As if I didn’t have enough to do, between job applications, teaching, various forms of blogging, and occasionally dissertation-writing (let’s not even discuss new-novel writing), I decided to shoot off an abstract applying to participate in the American Comparative Literature Association’s 2009 annual meeting. Specifically to a fascinating-sounding seminar called “Master of the Universe: Literature, Culture, and Finance Culture.”
I submitted an abstract for a paper called “The Cosmopolitanism of High Finance in Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis.” And who woulda thunk: the abstract was accepted into the seminar. So now I must add one more thing to do on my to-do list, right after Check To-Do List Regularly. This commitment will force me to do some much-needed thinking and writing on DeLillo, who is hovering all over my dissertation but whom I don’t directly address. Wallace and Franzen were hugely influenced by DeLillo — reading their letters to him at the Ransom Center is utterly fascinating — and I think the general critical classification of DeLillo as a postmodernist gets him wrong in important ways.
Naturally enough, I try to position DeLillo as an author who shares many of the concerns and aesthetic commitments of the folks I call postironists, though his concerns clearly predate whole postironic careers. There is a risk when you write a dissertation — or anything — of discovering your interests everywhere you look, but I think I can defend my claim that the dominant reflexive readings of DeLillo’s career tend to rely too much on White Noise as their model of DeLillodom (or maybe DeLillohood). No, I say. Not so!
The more I read by DeLillo, the more I am convinced that White Noise is actually quite anomalous in his career. He’s not so ironic, once you get to know his writing. Rather, I see him as someone who wishes he could avoid irony — which is for him defined by the detachment of words from their referents — but who holds out little hope that it’s possible to do so anymore.