forward and, by providing many capital-influenced alternatives, cause a state of conflict and confusion.
In other words, people like Marvin are the lost men of history who, in the aftermath of the Cold War crisis, do not see the purpose in their present. The demise of the threat ultimately meant the demise of stability, and the undermining of the national identity as it was. A new concept of the national identity that was in the making after the end of the Cold War crisis was, by the so-called fifties people, perceived as too unstable, unclear, undefined and fragmented.
Billboards, an alternative medium format intended for advertising, caught Brian's attention as he was driving back home. In this way, billboards generate a pseudo-reality in the same way in which media provide model identities.
As an alternative to media which blur identity, Marvin sees technology as a possible vehicle for restoring the past. The characters in Underworld are alienated from the reality which they feel is falsified with the help of media, but in which technology enables a dive into the past. As a consequence, they either allow themselves brief moments of nostalgia, like Brian, or, like Marvin, desperately seek to restore the past.
Albert's nostalgia, similarly to Brian's, is spurred by a form of a medium, in this case a phonograph.
When The New York Times surveyed writers and critics to determine the best work of American fiction during the last twenty- five years, Don DeLillo's Underworld finished in second place with eleven votes. Only Toni Morrison's Beloved , which received fifteen votes, ranked ahead of DeLillo's massive novel. Almost a half-century of history is crammed into Underworld, and the constant interaction of the diverging plot lines with pop culture events and socio-political milestones adds to the piquant flavor of this rambling novel.
All human knowledge gathered and linked, hyper-linked. World without end, amen. Instead he jumps freely, and without warning, from vignette to vignette, character to character, decade to decade. DeLillo's approach is essentially cinematic, based on masterfully conceiving and executing discrete scenes and making generous use of flashbacks.
This large novel defies our expectations of linear narrative flow, and is instead built carefully, lovingly out of these isolated tableaus, each one possessing a drive and vitality of its own. DeLillo creates a unified whole through juxtaposition and contrast. To some extent, the chronology reverses the typical future-directed timeline of most fiction, and DeLillo himself has likened the structure of the book to the countdown to zero that precedes a missile or rocket launch Occasionally DeLillo will hold on to a setting and situation at length, as in the opening ballgame narrative, which unfolds leisurely over sixty pages, and involves a wide cast of characters.
But more often DeLillo presents brief, potent interludes of only a few pages, which he sets up and delivers with a sure touch, and quickly abandons for the next stop on our itinerary. DeLillo is the master of discontinuity, and the moment you start to settle into the narrative flow is just when you can count on a change in scenery.
But the cinematic quality of DeLillo's writing is especially evident in his dialogue.
No modern writer constructs more engaging conversations than Don DeLillo, and one would need to look to the film industry Quentin Tarantino comes to mind to find someone in his league.