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Don DeLillo

The Physics of Language

David Cowart

Publication Year: 2012

Don DeLillo, author of twelve novels and winner of the National Book Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award, the William Dean Howells Medal, and the Jerusalem Prize, has begun to rival Thomas Pynchon as the definitive postmodern novelist. Always thought-provoking and occasionally controversial, DeLillo has become the voice of the bimillennial moment.

Charting DeLillo's emergence as a contemporary novelist of major stature, David Cowart discusses each of DeLillo's twelve novels, including his most recent work, The Body Artist (2001). Rejecting the idea that DeLillo lacks affinities across the cultural spectrum, Cowart argues that DeLillo's work invites comparison with that of wide range of antecedents, including Dunbar, Whitman, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Freud, Lacan, Derrida, Hemingway, Joyce, Rilke, and Eliot. At the same time, Cowart explores the ways in which DeLillo's art anticipates, parallels, and contests ideas that have become the common currency of poststructuralist theory. The major site of DeLillo's engagement with postmodernism, Cowart argues, is language, which DeLillo represents as more mysterious--numinous even--than current theory allows. For DeLillo, language remains what Cowart calls "the ground of all making."

Don DeLillo: The Physics of Language is a provocative investigation of the most compelling issues of contemporary fiction.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quote

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pp. ix-xiv

I have many colleagues and friends to thank for their generous support during my work on this project: those in the Department of English at the University of South Carolina include Amitai Aviram, Meili Steele, and Ed Madden, who shared their knowledge of theory...

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pp. 1-13

In his acute rendering of the bi-millennial moment, Don DeLillo ranks among the most important of contemporary novelists. But the trend away from books on single authors (a trend much discussed in the academic press) threatens even the most distinguished of living writers with premature...

Port One: "For me the crux of the whole matter is language"

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1. Football and Unsäglichkeit: End Zone

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pp. 17-32

"It takes centuries to invent the primitive," DeLillo remarks in Americana (227). This cryptic observation seems to imply that an idea of the primitive can emerge only at a certain level of sophistication within a culture...

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2. Pharmaceutical Philomela: Great Jones Street

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pp. 33-42

The desert, saints and martyrs, asceticism—all recurrent conceits in DeLillo. In Great Jones Street (1973), disaffected rock star Bucky Wunderlick, halfsuicidal like Gary Harkness, retreats from a corrupt world into the wastes of the Lower East Side...

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3. Mortal Stakes: Players

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pp. 43-54

Like Ratner's Star, Players (1977) begins with air travel. In his introductory chapter, a proem or (more accurately) prolusion, the author presents seven unnamed persons—"four men, three...

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4. The Naive and Sentimental Reader: Running Dog

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pp. 55-68

Like Players, with its elaborate variations on the multiple meanings of "play," Running Dog (1978) features its own key word, which appears at least eight times. As DeLillo unpacks the various meanings of the word code, his story modulates thematically from plane to plane...

Part Two: "Before everything, there's language"

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5. Timor Mortis Conturbat Me: White Noise

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pp. 71-90

White Noise has generated more critical attention than any other DeLillo novel (unless one considers the journalistic reception of Underworld). The author's most engaging and accessible work...

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6. Convergence of the Twain: Libra

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pp. 91-110

At the center of Hell, in Dante's great vision, Satan sits up to his waist in ice, endlessly masticating the three worst malefactors in history. The first of these, Judas, requires no explanation in the context of a Christian poem. But why does Dante see a couple of mere political assassins...

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7. "Our Only Language Is Beirut": Mao II

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pp. 111-128

Writers have perished on the page before: Broch s Virgil, Manns Aschenbach, Harry Street in Hemingway's "Snows of Kilimanjaro." But in Mao II, as in Auster's City of Glass, one encounters a writer s passing framed, as it were, by the postmodern resonance of the phrase "death of the...

Part Three: "The word beyond speech"

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8. For Whom Bell Tolls: Americana

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pp. 131-144

Americana (1971) represents a rethinking of the identity or alienation theme that had figured with particular prominence in the quarter century since World War II. These themes persist in DeLillo, but the self becomes even more provisional. The changing social conditions...

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9. "More Advanced the Deeper We Dig": Ratner's Star

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pp. 145-161

Illusion, DeLillo suggests in Ratner's Star (1976), dogs all scientific aspirations to objectivity. Attempting to decode a message ostensibly from the celestial body named in the title, the scientific community imagined by DeLillo eventually discovers that the cryptic...

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10. "The Deepest Being": Language in The Names

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pp. 162-180

One discovers in The Names (1982) the book of a writer who thinks almost obsessively about language as the medium by which human beings encounter reality—or assemble it. Predictably, DeLillo challenges traditional, naive ideas about referentiality in language,...

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11. "The Physics of Language": Underworld

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pp. 181-196

In Underworld (1997) DeLillo's engagement with language reaches an apogee. Even before one recognizes the central importance of the discussion of language in which Nick Shay and Father Paulus engage, as well as the idea of the single mystical word that Nick takes away from...

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12. DeLillolalia: From Underworld to The Body Artist

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pp. 197-209

The recycling theme of Underworld subsumes a vision of art that lends itself to conclusions about the entire DeLillo oeuvre. Early in the narrative Nick Shay visits his former lover Klara Sax, an artist whose "career had been marked at times by her methods of transforming and absorbing...

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13. DeLillo after 9/11: Cosmopolis

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pp. 210-226

John Updike, reviewing Cosmopolis (2003), remarked that "DeLillo's fervent intelligence and his fastidious, edgy prose, buzzing with expressions like 'wave arrays of information,' weave halos of import around every event."1 DeLillo s prose has always worked this way, but the sense...


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pp. 227-250

Works by Don DeLillo

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pp. 251-252


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pp. 253-262


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pp. 263-274

E-ISBN-13: 9780820342269
E-ISBN-10: 0820342262
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820325811

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: Revised