Speakers & Abstracts

Keynote Speaker: Professor John N. Duvall (Purdue University)
John’s research focuses on modernism and postmodernism in American fiction, with a particular focus on racial and sexual identity. In addition to his prolific work on DeLillo, John has published on William Faulkner, Toni Morrison, John Barth, Ishmael Reed, and many more. John is also the editor of Modern Fiction Studies. Further information on John’s research can be found in the Purdue English directory.

‘DeLillo’s Apostasy: Where has the Humor and the History Gone?’

As early as his 1977 novel Players, which includes a plot to blow up the New York Stock Exchange, Don DeLillo has imagined terrorism on American soil. Twentieth-century DeLillo wrote fiction that engaged us with, to use his words, the “humor of political dread” and the “power of history.” Twenty-first-century DeLillo, however, has increasingly turned toward avant-garde art in an attempt to imagine an aesthetic form that might compete with the terrorist in shaping consciousness. This turn, I believe, has been to the detriment of DeLillo’s ability to historicize terrorism.

I look at some of DeLillo’s recent fiction (including DeLillo’s truncated treatment of Mohamed Atta in Falling Man) to contrast it with Jarett Kobek’s ATTA (2011), a novel that occupies the imaginative terrain of DeLillo’s earlier fiction.

Karim Daanoune (University Paris)
Dr Karim Daanoune teaches English in a Parisian junior high school. He holds a PhD from the University of Bordeaux-Montaigne, France. His dissertation was entitled, “Writing the Event in DeLillo’s Fiction.” He is currently reworking it into a book to be prefaced by Michael Naas and published by the Presses Universitaires de Paris-Sorbonne. He is a member of the French Association of American Studies (AFEA). He is affiliated to the research teams ODELA (University Paris-Diderot) and A.R.T.E. (University Paris-Sorbonne). He is currently DeLillo’s bibliographer for The Don DeLillo Society. He has written on White Noise, The Names, “Baader-Meinhof,” Cosmopolis and Falling Man.

‘The Terrorism of Counter-Terrorism in DeLillo’s Point Omega

This paper will focus on one of DeLillo’s most obsessive topics, namely terrorism. Yet, instead of analyzing the overt dimension of terrorism, its spectacle, as DeLillo tackled it in many novels and short stories and which culminated in Falling Man (2006), I wish to introduce the new dimension of terrorism as it appears in his novel Point Omega (2010). In fact, the novel is saturated with an underlying form of terrorism which never resurfaces in broad daylight. I would like to argue that the post-9/11 terrorism DeLillo tries to make us feel is the terrorism the US has exerted and directed towards itself in an auto-immune way and that transpires in this claustrophobic novel. Dwelling on an analysis of the carceral structure of the novel, I will show how torture pervades the book. I also hope to demonstrate how the subtext echoes post-9/11 political issues ranging from the state of exception declared by the Bush administration to the Guantánamo Bay prison and scandal. This subtext also includes the theory of ‘Shock and Awe’ and the deleterious consequences of the USA Patriot Act of 2001 (especially as regards the use of video surveillance). Thanks to the work of Douglas Gordon, DeLillo manages to turn the reader into a voyeur enabling him/her to endure and witness the terrorizing and terroristic effects of blind and revengeful counter-terrorism.

Jonathan Gibbs (Independent Scholar)
Jonathan Gibbs is a writer, journalist and academic. He completed an MA in Creative Writing and a PhD in Creative and Critical Writing at UEA, where he has taught modules in Creative Writing, English Literature and Journalism. His PhD included an extended critical essay on approaches to ekphrasis in three recent Don DeLillo novels: Falling Man, Point Omega and The Body Artist. In the essay he explores how theories of ekphrasis, which traditionally focus on poems representing paintings, cope with prose ekphrases of post-representational and conceptual art. His novel, Randall, or The Painted Grape, is published by Galley Beggar Press, and his short fiction has been published in Lighthouse, The Best British Short Stories 2014, Gorse and The South Circular, and shortlisted for the White Review Prize. He has written extensively on books for publications including the Independent, Guardian, Telegraph, Financial Times and TLS.

‘”Reverse ekphrasis” in Don DeLillo’s The Body Artist

In theories of ekphrasis the term ‘notional artwork’ is applied to works that exist only in the imaginative world of the poem or novel where we ‘see’ them, thanks to the brilliance of the writer’s evocation, a canonical example being Keats’ Grecian urn. In this paper I will explore how DeLillo plays with traditional theories of ekphrasis in The Body Artist, his short novel following performance artist Lauren Hartke in the months leading up to – and the days following – her creation and presentation of a new work, ‘Body Time’. ‘Body Time’ is nowhere directly described in the novel’s prose, as we might expect in a traditional ekphrasis; all that we read of it are brief descriptions in a magazine article – which is inserted into the novel’s narrative at the exact point where the performance should be.

Nevertheless, I will argue that in reading The Body Artist we ‘see’ the artwork – it is brought before the reader’s mind – as clearly as in any traditional ekphrasis. This is thanks to the novel’s innovative construction, whereby all the elements in Hartke’s life that she uses to form and inform her artwork – especially the characters she observes and mimics – are absorbed and integrated by the reader, but unconsciously, not knowing they are going towards the creation of an artwork, such that when we finally perceive it as an artwork (when we learn that the artwork even exists) it comes with the full power of aesthetic revelation.

Rebecca Harding (University of Sussex)
Rebecca Harding is a first year PhD candidate at the University of Sussex. Her thesis focuses on Don DeLillo and works to re-read the author with an attention to the body and the role of affect in his fiction. She holds an MA in English Studies from the University of Sussex and a BA in Music and English from Anglia Ruskin University.

Underworld and the Underreal: Narrative, Film and the Recovery of the Real’

In an interview with Thomas LeClair, DeLillo refers to ‘the power of images’ and states that ‘movies in general may be the not­ so­ hidden influence on a lot of modern writing’. This paper investigates the notion of American society as spectacle by reading DeLillo’s 1997 novel Underworld in terms of the influence of film and visual media that it betrays, and exploring the encyclopedic narrative in terms of its engagement with the proliferation of mass media and the advent of the digital age. Beyond DeLillo’s explicit references to film and television – ­the portrayal of a fictional Eisenstein film, and a preoccupation with repeated news footage of murder and assassination – the text reveals the inherent presence of film, not as subject matter but as medium. I argue that DeLillo’s use of a strongly aesthetic mode, in which meaning is imparted through visual display and action rather than introspection, is closely linked to notions of mystery, impenetrability of meaning, unreality, and artificiality. The way in which DeLillo characterises a piece of footage as ‘superreal, or maybe underreal’ provides a way into the author’s playful treatment of the notion of perception as a series of layers. I argue that the essential role of visual media is not that of an adulterating layer, rather it is characterized as integral to the nature of twentieth century experience, as the novel displays a move beyond a postmodern sense of an essential loss of the real, and instead implicates the role of visual media in the attempt to attain comprehension in the face of the spectacle of US culture.

Kirsty Hemsworth (University of Sheffield)
Kirsty Hemsworth is a second year PhD student in Translation Studies and French at the University of Sheffield. Her doctoral research seeks to conduct a comparative analysis of American works of 9/11 fiction and their corresponding translations into French, as a means of challenging the polarized frameworks and strategies that underpin much contemporary literary translation. By considering how fictional selves and others are constructed and negotiated in response to the attacks of September 11th in both source and target texts, her thesis hopes to isolate the shifts these identities undergo in translation, with a view to highlighting the potential of translated literature as a tool for literary analysis.

‘Cognitive maps: Negotiating identity in Falling Man and L’homme qui tombe

Dominated by the polarised strategies of domestication and foreignisation, conventional literary translation approaches assume that source and target cultures, and, by extension, their literary works, are fundamentally irreconcilable on the basis of linguistic, stylistic and ideological differences. Dislocated by the traumatic force of the event, only to be further uprooted by the translation process itself, the identities at stake in American works of 9/11 fiction cannot be so clearly differentiated and securely defined. Moreover, any attempt to fictionalise and translate this real-world trauma encounters the ‘howling space’ in the absence of the towers, a void that the immediacy and sheer, visual spectacle of the event rushed to fill in.

With reference to Don DeLillo’s Falling Man, and Marianne Veron’s French translation, L’homme qui tombe, this paper will demonstrate how a translation-oriented reading of linguistic deixis might respond to Michael Rothberg’s call for 9/11 novels to draw out complex ‘cognitive maps’ of traumatic experience that resist reductive, binary frames of identity. I hope to illustrate how DeLillo renders identity in temporal, spatial and psychological terms, in proximity to the traumatic event. This approach refutes criticism of the novel as a domesticated, inward-looking account of traumatic experience, and considers how complex and reciprocal concepts of identity might be negotiated across the translation divide.

It is with this retroactive form of analysis, from target to source text, that I will proceed, underlining the hermeneutic value of translated literature as a destabilised literary terrain that makes visible the insecurities and commitments of Falling Man.

Stephanie Lambert (University of York)
Stephanie Lambert is a third year PhD student in the English and Related Literature department at the University of York. Her AHRC-funded project examines the work of Don DeLillo in relation to the concept of the everyday, as elaborated upon by the sociologists Henri Lefebvre and Michel de Certeau. Building on recent work that has diverged from conventional accounts of DeLillo as a postmodern writer, her project attends to the intersections between form and politics in his work, and traces his impact on writers such as Jennifer Egan and David Foster Wallace.

‘Sex, weather and food: Don DeLillo and the politics of the everyday’

This paper argues that a concern with representing the ‘radiance in dailiness’ pervades Don DeLillo’s oeuvre, and complicates conventional readings of DeLillo as a postmodernist. In DeLillo’s work, the everyday often appears in the form of textual excess, as in his trademark sprawling lists. This paper offers a rereading of the famous scene in White Noise in which Jack sifts through household waste in order to find his wife’s Dylar, surveying the ‘oozing cube of semi-mangled cans, clothes hangers, animal bones and other refuse’. Departing from readings of the novel as embodying Jamesonian depthlessness and ahistoricity, I emphasise the sensuous details in the list, and contend that it gestures towards the novel’s critique of postmodern thought and its exclusionary nature. To attend to the everyday is to foreground the overlooked and marginal; because of their connection with the domestic sphere, women are often perceived as anchored to the everyday. By denying the reader clues, the list introduces a radical textual economy that critiques the assumptions underlying Jack and Murray’s obsession with decoding the lives of heroic white men and the experiences this occludes—particularly that of Babette. Though I draw on Tim Engles’ work on race and class in White Noise, I will focus on the gender dynamics of the text in relation to the everyday. The latter part of my paper will suggest ways in which we can identify lines of continuity rather than rupture between DeLillo’s work and supposedly post-postmodern texts by exploring the concern with the ordinary in Jennifer Egan’s Look at Me and David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King.

Anthony Leaker (University of Brighton)
Dr Anthony Leaker is a Lecturer in Cultural and Critical Theory at the University of Brighton. He completed his PhD at the University of Sussex in 2011 with a thesis on DeLillo and Wittgenstein. He is currently working on The Spectacle of Killing.

‘The most photographed site in America: Reading White Noise as DeLillo’s 9/11 novel’

In reviewing Falling Man many critics were in agreement that the novel was a disappointment; above all, they claimed, because it failed to match DeLillo’s earlier efforts at critiquing the spectacle of terror. A chorus of critics made the identical claim that DeLillo had been writing the 9/11 novel his whole career. Was this journalistic hyperbole or an insightful claim about his work? In this paper, I want to take such a claim seriously by reading his earlier work as a reflection on 9/11. Though novels such as Players, The Names and Mao II, which explicitly address American imperialism and terrorism may seem obvious contenders, I will make the case that White Noise is DeLillo’s exemplary 9/11 novel. In its concern with media-induced, mass-produced hypochondria, fear, and misinformation; with death, American nightmares and the anxiety of looming terror; and above all, in its concern with how the image becomes actual, and with both the unreality of images and their operational reality, White Noise can illuminate a number of the central features of 9/11 and the War on Terror.

By examining the novel in relation to W.J.T. Mitchell’s Cloning Terror, a meditation on the War on Terror as a war of images and on ‘clonophobia’ (anxieties about copying, imitation and image-making), I will show how, in addressing American myth-making and ideology; the loss of the event into its own mediation; and the power of the spectacle, White Noise is more relevant than ever.

Ronan McKinney (University of Sussex)
Ronan McKinney received his PhD in Literature, Film and Visual Culture in 2014 from the University of Sussex, where he is currently employed as an associate tutor.

‘Staging the counter-narrative in Falling Man

In his 2001 essay ‘In the Ruins of the Future’, DeLillo advocates the construction of a ‘counter-narrative’ that will disrupt the developing ‘official’ narratives of 9/11 as an act of war perpetrated by madmen, as a return of the repressed, or as part of a global ‘clash of civilisations’. This paper reads Delillo’s 2007 novel Falling Man as his most fully-developed articulation of that ‘counter-narrative’. Falling Man stages the psychological disruption wrought by trauma through the tension between self-shattering and self-recognition staged in Lianne’s encounters with artworks. Rather than ‘representing’ trauma, the artworks stage its effects, in particular the intrusion of the outside into a subject defined by the security of its boundaries – an intrusion which parallels the cultural impact of 9/11 on the US national imaginary.

In Falling Man, then, mourning demands recognition of the ineradicable vulnerability arising from our constitutive openness to the other. This reconstitution of subjectivity around mutual vulnerability has potentially profound political implications. It forms the basis of Judith Butler’s claim for the ethical value of mourning: that it ‘offers a chance to start to imagine a world in which […] an inevitable interdependency becomes acknowledged as the basis for global political community’ (2006: xii-xiii). In recognising a primary vulnerability to which we are all equally subject, DeLillo’s ‘counter-narrative’ holds open the fragile promise of a recalibration of our relationship to the other.

Maria Lauret (University of Sussex)
Maria Lauret has been teaching American literature at Sussex ‘from Columbus to Junot Díaz’ since 1995. She is an African Americanist as well as a specialist on American immigration and migrant literatures. Her latest book Wanderwords, about the poetics of multilingualism, was published last year.

‘DeLillo’s Italian American’

Some literature scholars have mistakenly assumed that DeLillo’s recognition as a great American novelist has come at the expense of his Italian American origins and identification. This paper traces the palimpsest of DeLillo’s Italian American-ness primarily in Underworld, where the appearance of Italian and Italian American wanderwords in particular testifies to DeLillo’s grounding in the ‘ethnic everyday.’

Thomas Travers (Birkbeck College, University of London)
Thomas Travers studied at the University of Sussex and Warwick University respectively, and is currently undertaking doctoral research at Birkbeck College on the representation of capital in the fiction of Don DeLillo. He has previously written extended essays on: “John Banville and Radical Literary Form”; “Non-Identity: Luce Irigaray’s Marxist-Feminist Poetics”; “For to End Yet Again: The Messianic in the work of Giorgio Agamben and Samuel Beckett”. Current areas of interest include: Marxist Literary Theory, in particular the work and traces of Fredric Jameson; Frankfurt School Critical Theory; Periodising the Contemporary; Utopia; the Historical Novel.

‘DeLillo’s Sixties: Surplus Population and the Aestheticisation of Revolution’

The publication of Americana in 1971 has proven an irresistible start date for surveys of DeLillo’s fiction, which is subsequently figured as nothing less than the epic poetry of a neoliberal age. Occulted by such periodisations, however, are DeLillo’s as of yet uncollected short stories which, published in a sort of long sixties (1960-72), chart his propulsion through that transitional phase of American society. With capitalism’s famed immortality once more in question, this paper will argue that DeLillo’s early stories illuminate in surprising ways aspects of the contemporary moment and the limits of critical fiction. Marking a first serious engagement with the stories as an independent object of study, the paper explores how two prominent tropes in current critical discourse, unemployment and abstraction, are registered within the form and content of these sixties narratives. Attention will be directed to three stories in particular, the first of which, “Take the ‘A’ Train” (1962) tracks an indebted man as he seeks refuge in the New York subway system. An allegory for the underworld, the story opens out onto a meditation on deskilled wage-labour, surplus population, and the possibility of a practice of subaltern mapping. “Coming Sun. Mon. Tues.” (1966) and “The Uniforms” (1970) constitute a break with DeLillo’s initial concern with the body of the under or unemployed labourer and shift their focus towards the antinomies of cultural revolution. Through the use of montage and the chronicle, the two stories arguably mediate the dilemma of narrative in a world that has been thoroughly colonised by the commodity-form and the abstractions of exchange-value. The wager, then, is that in the wake of financial meltdown and popular unrest, DeLillo’s sixties will form a constellation with the present and contribute towards transcending the horizon of capital.

Kiron Ward (University of Sussex)
Kiron Ward is a second year PhD candidate at the University of Sussex. His project explores the relationship between encyclopaedic thought and fiction, and focuses on James Joyce’s Ulysses, Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of the Dead, and Roberto Bolaño’s 2666. The project also draws on the fiction of David Foster Wallace and Don DeLillo, and to this end Kiron was using their archives at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas earlier this year.

‘Aesthetics of Expansion in Infinite Jest and Underworld

Although Wallace and DeLillo are frequently spoken of in the same breathe—not least due to the Harry Ransom Center’s collection of their exchanges on writerly anxiety—not much work has been done on the ways these two writers, for all their mutual respect, diverge. This presentation looks to productively contrast Infinite Jest and Underworld by focusing on their divergent approaches to expanding their texts to include marginalised, ‘subaltern’ identities.

Looking at materials from the Ransom Center’s collections, I will read Infinite Jest and Underworld according to the power struggle they envision between English and other languages and dialects, and will outline the differing approaches that both texts imply. Focusing comparatively on Infinite Jest’s problems writing ‘Otherness’ and on the role of slang in Underworld, I will propose that the former envisions a future in which ‘Standard Written English’ (which Wallace elsewhere concedes may as well be called ‘Standard White English’) emerges relatively in tact, while the latter anticipates a future marked by ethnic shifts that stand to change entirely the language in which the U.S.A. speaks to itself. From this, I will suggest that the aesthetic with which Wallace expands Infinite Jest implicitly puts ‘whiteness’ at its centre, while DeLillo’s builds explicitly on inexorable ethnic churn and evolution. This divergence, I will propose, represents an important way in which fiction in the Twenty-First Century remains still not yet ‘filled in,’ ‘done in,’ or ‘worked out.’

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