Süddeutsche Zeitung, 2010


Georg Diez, Christopher Roth

English version from Volume Three of the 80*81 Book Collection

Greil Marcus writes in his brilliant praise for Barnes and Nobels about Point Omega: “…Why get over it, though? Why say that history exists only in the past? Events enter people’s lives unbidden; they don’t necessarily leave when you tell them to. They drop down or slither into individual or collective imaginations, colonizing memory. They may stay there, waiting, changing shape, speaking new languages, resisting translation back into the ordinary speech of business, domestic life, schedules, habit, warping ordinary traumas of love or money — the loss of a job, the breakup of a marriage, a mere argument with a spouse or a son or a daughter or a friend — until they seem too big to live out, live through, too big to think about, just something you’d do better to forget (…) DeLillo slows down the whole culture, all of our repertoire of artifacts, words, and gestures; he slows down the whole country, its past, its future, its suspended present, and the notion that we might ever get out of it…”


GD: Tell us about the desert.

DD: Well, ten or 12 years ago my wife and I took a trip in California. We went to this place called Anzo Borrego above the Mexican boarder. It’s quite remote, even though it’s in California. It has that beautiful emptiness that deserts can convey. We were there in winter, so the weather was mild. It was tolerable even better than that. We didn’t know anyone and just took walks and drove…

GD: Just a trip?

DD: Yeah, exactly. Then ten years later, I had written the prologue to Point Omega and thought, Well, what do I do now? Because I had nothing beyond that. I guess the crucial moment was when I realized that two characters visit the screening room, two men: older man and younger man. I don’t know where they came from; they were in it. And I thought they were out of it. So I decided that they ought to be the main characters of the book. They have to be in the desert.

GD: They were out of and came back into the story?

DD: Yeah. I decided that you have to have a big change of atmosphere from the cold dark gallery at the museum in New York to something that conveys space and light and time.

GD: Why?

DD: I don’t have an answer for that. And that’s when I thought about Anzo Borrego and we took another trip. This time in summer which was blisteringly hot. I have a friend who lives in a local town and he was my unofficial guide to remote canyons and so on. I made some notes and came home and worked on the novel. But I can’t truly explain why I thought of jumping from the particularly claustrophobic environment to an open one.

GD: The inversion.

DD: Yeah, it’s an inversion.

GD: Time inverts itself.

DD: But I didn’t think of that immediately. You see I discovered that once I made that leap.

GD: Our time inverted yesterday because we were ‘almost’ in Anzo Borrego. We went to see Jean-Pierre Gorin in San Diego[1], where he disappeared to 30 years ago. And Mr. Gorin shouted at us for over an hour because we are very stupid in his mind.
(Don DeLillo laughs very loud and joyful)

GD: We were prepared with maps and everything to go to the desert…

DD: It is only two hours.

GD: Yes. But the French thinker shouted for too long.

(Don DeLillo laughs again)

GD: Is the desert ‘life in slow-motion?’

DD: The film?

GD: The desert.

DD: The sense of time is very powerful. And in the case of the character in the novel Richard Elster, it begins to occur to him that there is something here that is connected to evolution and extinction. In that desert there were animals like saber tooth tigers and giant zebras––animals that are now extinct. You have to think along these lines. He is also getting old and he is thinking in personal terms as well. And then there is this emotion.

GD: What else do you know about Richard Elster?

DD: I know what is in the book. Not much more. Not much more than you know. I don’t know what happened to his daughter. What I was doing in a way is arranging moments so that they would coincide. You see the moment in the prologue in which the two men appear and the reader discovers in the main narrative, that these two men in the desert are the same two men from the opening. And one hopes that the reader will also discover that Jessy, who is also in the central narrative, is the woman who turns out in the epilogue to have a conversation with the anonymous man in the screening room.

GD: Oh,…

DD: Oh!

GD: Oh, so you now what happened to Jessy.

DD: No, that takes place before.

CR: Yes, right. And the anonymous man has nothing to do with Elster or Jim?

DD: No. All he has to do with them is that he sees them in the screening room.

GD: The older man with the pigtail.

DD: He thinks that film made a position /meta position (?) but it turns out to be not quite that.

GD: And who is the observer?

DD: Well, you could conclude that he is the man referred to as ‘Dennis’. The man who knew Jessy.

GD: Jessy’s boyfriend. The mother talks to him on the phone.

DD: You can conclude that it is him because they meet in the epilogue.

GD: A loop?

DD: Yeah, it is a loop. And there are moments that need to match. Somebody said this is a Zen novel. I haven’t thought that way but maybe it is.

GD: Because of the gaps between the matching moments?

DD: There are chronological gaps. The prologue takes place on September 2, the epilogue on September 3. But than there is a gap of the central narrative in novelistic terms. Nevertheless there is dialogue in which the reader knows at least for a moment that the prologue takes place the day before the installation of the film ends and you know that Jessy goes to the final day. She tells Jim that she was at the screening on the last day. And then we see her there in the epilogue.

GD: So the book is about the void. About the gaps.

DD: About the gaps, about the space in the desert and about the space in the art gallery.

GD: Is this the challenge? To make the invisible visible? What is missing.

DD: You have to decide if you want to take the dare; make the leap. I had to make the leap of not being utterly clear. It’s clear on the page but some readers will miss certain things and I cannot explain them more open without ruining and defacing the book. I had to be true to what I conceived.

CR: These matching moments, do you find them in a process which is comparable to film editing?

DD: Well,… I depend on almost mystical ahhhm… feelings. I just write. I write. And one sentence leads to another. Then I get an idea, words lead to ideas in truest ways.

GD: You don’t have a map.

DD: I never make an outline. I just go. At some point I realized that there had to be an epilogue to match the prologue. I thought this the symmetry this book needs, this is the structure it needs. Placing people in certain episodes. But not making it too obvious about what is happening.

GD: In your entire work is this triangle of time experience. DeLillo time. Film time, history and present or real-time.

DD: Here in a way everything slows up. In 24 Hour Psycho you stand for ten minutes and you see Antony Perkins moving his hand across the screen. It rouses many questions about time about vision and about what we fail to see when we look. As I watched in the museum I wondered if this was a non-fiction piece that I might write. But it is touching philosophy science cosmology and I realized it has to be a novel. That was when I placed a character in the screening room and called that part ‘Anonymity’ because we know very little about him. The idea of time and motion translates into the three-dimensional world. The world of the dessert terrain. The way time moves. And the way Elster feels, that time in the city has an element of ones impending death. Even if you are 25 years old. There is something about the city where time is always being measured. The ultimate measurement is the end of ones ability to comprehend time. To feel it. So Richard Elster feels that this sense is in the desert fortunately eradicated. He thinks about human extinction but he doesn’t think about his death the way he does in the city. It is a relief for him to think in deeply philosophical terms about such matters as time and death.

CR: The three dimensions are already in the Douglas Gordon piece. You stand in the film.

DD: You can literally walk around it because of the way the screen is set up. From the back you see a mirror image.

GD: Could it have been any movie?

DD: That’s a good question. I don’t know why Douglas Gordon shows Psycho. One advantage it has is that much of the time there are only one or two people on screen and frequently nobody. It is much more interesting for the viewer if there is less to look at.

CR: Because there is more development with one character.

DD: And there is more to watch.

CR: Another inversion of the desert. The permanent wide shot, you return the next day and nothing happened.

DD: I’m told Douglas Gordon lives in Berlin.

CR: Every artist lives in Berlin. What does Psycho mean to you?

DD: I watched for an hour and came back three more times. At the third time I stayed three and a half hours. I knew I had to write something about it.

GD: And the movie itself?

DD: It didn’t have much of an effect on me, no. Alfred Hitchcock made some good movies. When He talked to Francois Truffaut he said he sees Psycho as a comedy and I understand that. I think it is the best way to see it. It is so gothic and it had an enormous effect in 1960, partly because the star of the movie Janet Leigh disappears before the movie is half way through. And than the shower scene and the transvestism. It was socially a groundbreaking movie.

GD: How much of the movie is reflected in the desert?

DD: I wanted the movie and the novel to bleed into each other. In proliferative ways not in very obvious ways. There are moments where the reader may think of the film Psycho. There is a reference at just one point––when Jessy is missing Jim throws back the shower curtain…

GD: And the knife as well.

DD: And there is a knife, yeah. And at the very end of the central narrative Jim is driving to San Diego with Elster. The older man is very upset and unhappy and Jim’s cell phone rings. They had just been talking to Jessy’s mother about somebody hanging up. Jim can’t get anyone to answer. It is a blocked call. When he walks in the door to his appartment the phone is ringing. That is the end of the central narrative. The epilogue begins and the first sentence is: “Norman Bates, scary bland, is putting down the phone.”

GD: Is psychology something that interests you in your work?

DD: No, it is structure and language. One is just drawn into a certain kind of narrative without nesseseraly planning to be at all. It is a very very short novel, not only in words and pages but it happened quickly in my mind. And I made up my mind quickly.

GD: Does psychology ask for explanations?

DD: I would agree that in my novels explanations do more harm than good.

GD: And is it now hard for you to answer our questions? To go further than in the novel?

DD: It’s hard in a way and in another way I’m finding out things that haven’t come to the surface. It is not as hard as it is––forgive me––unnecessary. (Another joyful laughter) But I learn often more about the book when it is finished. Sometimes I don’t know what the theme is.

GD: What is really rewarding for you?

DD: Mainly day-to-day work. Because I do believe that the American language is a beautiful instrument it is pleasing when I feel I’ve written a worthwhile sentence.

GD: Is there anything autobiographical in your work?

DD: Even in Underworld where I wrote about my own neighborhood and people I knew but there is none who might be me. I write about things I’ve seen and I’ve heard but I’ve never been a figure.

GD: Where does the name Elster come from?

DD: Well there is a character in another Hitchcock film, called Elster, but…

GD: It’s a bird. In German it is the black bird, which steals.

DD: I didn’t know that. A magpie.

CR: You even say, You steel like an Elster!

DD: Oh is it too late to change his name?

GD: Did Elster make things disappear in his former job?

DD: I don’t think so. He was a failure as a defensive watchful. The bureaucracy surrounding destroyed him professionally. He was a man of intellect who was seduced by power.

GD: How long did he work for the Pentagon?

DD: Not long, I think less than two years.

GD: Was it a direct comment to…

DD: Not my direct comment. (Another joyful laughter) I was against the war from the beginning and Elster; I mean it was his war.

GD: The young filmmaker is looking for something, Elster is not hiding but is not opening up either — by the end this turnes.  Elster looks for something.

DD: It occurred to me that the filmmaker could shift the idea of the film from Elster talking about the war to Elster taking about what happened to his daughter. But that would be so cynical that I didn’t think that Jim would do it. I just rejected the idea.

CR: Would he speculate what happened to his daughter?

DD: He would speculate.

CR: But that’s exactly what you don’t want right?

DD: Yeah. I thought Jim might want it.

CR: But then this would be too cynical for Jim.

DD: If the character was someone who thought along those lines it would be conceivable, but not for Jim.

GD: This question: What happened?  Is this something that you refuse?  Or that you are not interested in?

DD: I leave it to the reader to speculate or to not think about it.  People disappear.  Someone who read the novel could not stop mentioning L’Aventurra.

CR: We talked about that.  It’s also very Antonioni with the desert and things like that isn’t it?

DD: He did title a movie in English Red Desert but it’s not a desert movie.

GD: The one with Jack Nicholson is a desert movie.

DD: Yes, very much so.  The Passenger.  I’m a great admirer of Antonioni but I wasn’t consciously thinking that.

CR: It has the mystical quality, the openness, which Antonioni also has.

DD: Do you want to make the movie?

CR: Why has no one ever made a movie of your books?

DD: People take options. It’s business. It’s all business.

CR: But can we speculate why they don’t?

DD: Well every so often someone says, ‘oh there’s too much irony in this novel.’

CR: But it can’t be that it’s so thought out like a film that film wouldn’t add anything to it?

DD: That may be.

CR: You never thought about it?

DD: I don’t know. So many different kinds of people have shown interest.  John Malkovich was very interested in making a film of Libra about the assassination of the president.  They just couldn’t get half the money that they needed, and so he adapted it for the stage.  This was even before Stone.  Stone was aware of the novel but he said he couldn’t do it because there was no hero in it.  Of course I’m delighted that he didn’t do it.

CR: But they optioned everything.  They optioned White Noise and Mao II and everything.

DD: Yeah, even The Body Artist.

CR: But wasn’t somebody close to doing White Noise?

DD: I don’t know how close.  There was a script.  This is something I haven’t heard.  Somebody does have an option but I don’t even know who it is.  I know the persons name.

CR: But would you be afraid of the movie?

DD: Well I would want to talk to the individual.  That’s why he asked you! (Laughs)

CR: Yeah I heard the question.  Sure I want to do it!

DD: This one? Really? You think that’s a movie?  How could you do this prologue?

CR: You mean the Douglas Gordon thing?

DD: Yeah. Could you borrow his film?

GD: You would have to talk to Douglas Gordon.  Find different layers.

DD: And it’s just a man standing in a room who doesn’t speak to anybody and you don’t know who he is. (Laughs) Sounds interesting to me!

GD: There’s a great desert movie, Gerry.

DD: Right.  Gus Van Sant.

GD: You show us the desert because you start with Psycho.  How did the whole Secret Service/CIA/Elster element come into the book?

DD: I thought of Elster as a bitter man.  I somehow almost simultaneously thought of what they call a ‘closed meeting’ somewhere in a Washington suberb, and the details kind of filled themselves in.  I don’t really know how to explain it.

GD: But it’s interesting.  It made me think of Tree of Smoke by Dennis Johnson where there’s also a bitter old secret service man as the anti-hero.  He’s cynical.  A bit like Kurz in Heart of Darkness. Perhaps this is the kind of anti-hero of the final Bush years.

DD: I don’t think he’s quite that kind of man.  I don’t think he’s drawn to secrecy or conspiracy.  I think he’s drawn to power.  I didn’t want to go too deeply into his political convictions because it would just be dialogue.  I couldn’t show it without disrupting the narrative.  I really pared it down to a few pages, this very strange idea of a haiku war, which surely his colleagues in government found laughable.  And he can’t understand why it doesn’t make sense to anyone else.  He’s a closed individual.  He’s been in classrooms his entire life.

CR: That’s what’s leading to the Omega Point?

DD: It’s partly the desert experience that makes him think of extinction, which extends itself to the Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and his feelings about the end of human consciousness.  Consciousness is exhausted. Elster connects the desert and that extinction with philosophical and mystical speculations.

CR: Another Zen thing again.

DD: In a way.

GD: But is that an individual problem or an anthropological problem that Pierre de Chardin talks about?  Is that each man for himself or is it happening to all of us?

DD: It’s not really clear.  He speculates sometimes on a very understandable level.  Will is be war?  Will it be plague?  Will it be sidereal cataclysm, meaning will the earth be hit by an asteroid?  On another much more important level its hard to know quite what he’s saying.  He’s talking about a higher state in one sense but at the same time it’s the extinction of human consciousness.  What he’s ultimately saying is that if we somehow survive, it’s going to be to a nameless sphere.  He believes that thought actually circulates and that the earth is shaped like a sphere so that thought can circulate around it.

CR: Does that appeal to you?  That mysticism?

DD: His central book is called The Phenomenon of Man and I read it just as I was getting out of college.  This was a long time ago.  The book was just out and it may be the first hardcover book I ever spent money on.  I’ve had it all these years, read it then, and then when I thought of all of this desert business I reread it.

CR: When you were revisiting yourself as a 25 year old did you find that these interests had disappeared over time?

DD: No I’ve always had that feeling.

CR: Do you see that you’ve changed?

DD: I mean it’s not an intense state.  I can be very interested in a Catholic funeral that involves singing, particularly if it’s a Latin mass.  I find that very beautiful even though I might not believe it.  It’s partially art and the mysticism we find there, in Cretian wall paintings or in El Greco.

GD: What made you leave this country?

DD: When I went to Greece?  It was partially a desire for change but I also had an idea for a novel, which would become The Names.

GD: Is it strange that we thought of The Names when we read Omega Point?

DD: Is that right?

CR: You always try to find these things in someone’s work.  Is there a connection?

I don’t know that I was conscious of The Names.  Sometimes people tell me that a certain thing in one book is very close to something in another book and it usually surprises me.  I think about earlier work when I have to answer questions from translators mostly.

GD: Why did you have to leave this country to go to Greece for The Names? To do research?

DD: There was a practical reason and opportunity.  I had an idea about a film director who disappears from the set of an important movie in what I thought of as the ‘end’ of Europe.  And I thought that Greece would be one country that would be considered the end of Europe.  At the same time my wife was offered a position.  We were there for three years.

GD: Was it still under dictatorship?

DD: No but it was under a certain amount of siege by militant leftists who were quite anti-American.  In Athens you could stand on somebody’s balcony and hear cars exploding.  They would blow up cars of diplomats and others.

CR: Because they were anti-Reagan at that time?

They were anti-American.  During the dictatorship the Americans supported the regime by giving them money to buy small arms and crowd control equipment.  After the regime was overthrown the militants, called November 17, concentrated on how the American government was actively promoting anti-crowd measures, and they took a certain amount of action.

GD: When was this?

DD: The regime was overthrown in ‘74 or ‘75 and just before we arrived the CIA station chief in Athens was murdered.  So we were there at a very interesting time, not only in Greece but everywhere in the area.

GD: So you came in ‘76?

DD: No we came in ‘78.

GD: And you stayed for three years?

DD: Yeah, we left in the beginning of ‘82.  That’s when The Names came out.

CR: So you left America with Carter and you came back with Reagan.  Came back to a different country probably.

DD: Yeah, and while we were there that was the Iranian revolution and the Lebanese war and Athens was full of Lebanese who were fleeing Beirut so there was this constant sense of turmoil.  Of course while I was working on the novel I was aware of all this. In The Names, this cult appears and one could think of them as mystical.  They’re a murderous cult but they have mystical leanings.  So I was drawn from politics to a higher level of violence.

GD: What did you make of the Iranian Revolution?

DD: (Laughs) A neighbor of ours in Athens was an Armenian painter who lived in Iran and had to flee and was very bitter.  I was stopped by police more than once just for walking past the American School of Archeology in Athens and they would stop me and question me not knowing I was American.

CR: For you these were times that held everything you were interested in later.  Programmatic times.

DD: Yes.  What’s that old Chinese saying about interesting times? The point of the saying is that you’re better off not living in interesting times, but it’s much more elegantly stated. Interesting in the sense of dangerous.

GD: Did you travel in Europe at that time?

DD: In Turkey and India also, and Egypt. It was a great change for us, to be able to get on a plane in Athens and be in Cairo in two hours. It was inconceivable. And throughout Greece of course.

GD: As you say, the element that formed the shifting core of much of your work developed there. How would you describe it? Was it one big sign, one big element of the ‘70s?

DD: It was the culmination of the ‘70s, but more than that, for me, was how it changed my writing itself. I became a much more conscientious writer. The change in scenery. I realized I had to rededicate myself. I had to work harder.

CR: But the novel you wrote under a woman’s name?

DD: No, that came first, that was fooling around. I wrote that book in three months.

CR: But this was before you wrote The Names? So it would be the first book of the new period?

DD: Exactly. And I was much more conscious of writing, of working hard, and I had all of this wonderful environmental stimulation around me, day to day. Even the way a man in a Greek town would pay a bill, I was noticing it, because I was a stranger. The pleasure that someone would take in taking out money and paying, things like that, small things. These entered my work and I was much more careful about the way I wrote. I discovered a new method of writing, which was one paragraph a page, so that I could look more closely at what I was doing rather than rereading a page full of print. I would reread a page that had seven lines on it. So I could focus more.

GD: So you wrote The Names in ’79?

DD: Late ’78, ’79 and ’80. Part of ’81.

GD: Do you remember the sentiment that the election of Reagan brought on?

DD: I wasn’t very aware of it. We didn’t even have a TV set. I never learned Greek well enough to read a newspaper.

CR: But you knew that…

DD: I knew what was going on.

CR: This wasn’t at the time interesting for you, that a film actor would become president?

DD: Oh, of course. It was interesting in somewhat frightening ways. But as it turned out, the nation loved Reagan.

CR: It was frightening at the time. Did you then hear that he was involved in the hostage crisis…

DD: I don’t remember where it was, or when that happened, but we knew about it, sure. We listened to armed forces radio and read an English-language paper. I took the occasional trip back to New York to see people. So we did know what was going on.

CR: You heard about this arms view, and that he released the hostages…

DD: and involving Iran and the Contras…

CR: But nobody had any idea at that time of that being…

DD: No. In the case of Iraq, people didn’t say very much at all about the rendition…the torture of suspected terrorists. A few years had to pass before people started to discuss it. I think that as a result of September 11, people naturally gave the government more leeway than they would have otherwise and it took a while for people to notice and to be angry about it.

CR: Is it true that you said that for you postmodernism began when Kennedy was killed?

DD: No.

CR: I read a quote.

DD: If I did, it was an aside.

CR: It was like America lost its innocence.

DD: I certainly think America lost its innocence. I think everything changed.

CR: Like the beginning of postmodernism. Didn’t it lose it again with Reagan, with the Iranian revolution?

DD: I don’t think so. I think people welcomed Reagan as a symbol of innocence.

CR: Then they found out this very dark side.

DD: Sure, but that didn’t make an important impact except for among extremely knowledgeable people. Reagan is remembered now as a saintly figure.

GD: Are you skeptical about someone like Reagan? You write in The Names and also in Point Omega about film directors, but you remain skeptical of actors?

DD: No, not skeptical.

GD: But you’re more interested in directors?

DD: I would think so.

GD: From Running Dogs, throughout your work, do you see a change in how you treat the medium of film? How you view it, whether you believe in the power or whether it conveys or renders something? Is that the motivation of Running Dog, if I remember correctly? We still believe it might render something. Obviously now we are a little more skeptical about film.

DD: I have always been very enthusiastic about film. It depends on what kind of film you are talking about in terms of the power of film. The true power of film, you look at the Nuremburg films, and Hitler’s rise, and that’s the power of the image in its greatest form. In this country, it’s sometimes… the power of the image is sometimes felt in television commercials more than anything else. But film itself is a very very wonderful and positive force. Obviously.

CR: What do you mean it is felt more in TV ads?

DD: I mean when you talk about the power of film-If we extend film to include television and video and the internet-in a way it may be losing some of its effect. But I don’t know that it is being replaced by cinema, in this country.

CR: Do you work also in TV?

DD: No. I’ve never done that, I don’t know why exactly.

CR: This is a very American thing. Have you seen Sopranos?

DD: I haven’t. I don’t think it’s bad, I just don’t get interested. In a series, people become terrifically interested in the characters. I just can’t do it. I can be interested in the characters in a movie, but I wouldn’t want a continuation.

CR: They function more as neighbors.

You lose something. There’s something grand about a movie. I saw that film that Chantal Akerman made back in the 1970’s, about a woman living in Brussels. It’s about 3 and a half hours. And nothing happens in the movie. Much of it is real time. She cooks a meal, she takes a bath, and so on. I watched this in a movie theater. And I was very impressed. If I had watched this at home on television, that kind of movie wouldn’t have the magic that it had.

GD: The sense of futility, I would say, penetrates Point Omega.

DD: Futility of what?

GD: A futility that the loss film magic, transported from the movie theater to your home, might imply. The way you employ it is secondary.

DD: Are you talking about 24 Hour Psycho?[2]

GD: And the attempt to convey something about elsewhere. Like Chantal Akerman’s attempt to describe something, I just put the camera here and it is just you.  Obviously it fails.

DD: Well, yeah, you fail, but I thought it was a fairly interesting idea, because it was a one-shot movie. If I was to talk for four hours, if it could be done technically, I talked to a filmmaker about digital cameras—this is a thing I find difficult to grasp myself—it could have been a good movie. Depending on Elster. If Elster focused… it didn’t happen because…

GD: Because life overtook art.

DD: Life not only overtook art, but it overtook the vastly important subjects that Richard Elster was talking about. Those nights in the desert, it did overcome extinction, it overcomes war, it overcomes all of that, because it is personal and tragic.

GD: So there might be a message in a Don Dellilo book?

DD: I wouldn’t call it a message. Rather a footnote. What’s the German word for message?

CR: Botschaft. There’s another word, which is Beichte, confession. Is that what Richard Elster thinks about?

DD: Yes. As a young man… it’s not clear in his mind. He just wants to make film.

GD: Is he doing a film out of selfish reasons? Is he looking for himself?

DD: No. He’s interested in all of it. He wants to make a good movie.  He has an idea he really thinks this is unique. Whether it is or not, I’m not absolutely certain.

GD: But life has overtaken art. You make it the same as in Falling Man. You paint art grandly, but the irony, you take away that power in a way. In 24 Hour Psycho, it is more interesting to Denis to run after, to chase the girl.

DD: I don’t think I meant that.

GD: But it’s happening.

DD: But it’s 24 Hour Psycho, it’s not L’avventura[3]. Elster is in the depths of sorrow over his daughter’s disappearance and it overwhelms significant concepts, more than it overwhelms art. We don’t know that Elster wanted to make the movie anyway. It’s Jim that wants to make it and understand he can’t possibly under the circumstances. Art is…

GD: How and why do you employ visual arts in your work?

DD: When I write, I see things. I’m a writer who… I don’t like to read an essay style in fiction. I want to see and feel and hear. I’m always describing things, it’s rudimentary, it’s almost like an exercise.

GD: But is that a mysticism of the everyday?

DD: I don’t know how much mysticism I see in the everyday, but he does, sure. But I do want to see things. I have to. Physical descriptions, three dimensions that become two dimensions.


I was impressed by it. I wished they had chosen a different narrator. As I recall, there were two guys.

CR: Two guys talking to each other, like in Mao II. How did that work?

DD: He just asked me.

CR: You didn’t propose things?

No, I would have proposed different things for them to read. I wasn’t unhappy, but there might have been different things that might have been interesting. They read from White Noise, I believe. But it was good.

GD: You say that there was a shift with The Names. Has there been a shift in your writing in recent times?

It just seems to be getting shorter, but that’s a natural thing. No, I’m not aware of a shift.

GD: Is your work getting more serious?

That’s a good question. It’s becoming…The Body Artist was the first book I did after Underworld and it’s a very short book, and very strange. Somebody has a movie option on it.

CR: It’s interesting because, if I may say, people didn’t understand why you wrote a book like that. I always said I liked it, and many people said the next one or the one before they liked much more. The Body Artist was a shift.

DD: A shift into philosophy. What really interested me was the subject of time. I once met a philosopher briefly and wanted to talk to him about time and he said time is too confusing, too difficult. In fictional terms I thought it was worth exploring. I won’t go into detail. To some degree it is a more philosophical novel than I’d done. It was adapted for the stage and presented in Zurich by a German playwright whose name escapes me at the moment.

GD: I remember reading about it. What is the word postmodernism for you?

DD: That is a question I can’t answer out of the blue. It means certain things in terms of writing, in terms of fiction. I’m not sure we’re… I always thought of myself as a modernist.

GD: But you are connected to it.

DD: I’m endlessly connected to it.

CR: Maybe back to the seriousness. We talked about whether your work is getting less postmodern in a way. One of the facts of postmodernism is that everything is in quotation marks and everything has a relativity.

DD: And it is self-referential as well.

CR: And you are more and more going to the straighter, more serious things.

DD: I don’t know that I’ve ever explored those subjects, like the self-referential.

GD: But you are being called a prime postmodern writer.

DD: I’m an ordinary guy. (Laughs)

GD: But even if you don’t…do you think your work is getting more serious and losing the quotation marks?

DD: I think that Point Omega is a very serious novel, but I don’t accept quotation marks, I don’t know that I ever used them in that way.

CR: It has a very nice irony to it, but maybe everybody did it in a way, and then we moved on.

GD: Or maybe relativity is the core issue or problem. Maybe there was a misunderstanding to think that open novels like yours are by definition relativist?

DD: That may be. But my books are what I see and hear and feel about the world, without any special manipulation. This is what the world looks like to me.

CR: It looks like the world changed, like your books changed, and maybe you don’t rationalize it. It is moving away from relativism toward something more like seriousness or infinity or modernism.

DD: I won’t argue with you, but I’m not consciously doing it.

CR: That’s not what I am saying. Maybe the whole world is moving like that.

DD: I see.

GD: Maybe postmodernism is a vacuum cleaner that sucks you in for a while and then you think about getting serious. Is Underworld in a way… But on the other hand, going back to time…

DD: There’s an element of time in Point Omega also. But it’s not scientific. There’s no special perception. It’s just about what the characters feel.

CR: That’s one of the main elements.

DD: I believe it is.

CR: It’s also involved in 24-Hour Psycho, as we talked about before. It is inverted. It is always history as well. In a way, the history of the people. How far back do you think the biography of Elster?

DD: Not much more than what he says. That he was a very earnest student, he tells Jim. He wished that he had always stayed a serious student. He wished he had gone to Mongolia and had been more dedicated like the Jesuit priest de Chardin that went to Mongolia to dig up bones. But that’s… there’s not much more than that. I thought of him, I think of Elster as a selfish man, and really the one unselfish, not even unselfish, the one glowing element in Elster is his daughter. But she’s so much, so intimately a part of him that he can barely separate the two. She is him and vice versa. She is about 25 or so. It’s a second marriage, and he had a disastrous first marriage with two sons, with whom he has no contact. All these things sort of glide into the novel in dialogue. I don’t make too much of it.

GD: You don’t think more about the biography?

DD: No, I don’t do that. I don’t think that way.

GD: Does your mind work so that when you think about the desert or the concrete place he is, that there is a whole meaning? Are all the implications there for you? The mysticism of the west, or Indians, or the Underworld aspect of nuclear fear?

DD: It enters the mind at some level when I am there. But I have to think about it. Really, I have to think about it in terms of fiction to arrive at many of these… I wouldn’t write an essay about most of these things. I’ve written a few in my life but only a few. There is freedom in fiction. He’s a character that can have extravagant ideas that may or may not be mine, I may not even be sure. I think of these ideas as they come through the character. But I would never written an essay on most of the subjects that have entered my fiction.

GD: By fictionalizing the world you get closer to the world?

DD: I think so, and doing it through people, through characters, through fictional people. That’s how I think about most of these things.

GD: Obviously it is the pervasive feeling…To get close to something…

DD: Well, they are close to some ultimate truths, or some ultimate riddles, whether it’s time or in this case eternity and extinction. In Falling Man, you could say the consequences of terrorism.

GD: Is that a rendering? Is the body of work?

DD: It’s a rendering of the world. But it’s…as I said, I’m not aware that I personalize or that I personalize my fiction to…It’s just the world I see and the world I know.

CR: What you don’t like about essay writing is that they speak out too much?

DD: No. When I mentioned essays, I meant a certain style of fiction which does not deal much with the physical world, it’s just paragraph after paragraph of what is happening in a character’s mind. Even if he eats breakfast, you don’t know what he’s eating, or where he is, what the table looks like. That becomes dull to me.

That’s a very good practice… How the body acts… The necessary inversion that language conveys the strange maybe brutal way that art is both forceful, like a torturing rendering.  Language, in my case, can change an idea. I find myself writing a certain sentence and I say, ‘that’s interesting; maybe this guy isn’t sleepless at all. Maybe he sleeps ten hours a night,’ based on how a certain sentence takes shape. And then that… you think about the situation and the character and you follow it, even if that wasn’t the plan.

GD: But if you are in the desert….

DD: My mind is working about what I am seeing and hearing mostly.

GD: Is there a moment when you are just there?

DD: There’s a moment in the novel when Jim is wandering in the desert alone and he is in a canyon and everything is utterly silent. He closes his eyes and puts his hand to the wall and feels that sense of geology, but it’s deeper. I think, for a moment, he’s not there. Or he’s there, but nothing else is. And then he feels a fly buzzing. This is what happened when I was there. Suddenly a buzzing fly is very strange.

GD: Is this an ideal? Or is it frightening to be totally lost?

DD: I don’t know that it’s either. If it were to persist, I think it would finally either make you a saint or a mystic or it would make you a mental case. But it would have to persist for a long time. If you’re at all interested in talking about this in terms of a movie, let me know.

[1] Jean Pierre Gorin made four films with Jean Luc Godard before he disappeared to San Diego in 1978, to teach along with American film critic and painter Manny Farber. Reading the talk now after some time it seems pretty gripping since Mr.Gorin attacks our whole approach very drastically. Hopefully he will contribute on one of the upcoming books and at the same time agree that we (the motherfuckers) print parts of the talk.

[2] 24 Hour Psycho is a video projection on screen from 1993, by the Glaswegian artist Douglas Gordon. The man in the gallery discribes the piece in the prologue of Point Omega, as in the middle of the book and at the end.

[3] L’ avventura in Italian translates as adventure, but also can describe an affair or a fling. Michelangelo Antonioni directed the film in 1960. While extinction and disappearance characterize most of Antonioni’s films, ––the endings of Blow-Up and L’eclisse, where Vittoria (Monica Vitti) and Piero (Alain Delon) suffer the same fate as Mavi (Daniela Silvero) in the brilliant Identificazione di una donna from 1982,  THEY VANISH––L’avventura was the big scandal when opening in Cannes in 1960. There were tumults because of the ‘arbitrary neglect of dramatic functions.’ The established lead Anna, (Lea Massari) disappears and after some time she seems forgotten. Not only extinction makes Mr.DeLillo’s novel reminiscent of Antonioni’s films, but also they both are masters in crunching the plot to the brink of pure stasis. It is the philosophic use of time like in Zabriskie Point from 1970, with its high speed/slow motion scene of the destruction of the Hovgaard House, and the crane shot ending Professione:reporter, a shot that technically anticipated the Steadicam invented shortly after Antonioni had finished the film. The desert location is also reminiscent of Antonioni, though Il deserto rosso from 1964 portrays a landscape of factories and machines, Professione:reporter with Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider is partly set in the Sahara and Zabriskie Point is located in the Californian Death Valley. (Very kitschy score by Jerry Garcia and Pink Floyd!)