THE RADIANCE OF DAILINESS: DON DELILLO AND THE EVERYDAY BOOK PROPOSAL FOR PALGRAVE MACMILLAN PROFESSOR MARK

L. SAMPLE GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY

BRIEF DESCRIPTION The Radiance of Dailiness: Don DeLillo and the Everyday is about Don DeLillo and things—real world, physical, everyday things. My project approaches DeLillo as a cultural archeologist who uses ordinary objects in his novels to understand life in contemporary America. Examining the way common, household things—a Coca-Cola bottle, a pair of shoes, kitchen trash—circulate through DeLillo’s fourteen novels, I argue that DeLillo imagines that everyday life is populated by things as much as by people. Moreover, DeLillo reveals that the objects we might otherwise take to be mundane and apolitical are in fact deeply connected to larger social and historical forces. FULL DESCRIPTION The Radiance of Dailiness: Don DeLillo and the Everyday addresses a significant gap in DeLillo scholarship, which is that critics have consistently overlooked DeLillo’s preoccupation with everyday things. Throughout his thirty-five year career, DeLillo has returned time and time again in his novels to the theme of the ordinary, the everyday, what DeLillo once called in an interview the “radiance of dailiness.” DeLillo scholars in particular and American Literature scholars more generally have glossed over this fixation of DeLillo’s, most commonly ascribing the recurring thematic presence of things in his novels to DeLillo’s broader critique of American consumer culture. However, what the current scholarship has not recognized is that DeLillo exhibits an engineer’s interest in the pure physicality of the trinkets and objects of our daily lives. I distinguish between things and commodities in this project, which in its crudest form is the difference between how things are used and how they are made, marketed, bought, and sold. Much of my focus in The Radiance of Dailiness centers on the way DeLillo imagines things are actually used—or misused as the case may be. DeLillo explores how physical objects are endowed with unique affordances, a term from the recent work of Sellen and Harper that refers to the activities and habits that the

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physical properties of an object allow. These affordances shape DeLillo’s characters, and in some cases, entire plot trajectories, which suggests that for DeLillo the bric-a-brac in our houses, apartments, offices, and stores is not merely background clutter—white noise, so to speak—but is in fact ecological, a formative and transformative aspect of our physical environment. Even as I demonstrate DeLillo’s interest in the thing-in-itself, I explore how he gives life to the inanimate by reading into and through the history of things. I argue in The Radiance of Dailiness that DeLillo is disinterested in a typical Marxist critique of the commodity and is invested in actually reversing the terms of commodity fetishism. Instead of veiling social relations, hiding the material reality of their production, things in DeLillo’s novels invite speculation about their origin and design. DeLillo is deeply concerned with what the anthropologist Igor Kopytoff calls “the cultural biography of things,” the very real, material conditions of an object, how it is given meaning and situated and resituated within culture. For DeLillo, delving into the cultural biography of an object is a means to illuminate the past and perhaps more importantly, reveal what remains hidden in the present. Examining DeLillo’s treatment of objects as material forms and the cultural work these objects perform as they are used, mishandled, lost, or forgotten, I am necessarily guided by several theoretical approaches. Bill Brown’s “Thing Theory” and his recent effort in A Sense of Things: The Object Matter of American Literature (Chicago, 2003) to think through physical objects represented in 19th century American literature is an important predecessor to my study, dealing with many of the same issues but in an earlier milieu. The anthropologist Daniel Miller’s ethnographic work on material culture studies (Material Cultures: Why Some Things Matter, Chicago, 1998) likewise provides an important framework for considering the social life of objects, and Miller’s work is especially relevant when we consider that DeLillo himself is an ethnographer of sorts. As important as these contemporary scholars are, their work is unvaryingly indebted to one of the first theorists of modern everyday life, the German critic Walter Benjamin, whose wide-ranging essays from the 1920s and 1930s serve as the initial impulse for my study of DeLillo. Benjamin’s insistence on delving into the mystery of everyday things, whether it’s a telephone in his childhood home in the early 1900s or the meaning of a wooden toy to a child, motivates the spirit of my work. Benjamin cultivates a mindfulness of the ordinary, seeing anew what has gone unnoticed simply because of its familiarity. Surely Benjamin would agree with Father Paulus’s counsel to Nick Shay in

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DeLillo’s Underworld (1997) that “everyday things represent the most overlooked forms of knowledge.” Benjamin taps into these forms of overlooked knowledge, often by examining what he calls a “dialectical image,” a startling juxtaposition of two opposing elements, bound together in a way that disrupts a typical understanding of either of the elements. DeLillo too, I argue, exposes everyday life through dialectical images—say, a Molotov cocktail in a Coca-Cola bottle—and indeed, this is DeLillo’s primary strategy for exploring, to quote from Father Paulus again, “the depth and reach of the commonplace.” The Radiance of Dailiness: DeLillo and the Everyday makes a substantial contribution to the field of contemporary American literary studies. Most significantly, I reframe Don DeLillo, often considered alongside Thomas Pynchon as one of the principal postmodernist novelists of our age, as a realist writer, firmly grounded in the modern material world. I insist that DeLillo, even at his most surreal or stylized, is a writer of realist fiction. This reformulation of DeLillo counters the trend in DeLillo studies, which has been dominated in recent years by poststructuralist readings that focus on the philosophical or metaphysical side of DeLillo. While these influential studies—such as David Cowart’s Don DeLillo: The Physics of Language (University of Georgia, 2002) or Joseph Dewey’s Grief and Nothing: A Reading of Don DeLillo (University of South Carolina, 2006)—have expanded our understanding of DeLillo in important ways, they concentrate on the institutional or cosmological indeterminacies which haunt DeLillo’s fiction, leaving DeLillo’s emphasis on materiality unaccounted for. CHAPTER OUTLINE I do not present my study of DeLillo as an exhaustive chronological reading of his oeuvre, the format of most books in the field. Rather, I have structured The Radiance of Dailiness thematically, with each chapter devoted to a specific category of everyday objects. This design allows for a fluid discussion of key objects across DeLillo’s fourteen novels, allowing me to make my own startling—and revealing— juxtapositions of DeLillo’s work. Introduction – “In the Commonplace I Find Unexpected Themes and Intensities” I open with a discussion of the recent trend in popular culture to take us “behind the scenes” of everyday life. Whether it is the so-called “CSI shot,” now common in many television shows and movies, that tunnels a camera through the human body, or the popularity of what the critic Bruce Robbins calls commodity

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histories—those books that document the history of goods like coffee or chocolate—Americans are entranced by the possibility of seeing what is normally kept hidden from us. I am skeptical about the pedagogical mission of such texts, and I argue that DeLillo offers an alternative way to locate the unexpected in the commonplace. I frame my overarching argument with a striking but neglected passage from White Noise (1985), in which Jack Gladney and the neurochemist Winnie Richards discuss the engineering behind a mysterious pill Jack has found. This scene, which couples Gladney’s awe of advanced technology with Richard’s understanding of basic bodily functions, is an archetypal moment for DeLillo, in which he imposes—critically and sardonically—a forensic vision upon an ordinary object, exposing its secret life. Chapter 1 – “Molotovs in the Coke Sixpack”: The Violence of Everyday Things This chapter examines the intersection of consumer products and violence in several of DeLillo’s stories and novels. The centerpiece is a reading of DeLillo’s critically overlooked short story “The Uniforms” (1970), a surreal account of pseudo-Marxist terrorists rampaging through the French countryside. It is the seemingly inexplicable presence in the story of a banana factory and the weapons used to attack it—Molotov cocktails in a CocaCola six-pack—that motivates my historically-informed reading. I show how this nearly unknown early work foreshadows DeLillo’s later engagement with terrorism in Players (1977), Mao II (1987), and Falling Man (2007), and how, in all of these texts, DeLillo breaks the spell of the ordinary surrounding everyday things. This ultimately reveals DeLillo’s satire to be a complex meditation not only upon the extraordinary violence of terrorism but also upon the more subtle violence latent in everyday things. Chapter 2 – “Envelopes of Soup”: Eating and Drinking in the World of DeLillo Building on the work in the first chapter, I look more closely here at how DeLillo imagines one of the most basic aspects of daily life: the food we eat and the drinks we drink. Not surprisingly, food does not function for DeLillo as a source of nourishment or as the focus of a communal experience. In texts such as Players (1977), The Names (1982), White Noise (1985), The Body Artist (2001), and Falling Man (2007), dining—even dining together—is an isolating experience, and food itself is sterile and lifeless, a

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metaphor for DeLillo’s own characters. Nonetheless, DeLillo suggests that we continue to look to food and dining as a means toward recapturing the sacred nature of the agape. Chapter 3 – “Forgetting Who They Are Under Their Clothes”: The Fashion of DeLillo This chapter explores the circulation of clothing in DeLillo’s novels, influenced by the critic Peter Stallybrass’s work on clothing and materiality in Renaissance literature. DeLillo’s interest in fashion and clothing has long gone unremarked, even though fashion has played central roles in DeLillo’s novels, ranging from Americana (1971) to Cosmopolis (2001). I show how fashion functions for DeLillo as a significant and transformative act which goes well beyond performance. In DeLillo, clothes fashion an individual in the original sense of “fashion”—to make, to manufacture, to turn something into something else. At the same time, the refashioned self threatens to come undone by the betrayals of the physical body underneath. Chapter 4 – “Garbage Rose First”: The Secret Life of Trash In this chapter I make sense of DeLillo’s fascination with trash, on display most prominently in Players (1977), White Noise (1985), and Underworld (1997). My reading hinges upon an unsettling scene in Players, in which a self-immolated man is discovered by one of the protagonists in a remote garbage dump, surrounded by the debris of American consumer culture. Linking this dump to one of the most famous trash heaps in American letters—the Hollywood backlot in Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust (1939)—I show how DeLillo uses refuse and garbage in order to deliver a devastating critique of wish fulfillment in American culture. Chapter 5 – “The Money Didn’t Matter”: Broken Signs in DeLillo The final chapter explores the materiality of signs in DeLillo, that is, the connection between physical texts and the meanings they signify—or fail to signify. Confronting the dominant poststructuralist reading of DeLillo, I use Bill Gray’s unfinished novel in Mao II (1991) and Keith Neudecker’s obsession with poker in Falling Man (2007) to argue that DeLillo’s insistence on the frailty of signification is not rooted in a Derridean

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understanding of textuality; rather, broken signification in DeLillo’s world is a result of the affordances of textual material— paper, books, playing cards, money—and a testament to the way that the physical world disrupts the process of signification. Conclusion – “I Like Knowing It’s in the House” I rest my case that DeLillo is an archeologist of things with a discussion of Don DeLillo’s Papers, an archive at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. This massive and still growing collection of over 120 boxes of material contains thousands of pages of DeLillo’s personal and professional correspondence, hand-written notes, research materials, drafts, and proofs, and it is remarkable evidence of DeLillo’s keen interest in materiality. At the same time, the fact that DeLillo has surrendered control of this trove of intellectual and physical labor gestures toward DeLillo’s ultimate take on physicality. MARKET AND COMPETITION Given DeLillo’s important contributions to contemporary American literature, The Radiance of Dailiness: Don DeLillo and the Everyday is an especially fitting entry in the Palgrave Macmillan series “American Literature Readings in the Twenty-First Century.” Like several other books in this series, the primary market for The Radiance of Dailiness includes students and scholars of contemporary American literature, and more particularly, the growing contingent of scholars in the field of DeLillo studies. The Radiance of Dailiness will also be of interest to those involved in the fields of material culture studies and American studies. My book will further appeal to the increasing number of instructors who teach DeLillo in undergraduate and graduate literature classes, as the topic of materiality in DeLillo is eminently teachable and provides a unique and inviting gateway to DeLillo’s work. There is an array of secondary markets for The Radiance of Dailiness. Given the book’s relevance to scholars of American literature, the library market among academic institutions will be important. Some secondary markets also offer a chance for greater exposure. A number of scholarly journals may consider reviewing The Radiance of Dailiness, such as Contemporary Literature, PMLA, SAQ, Modern Fiction Studies, American Literature, and American Literary History. The Don DeLillo Society, a scholarly association dedicated to DeLillo and of which I am a member, would want to highlight the book in the society’s newsletter. The project will also generate interest in several online

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venues, including the definitive Don DeLillo site, Don DeLillo’s America <http://perival.com/delillo/delillo.html> The field of DeLillo studies is an active one, as demonstrated by the number of recent scholarly books which would count as competition to The Radiance of Dailiness. The following titles devoted to DeLillo have been well-received by the American literary studies community: Boxall, Peter. Don DeLillo: The Possibility of Fiction. New York: Routledge, 2006. Cowart, David. Don DeLillo: The Physics of Language. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2002. Dewey, Joseph. Beyond Grief and Nothing: A Reading of Don DeLillo. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2006. Duvall, John N., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Don DeLillo. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Kavadlo, Jesse. Don DeLillo: Balance at the Edge of Belief. New York: Peter Lang, 2004. Martucci, Elise A. The Environmental Unconscious in the Fiction of Don DeLillo. New York: Routledge, 2007. What sets my project apart from these works is evident from the titles alone. Consider the nouns in these titles: Fiction, Language, Grief, Nothing, Belief, The Unconscious. As I discussed above, the current crop of criticism largely tackles the metaphysical side of DeLillo, while my approach is grounded in the concrete, the real, the everyday material world. Another distinguishing feature of my project which clearly sets it apart from the existing scholarship is that it is the first book to incorporate research from the Don DeLillo Papers, the collection of DeLillo’s notebooks and manuscripts housed at the University of Texas at Austin. Given my project’s focus on materiality, it is fitting that I have availed myself of this archive, which has provided countless insights into DeLillo’s use of objects in his fiction. Ultimately, it is this attentiveness to the material world—both in the real world and in how it is represented in DeLillo’s imagination—that makes The Radiance of Dailiness an exciting project for me and a worthwhile contribution to American literary studies.

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FURTHER INFORMATION I expect the length of the final manuscript of The Radiance of Dailiness to be approximately 200 pages, including notes. Several chapters will include photographs and illustrations, totaling about five non-text items. I am already in contact with the copyright holders of these images for the necessary permissions. There are no other special design requirements for the manuscript. DELIVERY DATE The delivery date for the completed manuscript is August 2009. PEER REVIEW A number of rising and established contemporary American literature scholars can offer an objective assessment of my proposed project. Most notably John Duvall (Purdue University) and Mark Osteen (Loyola College) are preeminent DeLillo critics who have demonstrated an interest in new ways of reading DeLillo. Other potential peer reviewers knowledgeable about DeLillo and the broader field of contemporary American literature include Marni Gauthier (SUNY-Cortland), Stephen Hock (Virginia Wesleyan College), and Mary Holland (SUNY-New Paltz). AUTHOR INFORMATION Please see the attached CV for contact information.

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