November 10th, 2003

flavored with age

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.
flavored with age

More of it

- Went to an art show in one of the south Loop industrial lofts on Saturday, where a friend's girlfriend was exhibiting. Some really good stuff and some pretty mediocre stuff, though nothing I'd call bad. A lot of slumming expense-account hipsters and people who dress better than I do. Got to see a bunch of friends and old co-workers I haven't seen in forever, which was very cool, and the whole evening was pretty inspirational for both pal Lara and myself.

- Picked up Later That Day..., the new Lyrics Born album, on the fervent recommendation of a friend, and what can I tell you? He was right. This is a terrific album, folks, definitely on my top ten of the year. I hugely endorse this thing even if you aren't a big fan of hip-hop (though why wouldn't you be?).

- Normally around this time, I'd already be shopping for my big Thanksgiving Expatriate feast, but I think I burned myself out on Halloween dinner; I haven't even begun to think about the menu yet. Maybe it's that less people than usual are coming, or maybe it's the fact that the kitchen needs a big overhaul, but I just haven't been able to get my culinary swerve on this holiday season. Not yet, at least.
flavored with age

Arizona wants me, but I can't go back there

Lately I've been trying to miss the AZ.

Trying, I say, because failing. I mean, don't get it twisted: I miss my friends out there a lot, and I'd like to see the old man once in a while, and I had plenty of good times out there. I'm even thinking about a trip out there sometime next year, maybe during Sox spring training.

But I just can't miss the place that much. I didn't really like living in Arizona, even though I'm that rarest of birds, a native Phoenician. That's why I moved up here in the first place. I think about going back once in a blue moon, and then I think, aside from hanging out with Michael and James, what am I gonna do out there? Go to MetroCenter? I know the place has grown hugely since I was out there last, and I know it's probably a lot different than the overgrown conglomeration of strip malls it was in the '80s and early '90s, but my friend Steve (who's 25, and only left AZ a few years ago) assures me that for all the expansion, it's now just a bigger conglomeration of strip malls.

I dunno. I still love the place, because you can't escape your raisin'. But every year, I miss it a little less.