Don DeLillo's Bum Luck: The Novelist's Low Status in an Age of Cultural Proliferation. (Cultures & Reviews)

By Gillespie, Nick | Reason, May 2001 | Go to article overview

Don DeLillo's Bum Luck: The Novelist's Low Status in an Age of Cultural Proliferation. (Cultures & Reviews)


Gillespie, Nick, Reason


In February, a literary event of no small significance occurred. Don DeLillo, arguably America's finest living novelist still in full control of his talents -- and inarguably one of the most important and respected writers of the past 30 years -- released his 12th work of fiction, a novella called The Body Artist. Though the critical response to The Body Artist has been less than uniformly positive, its sheer volume testifies to DeLillo's eminence. This is a book that has been written up everywhere that matters -- The New York Times even saw fit to review it twice --and many places that don't.

Since his 1971 debut, Americana, DeLillo has gone from sometimes being dismissed as an epigone of Thomas Pynchon to being acclaimed (in the words of hard-to-please. novelist Martin Amis) as "a writer of high intellect and harsh originality, equipped with extraordinary gifts of eye and ear -- and of nose, palate and fingertips."

Along the way, DeLillo has crafted an oeuvre that includes such highly regarded novels as 1972's End Zone (which hilariously links college football and nuclear war); 1985's White Noise (which follows the travails of a professor who creates the academic field of "Hitler Studies"); and 1988's Libra (which offers a detailed and compelling meditation on Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the role of accident and chance in history).

In 1997, he published Underworld, a massive, 827-page novel about the second half of the American Century and the end of the Cold War that was universally hailed a masterpiece. Amis again: "It isn't every day, or even every decade, that one sees the ascension of a great writer."

DeLilo is, in short and in every way, what undergraduate literature courses dub a Major Author. Yet he is also an essentially invisible author, largely unread by and unknown to not simply the vast majority of Americans, but the vast majority of well-educated Americans, most of whom have never read one of his books and could not name even one of his many memorable characters.

His situation thus represents something of a mystery: In terms of literary merit and artful explication of an American experience -- and in terms of relative sales -- DeLillo is easily the equal or superior of a Hemingway or a Fitzgerald. Yet he occupies nothing like the cultural niche they filled. Indeed, he doesn't even rise to the level of presence achieved at times by such postwar authors as Norman Mailer or Gore Vidal.

What explains this? Part of it is surely DeLillo's own doing.

While he has never obsessively shunned publicity a la J.D. Salinger or Thomas Pynchon, he has rarely made himself available to the press or to critics; neither does he regularly publish reviews of or essays on contemporary writers, a tried and true way of boosting one's profile.

But a bigger part of the answer relates to the underlying dynamic of cultural proliferation and the vast outpouring in recent decades of art, music, literature, video, and other forms of creative expression.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Don DeLillo's Bum Luck: The Novelist's Low Status in an Age of Cultural Proliferation. (Cultures & Reviews)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.