Gun-totin', Chronic-smokin' Hearse Initiator (ludickid) wrote,
Gun-totin', Chronic-smokin' Hearse Initiator

The world's most photographed building

That Don DeLillo, he sure can write.

I ran across a criticism of his oeuvre (by one of the insipid New Sincerity fellow-travelers) with the standard-issue snipes: his work has no "emotional resonance", whatever that means. His characters are not memorable (his incredibly vivid and real Lee Oswald, I guess, is diqualified by dint of having been an actual person at one point). And worst of all, he's a "self-enamored" showoff who does little more than dazzle with his gift for composing sentences that show off his mastery of language.

This last criticism is very commonly leveled at DeLillo (as well as Gaddis, Pynchon and a few of the other talented postmodernists, though Joyce seems oddly exempt). Aside from its inherently shallow and fatuous nature, I have to confess I don't get it. Even if it's true -- which I don't think it is -- so what? That's what writing is. Nobody gets on Mozart's case because he dazzled people with his gift for composing music that showed off his mastery of melody. Very few people take Mondrian to task for painting "emotionally empty" abstractions that did little more than illustrate their maker's mastery of form and color. And, perhaps most germanely, Eliot isn't attacked for his playfulness, his preoccupation with formal elements, his referentialism. What is it about the novel that causes people to bristle so when a formalist or postmodernist sensibility is brought into play?

The writer goes on make the predictable (and reactionary) claim that DeLilloesque postmodernism "dominates" the literary world today, and that literature is the poorer for being under the sway of Don's imitators and admirers. This isn't any more convincing coming from a presumably liberal novelist than it is coming from a conservative talking head like John Leo or Lynne Cheney. Frankly, I don't see any evidence of it. Perhaps academia has changed greatly since I dropped out of college, but I find it hard to believe that, outside the writing departments of a handful of elite universities, post-structuralism and formalism have seized the reigns of pedagogic power; and as far as literature is concerned, when I look at the novels that are popular and influential today, I don't see a lot of postmodernists. I see a lot of traditional storytellers (who are basically writing preliminary treatments for screenplays rather than novels) spieling out action and adventure; I see a lot of female-demographic urban confessionals; I see a lot of genteel Cheeveresque memoir; and I see a lot of what used to be called "the little novel" of family and home life. I see very little of what I'd call postmodernism, either stylistically or philosophically, and I'm hard pressed to think of anyone with the possible exception of Steve Erickson that I would say is influenced by or imitative of Don DeLillo.

One detects more than a little element of jealousy in these reviews. Maybe time is better spent polishing one's prose style than carping endlessly about how, sure, DeLillo is talented, but he has an empty soul. The contrarian pose is, in the end, just another pose, particularly when it's representing such an essentially conservative critique.
Tags: lit, whorin'

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