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DeLillo

DeLillo

DeLillo, Don, 1936-, American novelist, b. New York City, grad. Fordham Univ. (1958). DeLillo is an accomplished prose stylist with a dark vision and mordant wit. In a steady stream of novels beginning with Americana (1971), he has explored the anomie and violence of contemporary America—rock music and drugs in Great Jones Street (1973), science and mathematics in Ratner's Star (1976), terrorism in Players (1977), spying in Running Dog (1978), and political corruption in The Names (1982). His White Noise (1985), the story of Hitler studies professor Jack Gladney and a meditation on the fear of death, was followed by Libra (1988), a fictional portrait of Lee Harvey Oswald and Mao II (1991), about CIA activities in Greece. DeLillo's longest, most complicated, and most highly praised novel is Underworld (1997). In its sweep of time from 1951 to 1992, its panorama of American characters and landscapes, and its uniquely descriptive language, it portrays the vastness and variety of the ways Americans lived in the mid- to late 20th cent. This brilliant behemoth was followed by two relatively minor works—The Body Artist (2001), a dark and brief quasi-ghost story, and Cosmopolis (2003), a satire focused on a Manhattan billionaire. His next novel, Falling Man (2007), details the effects of 9/11 on a middle-class Manhattanite who experienced the World Trade Center attack and on his estranged wife and son. DeLillo is also a playwright.

See Conversations with Don DeLillo (2005), ed. by T. DePietro; studies by T. LeClair (1987), F. Lentricchia (1991), D. Keesey (1993), H. Ruppersburg and T. Engles, ed. (2000), M. Osteen (2000), D. Cowart (2002), H. Bloom, ed. (2003), J. Kavadlo (2004), P. Boxall (2005), J. Dewey (2006), and E. A. Martucci (2007).

(born Nov. 20, 1936, New York, N.Y., U.S.) U.S. novelist. Born to immigrant parents, DeLillo worked in advertising before beginning to write seriously. His postmodernist works portray the unrest and alienation of an America cosseted by material excess and stupefied by empty mass culture and politics. Ratner's Star (1976) attracted attention with its baroque comic sense and verbal facility. His vision later turned darker and his characters more willful in their destructiveness and ignorance, as in Players (1977) and White Noise (1985). Libra (1988) portrays Lee Harvey Oswald, Underworld (1997) surveys American society after 1950, and Falling Man (2007) examines the September 11 attacks of 2001.

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(born Nov. 20, 1936, New York, N.Y., U.S.) U.S. novelist. Born to immigrant parents, DeLillo worked in advertising before beginning to write seriously. His postmodernist works portray the unrest and alienation of an America cosseted by material excess and stupefied by empty mass culture and politics. Ratner's Star (1976) attracted attention with its baroque comic sense and verbal facility. His vision later turned darker and his characters more willful in their destructiveness and ignorance, as in Players (1977) and White Noise (1985). Libra (1988) portrays Lee Harvey Oswald, Underworld (1997) surveys American society after 1950, and Falling Man (2007) examines the September 11 attacks of 2001.

Learn more about DeLillo, Don with a free trial on Britannica.com.

Don DeLillo (born November 20, 1936) is an American author best known for his novels, which paint detailed portraits of American life in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. He currently lives outside of New York City.

Biography

DeLillo was born in the Bronx in New York City, a child of Italian immigrants from the village of Montagano (Campobasso), and attended Fordham University, from which he received a bachelor's degree in 1958. His family name was apparently partially anglicized, as the correct Italian spelling of it would be "De Lillo." There are no specific elements in his fiction that connect to Italian culture, and, unlike other Italian-American authors such as Mario Puzo or John Fante, he does not focus to any extended degree on his Italian origins (though some such material appears in his work Underworld).

As a teenager, DeLillo wasn't interested in writing until taking a summer job as a parking attendant, when spending hours waiting and watching over vehicles led to a reading habit. After graduating from Fordham, DeLillo took a job in advertising because he couldn't get one in publishing. He worked for five years as a copywriter at the agency of Ogilvy & Mather on Fifth Avenue at East 48th Street, writing image ads for Sears Roebuck among others, before quitting. Discussing the beginning of his writing career, DeLillo said, "I did some short stories at that time, but very infrequently. I quit my job just to quit. I didn't quit my job to write fiction. I just didn't want to work anymore.

DeLillo's first novel, Americana was published in 1971, to modest critical praise. In 1975, he married Barbara Bennett, a former banker turned landscape designer. Starting in the late 1970s, he spent several years living in Greece, where he wrote The Names. While lauded by critics, his novels did not reach wide readership until the publication of the National Book Award-winning White Noise in 1985. Mainstream success followed upon publication of his magnum opus Underworld in 1997. The book was widely heralded as a masterpiece with novelist and critic Martin Amis saying it marked "the ascension of a great writer". Underworld was the runner-up on the New York Times' survey of the best work of American fiction in the last 25 years, announced in May 2006. White Noise and Libra were also recognized by the anonymous jury of contemporary writers.

In 1999, DeLillo was awarded the Jerusalem Prize. His papers were acquired in 2004 by the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. His most recent work, titled Falling Man, concerns a survivor of the 9/11 terror attacks and was published May 15, 2007.

Themes and criticism

DeLillo is widely considered by modern critics to be one of the central figures of literary postmodernism. He has said the primary influences on his work and development are "abstract expressionism, foreign films, and jazz. Many of DeLillo's books (notably White Noise) satirize academia and explore postmodern themes of rampant consumerism, novelty intellectualism, underground conspiracies, the disintegration and re-integration of the family, and the promise of rebirth through violence. In several of his novels, DeLillo explores the idea of the increasing visibility and effectiveness of terrorists as societal actors and, consequently, the displacement of what he views to be artists', and particularly novelists', traditional role in facilitating social discourse (Players, Mao II, Falling Man). Another perpetual theme in DeLillo's books is the saturation of mass media and its role in forming simulacra which serve to remove an event from its context and alter or drain its inherent meaning (see the highway shooter in Underworld, the televised disasters longed for in White Noise, the planes in Falling Man, the evolving story of the interviewee in Valparaiso). The psychology of crowds and the capitulation of individuals to group identity is a theme DeLillo examines in several of his novels especially in the prologue to Underworld, Mao II, and Falling Man. In a 1993 interview with Maria Nadotti, DeLillo explained

My book (Mao II), in a way, is asking who is speaking to these people. Is it the writer who traditionally thought he could influence the imagination of his contemporaries or is it the totalitarian leader, the military man, the terrorist, those who are twisted by power and who seem capable of imposing their vision on the world, reducing the earth to a place of danger and anger. Things have changed a lot in recent years. One doesn't step onto an airplane in the same spirit as one did ten years ago: it's all different and this change has insinuated itself into our consciousness with the same force with which it insinuated itself into the visions of Beckett or Kafka.

Many younger English-language authors such as Bret Easton Ellis, Jonathan Franzen and David Foster Wallace cite DeLillo as an influence. Literary critic Harold Bloom named him as one of the four major American novelists of his time, along with Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth, and Cormac McCarthy, though he questions the classification of DeLillo as a "postmodern novelist." Asked if he approves of this designation DeLillo has responded "I don't react. But I'd prefer not to be labeled. I'm a novelist, period. An American novelist.

Critics of DeLillo allege that his novels are overly stylized and intellectually shallow. Bruce Bawer famously condemned DeLillo's novels insisting they weren't actually novels at all but "tracts, designed to batter us, again and again, with a single idea: that life in America today is boring, benumbing, dehumanized...It's better, DeLillo seems to say in one novel after another, to be a marauding murderous maniac—and therefore a human—than to sit still for America as it is, with its air conditioners, assembly lines, television sets, supermarkets, synthetic fabrics, and credit cards." George Will proclaimed the study of Lee Harvey Oswald in Libra as "sandbox existentialism" and "an act of literary vandalism and bad citizenship." DeLillo responded "I don't take it seriously, but being called a 'bad citizen' is a compliment to a novelist, at least to my mind. That's exactly what we ought to do. We ought to be bad citizens. We ought to, in the sense that we're writing against what power represents, and often what government represents, and what the corporation dictates, and what consumer consciousness has come to mean. In that sense, if we're bad citizens, we're doing our job." DeLillo also figured prominently in B. R. Myers' critique of recent American literary fiction, A Reader's Manifesto.

Works

Novels

Plays

Screenplays

Game 6, the story of a playwright (played by Michael Keaton) and his obsession with the Boston Red Sox and the 1986 World Series, was written in the early 90s, but wasn't produced until 2005, ironically one year after the Red Sox won their first World Series title in 86 years. To date, it is DeLillo's only work for film.

Books about DeLillo

  • Bloom, Harold (ed.), Don DeLillo (Bloom's Major Novelists), Chelsea House, 2003.
  • Boxall, Peter, Don DeLillo: The Possibility of Fiction, Routledge, 2006.
  • Civello, Paul, American Literary Naturalism and its Twentieth-century Transformations: Frank Norris, Ernest Hemingway, Don DeLillo, University of Georgia Press, 1994.
  • Cowart, David, Don DeLillo - The Physics of Language, University of Georgia Press, 2002.
  • Dewey, Joseph, Beyond Grief and Nothing: A Reading of Don DeLillo, University of South Carolina Press, 2006.
  • Dewey, Joseph (ed.), Kellman, Steven G. (ed.), Malin, Irving (ed.), Underwords: Perspectives on Don DeLillo's Underworld, University of Delaware Press, 2002.
  • Duvall, John, Don DeLillo's Underworld: A Reader's Guide, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2002.
  • Engles, Tim (ed.), Duvall, John (ed.) ,Approaches to Teaching DeLillo's White Noise, Modern Language Association Press, 2006.
  • Halldorson, Stephanie, The Hero in Contemporary American Fiction: The Works of Saul Bellow and Don DeLillo, 2007.
  • Hantke, Steffen, Conspiracy and Paranoia in Contemporary American Fiction: The works of Don DeLillo and Joseph McElroy, Peter Lang Publishing, 1994.
  • Kavadlo, Jesse, Don DeLillo: Balance at the Edge of Belief, Peter Lang Publishing, 2004.
  • Keesey, Douglas, Don DeLillo, Macmillan, 1993.
  • LeClair, Tom In the Loop - Don DeLillo and the Systems Novel, University of Illinois Press, 1987.
  • Lentricchia, Frank (ed.), Introducing Don DeLillo, Duke University Press, 1991.
  • Lentricchia, Frank (ed.), New Essays on White Noise, Cambridge University Press, 1991.
  • Martucci, Elise, The Environmental Unconscious in the Fiction of Don DeLillo, Routledge, 2007.
  • Orr, Leonard, White Noise: A Reader's Guide Continuum International Publishing Group, 2003.
  • Osteen, Mark American Magic and Dread: Don DeLillo's Dialogue with Culture, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000.
  • Ruppersburg, Hugh (ed.), Engles, Tim (ed.), Critical Essays on Don DeLillo, G.K. Hall, 2000.
  • Weinstein, Arnold, Nobody's Home: Speech, Self, and Place in American Fiction From Hawthorne to DeLillo, Oxford University Press, 1993.

References in Popular Culture

1. Conor Oberst begins his song Gold Mine Gutted with "It was Don DeLillo, whiskey neat, and a blinking midnight clock".

2. Paul Auster dedicated his book In the Country of Last Things and Leviathan to his friend Don DeLillo.

3. Rhett Miller references Underworld in his song "World Inside a World" saying, "I read it in DeLillo, like he'd written it for me."

4. A (fictionalized) DeLillo blogs for The Onion

References

External links

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