Underwords: Perspectives on Don Delillo's Underworld

Underwords: Perspectives on Don Delillo's Underworld

Underwords: Perspectives on Don Delillo's Underworld

Underwords: Perspectives on Don Delillo's Underworld

Synopsis

Don DeLillo's 1997 masterwork Underworld, one of the most acclaimed and long-awaited novels of the last twenty years, was immediately recognized as a landmark novel, not only in the long career of one of America's most distinguished novelists but also in the ongoing evolution of the postmodern novel. Vast in scope, intricately organized, and densely allusive, the text provided an immediate and engaging challenge to readers of contemporary fiction. This collection of thirteen essays brings together new and established voices in American studies and contemporary American literature to assess the place of this remarkable novel not only within the postmodern tradition but within the larger patterns of American literature and culture as well. By seeking to place the novel within such a context, this lively collection of provocative readings offers a valuable guide for both students and scholars of the American literary imagination.

Excerpt

THERE IS SURELY SOMETHING DEFIANT ABOUT A CONSTELLATION—NOT the secondhand act of locating one in the night sky, but rather the original work of fetching a convincing pattern from such forbidding vastness. It is a telling exercise—horrified over the irrevocable implication of our puniness, the ancients indulged a fondness for invented (hence, manageable) complication, the familiar love of control implicit in devising any system, the deep intoxication of controlled intricacy. Recovering such fragile configurations— chariots, swans, peacocks, even drinking cups—is, of course, the bravura act of the imagination. The night sky stays wonderfully free of our primitive need to map such an environment, the need we feel dwarfed by such architecture, fashioned by the free arm of chance, for the satisfying sense of grasping at least a bit of its formidable structure.

Readers of contemporary serious fiction are surely sympathetic with those ancient skymappers, there under the night sky. Such readers, necessarily enthralled by the intrigue of re-rereading a multidimensional text, appreciate the immense reach of such texts. They gather—under words, as it were—to devise readings, to connect the dots, to configure convincing patterns that satisfy the complicated need to understand. Surely, those who shape such eloquent systems share the initial awe of stepping within such formidable texts, the sheer vulnerability in engaging in the aesthetic enterprise with texts that since the heyday of Pynchon and Gaddis have sustained a generation of critical scrutiny.

Underworld, Don DeLillo's 1997 masterwork, surely belongs in such company. It invites terror and awe. It intimidates. It has the heft and forbidding feel of serious fiction—not merely the weight of its more than 800 pages, but its massively conceived trajectories of multiple plotlines sustained across an investigation of American culture that begins in the early frost of the Cold War and closes in . . .

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