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Don DeLillo, The Art of Fiction No. 135 (1993) (theparisreview.org)
49 points by flannery 48 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 8 comments



To pay it forward: this excerpt was posted at some point on HN. I thought it was funny so I got the book. I wasn't disappointed. Maybe you won't be either.

“Several days later Murray asked me about a tourist attraction known as the most photographed barn in America. We drove twenty-two miles into the country around Farmington. There were meadows and apple orchards. White fences trailed through the rolling fields. Soon the signs started appearing. THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED BARN IN AMERICA. We counted five signs before we reached the site. There were forty cars and a tour bus in the makeshift lot. We walked along a cowpath to the slightly elevated spot set aside for viewing and photographing. All the people had cameras; some had tripods, telephoto lenses, filter kits. A man in a booth sold postcards and slides-pictures of the barn taken from the elevated spot. We stood near a grove of trees and watched the photographers. Murray maintained a prolonged silence, occasionally scrawling some notes in a little book. "No one sees the barn," he said finally. A long silence followed. "Once you've seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn." He fell silent once more. People with cameras left the elevated site, replaced at once by others. "We're not here to capture an image, we're here to maintain one. Every photograph reinforces the aura. Can you feel it, Jack? An accumulation of nameless energies.”

Excerpt From: Don DeLillo. “White Noise.”


That book brought me to laughter so many times. It's definitely one of my favorite reads.


I love that paragraph. It always reminds me of the Fake Barn Country gettier problem. They're not exactly related, except each involves the epistemic nature of a barn.


DeLillo may not believe it, but I do. From the start of the interview:

"INTERVIEWER: Do you have any idea what made you a writer?

DON DeLillo: I have an idea but I’m not sure I believe it. Maybe I wanted to learn how to think. Writing is a concentrated form of thinking. I don’t know what I think about certain subjects, even today, until I sit down and try to write about them."


Pretty much all of his work is highly recommended! He's famous for White Noise and Cosmopolis (there was a movie with the guy from Twilight), but Mao and Falling Man are probably my favorites.

Delillo and Cormac McCarthy are two current authors I would expect to be read 100 years from now.


+1 McCarthy. Blood Meridian is a true work of art.


> A character is part of the pleasure a writer wants to give his readers. A character who lives, who says interesting things. I want to give pleasure through language, through the architecture of a book or a sentence and through characters who may be funny, nasty, violent, or all of these. But I’m not the kind of writer who dotes on certain characters and wants readers to do the same. The fact is every writer likes his characters to the degree that he’s able to work out their existence.

This is exactly how I feel about characters in novels. It reminds me of Nabakov, who famously ended a lecture with:

> In this course I have tried to reveal the mechanism of those wonderful toys — literary masterpieces. I have tried to make of you good readers who read books not for the infantile purpose of identifying oneself with the characters, and not for the adolescent purpose of learning to live, and not for the academic purpose of indulging in generalizations. I have tried to teach you to read books for the sake of their form, their visions, their art. I have tried to teach you to feel a shiver of artistic satisfaction, to share not the emotions of the people in the book but the emotions of its author — the joys and difficulties of creation. We did not talk around books, about books; we went to the center of this or that masterpiece, to the live heart of the matter

I think that's basically right: the best way to read a novel is as a dialogue with the author.

DeLillo is the only example of an American who has written about recent history and contemporary American life in a way that resonants with me: unmistakably American, involved, but also detached. He's written about everything from foreign policy (The Names), to academia (White Noise, Ratner's Star), to JFK's assassination (Libra), to the Cold War (Underworld), to finance (Cosmopolis), to 9/11 (Falling Man), to the Iraq War (Point Omega), to start-up culture and worship of technology (Zero K).


I absolutely love Delillo and agree with you, though Pynchon too still resonates for me. That said, I'm allergic to absolutes. I do not agree with Nabakov. Stylized prose and dialogue should be read as a dialogue with the author because his/her voice saturates the page. Other authors strive for invisibility, for the reader to merge with their characters. I doubt, say, Nabakov could write an uneducated character that we could live vicariously through. His alliteration and punctilious prose would diminish the effect. He would also avoid clichés like the plague, though these are often expressed in natural dialogue.




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