Why I hate Don Delillo…

And he isn’t the only male American novelist I hate. Not to be a feminazi or anything. There are just too many goddamn self-important-I-think-I’m-so-brilliant American writers… and nine times out of ten they’re men. The list goes on and on: Roth, Updike, Delillo, Bellows, Pynchon etc., etc.

James Woods (not the actor) wrote a pretty incredible article in 2001 about the need for American novels to “abandon social and theoretical glitter”.

The Great American Social Novel, which strives to capture the times, to document American history, has been revivified by Don DeLillo’s Underworld, a novel of epic social power. Lately, any young American writer of any ambition has been imitating DeLillo – imitating his tentacular ambition, the effort to pin down an entire writhing culture, to be a great analyst of systems, crowds, paranoia, politics; to work on the biggest level possible.

The DeLilloan idea of the novelist as a kind of Frankfurt School entertainer – a cultural theorist, fighting the culture with dialectical devilry – has been woefully influential, and will take some time to die. Nowadays anyone in possession of a laptop is thought to be a brilliance on the move, filling his or her novel with essaylets and great displays of knowledge. Indeed, “knowing about things” has become one of the qualifications of the contemporary novelist. Time and again novelists are praised for their wealth of obscure and far-flung social knowledge.

Richard Powers is the best example, but Tom Wolfe also gets an easy ride simply for “knowing things”.) The reviewer, mistaking bright lights for evidence of habitation, praises the novelist who knows about, say, the sonics of volcanoes. Who also knows how to make a fish curry in Fiji! Who also knows about terrorist cults in Kilburn! And about the New Physics! And so on. The result – in America at least – is novels of immense self-consciousness with no selves in them at all, curiously arrested and very “brilliant” books that know a thousand things but do not know a single human being.

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5 thoughts on “Why I hate Don Delillo…

  1. ‘Hate’ is such a strong word. I’d recommend saving it for special occasions. 🙂

    Just to argue back a bit, while I think DeLillo is a serious man, I don’t find him self-important (or at least no more self-important than other novelists who seems to think people may want to read what they’ve written). I also don’t think he’s gone out of his way to have ‘followers’ – to the extent that’s happened, it’s because some people really like his approach.

    If you and James Woods don’t like his writing, that’s fine. To each his or her own.

  2. I will use the word hate and throw in the word despise for good measure. I read White Noise after seeing it on so many best of the century or whatever lists, and I couldn’t believe it. It reminded me of The World According to Garp except it took itself way too seriously. The characters in it are not human at all – and the wife character was just ridiculous and borderline offensive. Yeah, I get it about the anxieties of white middle aged men in the modern age, but get over yourself. Or better yet, laugh at yourself. Delillo can be humourous in his writing, but never at his own expense – he just wants to be funny when it shows how oh so clever he is.

    By contrast, the “lesser” writer, John Irving, wrote a brilliantly funny book ten years earlier about anxiety and infidelity and the women characters in it were actually real, and lively and sick and had their own anxieties too.

  3. Hate is appropriate for both Updike and Delillo in my case. Alix is spot on here. I really can’t put it any better my self.

    However many lecturers force students to read the work by both novelists proclaiming it to be genius. I was genuinely heartened by the male response in my seminars to Updike in particular. One member described Rabbit Run and it’s counterparts as ‘pathetic and male fantasy for the misogynistic’.

    To be honest the most offensive thing about Delillo and Updike novels for me though has to be the conceited twaddle throughout their novels. I cannot understand their exalted position in the literary world and their inclusion on many literature courses as great modern novelists.

  4. Pingback: Two more takes on lady writers… | Alix Reads Too Much

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