In the book of my memory, after the first pages, which are almost blank, there is a section headed
Incipit vita nova.
Beneath this heading I find the words which it is my intention to copy into this smaller book, or if not all, at least their meaning.

Dante,La Vita Nuova

Friday, May 18, 2007

Don DeLillo: A 30 year Look Back

Some notes on my reading; new ideas to work out here. I am trying to figure out how to deal with the concepts of the novelist as historiographer; how to approach memory, knowledge, the contemporary as a writer/reader; and how two novels written 30 years apart speak to each other beyond the spectacle of setting and place.

I was seven when Don DeLillo published Players. I am reading it now, for the first time. I like DeLillo's early novels. I am a big fan of End Zone. And I am enjoying Players, too. There is a sarcasm in both novels that I am having a lot of fun with as a close reader. Maybe it's helping me enjoy/relate to characters that I would be all too willing to not like--football players, Wall Street players.

I am reading Players before I read Falling Man; I bought both together, Monday. I read in a review of Falling Man that both concerned the World Trade Center. I am not as concerned with "the two towers" as much as I am concerned with how the way a novelist can use histories and actualites in his fiction to promote a particular way of seeing History of a place, a space, a moment in time.

Hindsight, or Looking Backward for you Bellamy fans, transforms the process of recollection, messes with memory, instantly creates a tone of memorialization. There is a stability, in my opinion, in the novel--a fiction--that does not exist in a history. Players in 1977 is Players in 2007. The World Trade Center and the people who lived and worked there, and around there, in 1977 are not the people there today. The history has been revised; or one might say, it has been in revision and will always be in revision. But I am still thinking one dimensionally here. There is much to work out.

I think it's in the beginning of Chapter 6 from A Light in August that Faulkner, as he introduces readers to the beginning of Joe Christmas, writes that "Memory believes before knowing remembers." I wonder how much memory can believe (it knows) before knowing remembers (what it has learned.) Some character in a story might remark on a thing's impermanence, but that doesn't necessarily represent a knowing or a believing. Faulkner's opening to that chapter in one of my favorite novels has always haunted me. I have tried to fathom the passages (the first sentence and the ones that follow) for some time. I am fascinated with his notion of recollection, of instantaneous recall that is much like the birth of a human being, who once born has within him, Joe Christmas in this example, his destiny already there to be born as well. And so when a character says about the World Trade Center, almost thirty years before it is demolished, that it lacks permanence, the burdensome weight of inevitability shows itself.

That the World Trade Center is a character in DeLillo's 1977 novel, that the characters experience fears of terrorism after inexplicable acts of violence, that things (namely, the two towers, but also love, sexual desire, understanding, et al) lack permanence, and that the characters are sound and appear so bored that they reflect on boredom privately and publicy: A reader, like me, cannot help but think, "How did DeLillo know?" But is this concern I have now only present because of a coincidence or is there something that connects events (the novels, in this case, published 30 years apart) as contemporaries and therefore, in a historical sense, worth looking at together?

I know the problems, theoretical and practical, DeLillo appears to address in Players because I know them here and now. And this is a here and now that is quite a bit different than the there and then of his 1977 novel. I am recalling my knee-jerk amazement in the timeliness-before-its-time of Players until 1) I read it and read Falling Man and 2) take a few moments to figure out how history and historiography figures into this.

One question I already have lingering as I finish the 1997 novel:
Won't I find what I am certain I'll find--connections, prescience really--in any text I read? This certainty a sort of radical certainty, to borrow from Lacan. I mean, can't we admit that I'll convince myself and others (let's say, as a teacher?)

I hope to be able to consider how DeLillo the novelist and DeLillo the historian (or, is it historiographer?) work together to produce the effect--30 years on and his books are pointing out consistencies in contemporaneity that many of us wish weren't there. For example, isn't the relatively short history of the World Trade Center bound to be considered an impermanence when the place (or is it space?) is new and, more so even, when it is gone? After all, such monstrosities as those two tall buildings in such a small space can create a space in which one might worry about how long it is supposed to last--the strength the World Trade Center represents: strength in engineering, wealth, market, etc.

more to follow...