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Copyright 1999 The Purdue Research Foundation. All rights reserved.

Modern Fiction Studies 45.3 (1999) 696-723

From Hoover's FBI to Eisenstein's Unterwelt: DeLillo

Directs the Postmodern Novel
Timothy L. Parrish *
II. Postmodern Art and Authorship

Fiction rescues history from its confusions. It provides the balance and rhythm we
don't experience in our daily lives, in our real lives. So the novel which is within
history can also operate outside it--correcting, clearing up and, perhaps most
important of all, finding rhythms and symmetries that we simply don't encounter
--Don DeLillo qtd. in DeCurtis
Don DeLillo's often stated assertion that he writes in opposition to the culture he depicts raises
a critical conundrum that typifies his fiction and is endemic to postmodern fiction generally.
That is, DeLillo's work raises the question: is it possible for a writer to produce fictions that are
not in turn absorbed by the cultural forces out of which they are made? Critics have
consistently identified DeLillo's remarkable ability to construct in his novels conflicting
narratives [End Page 696] inflected through varying representations of media (music, radio,
film, photography, television, video). To many readers, however, DeLillo's almost uncanny
ability to recreate in his narratives the ontological instability that characterizes postmodernism
is incompatible with the aims of fiction. John Johnston says of Libra that it communicates "an
essentially unrepresentable multiplicity whose every manifestation is entangled with conflicting
versions and contaminated physical evidence" (321). Glen Thomas suggests that in DeLillo's
work "information refuses to coalesce and remains stubbornly fragmentary" (109). Speaking of
Mao II, another critic observes that "one misses" in reading this novel "an old-fashioned
novelistic virtue, the attempt to communicate the distinctive accents of a culture" (Scanlan
246). 1 The irony that critics repeatedly face is that DeLillo's ability to deconstruct "oldfashioned novelistic virtues" is in large part what enables his work to capture the distinctive
accents of postmodern culture.
DeLillo's readers thus find themselves in a critical bind. On the one hand, they delight in the
virtuosity of his multimedia mimicry--his ability to transmit a range of media forms through his
narratives seriatim. That the very success of his narrative mimicry leads readers to worry that
he is an impersonator co-opted by the narrative forms that he replays suggests how difficult it is
for DeLillo to succeed in being both innovative and in control of his fiction. 2 Confronted with
a demanding and difficult writer like DeLillo, critics have understandably called upon
influential postmodern theorists--Jean Baudrillard, Paul de Man, Gilles Deleuze, Linda
Hutcheon, Fredric Jameson, and Hayden White--to provide a vocabulary for addressing the
intellectual problems raised by DeLillo's fiction. 3 Precisely because DeLillo's fiction is

concerned with imagining how conflicting postmodern practices collide, it resists the coherence
that theory demands. Trying to account for Miguel de Cervantes's accomplishment in Don
Quixote, Jorge Luis Borges asserted that "every novel is an ideal plane inserted into the realm
of reality" (194). This idea led Borges to ask, "Why does it disturb us that Don Quixote be a
reader of Quixote and Hamlet a spectator of Hamlet?" and to answer that "these inversions
suggest that if the characters of a fictional work can be readers or spectators, we, its readers, or
spectators, can be fictitious" (196). Whereas Borges is describing a culture that reads print texts
and watches live performances, DeLillo is writing for a culture that watches and makes [End
Page 697] recordings. Television, movies, and cameras comprise the media through which we
know ourselves.
If everyone is both watcher and participant--as the omnipresence of the Zapruder film in
DeLillo's fiction suggests--then the philosophical dilemma Borges identified with Cervantes
has become everyday currency in a way that Cervantes could never have imagined. Watching
the Zapruder film, Klara Sax wonders at how "it carried a kind of inner life, something
unconnected to the things we call phenomena" (DeLillo, Underworld 495). Its "footage seemed
to advance some argument about the nature of film itself" (496). From Klara's perspective, the
film is not about what Oswald intended on that day or who may have manipulated him. The
shooter's mind is less important than the mind shooting it, which, for DeLillo, is the viewer
watching it. Film becomes a visible manifestation of our thoughts; we create the film and then
the film creates us. 4 Hence, Klara wonders "if this home movie was some crude living likeness
of the mind's technology" (496). This film's existence makes manifest the postmodern claim
that there is no real that might be confidently opposed to the fictional; thus, DeLillo the novelist
has to find alternative means to incorporate into his fiction the media that have helped to effect
this transformation in perception. Although Bill Gray may surrender his calling to
postmodernity, DeLillo's fiction--and novelistic form--is animated by it.
Consequently, DeLillio's fiction has replaced the solitary and singular artist-observer familiar
from Henry James and James Joyce with a multiplicity of competing aesthetic technologies.
Thus, Underworld takes its title from an imaginary word-film, titled Unterwelt, that is
presented as if it were a lost work of the great Russian director Sergei Eisenstein. 5 This move
is of course a kind of joke but one that makes a point about both the ubiquity of technological
representation and DeLillo's conception of himself as a novelist. The film's presence in the
narrative--its celluloid shadow--disrupts the reader's confidence in the transparency of the
word, which may suggest to many that DeLillo has surrendered to film the power once
attributed to the novel. "The film was printed on her mind in jits and weaves," DeLillo writes of
one viewer (Underworld 445). Moreover, the same characters who witness the rare showing of
the almost secret Unterwelt are also present at an exclusive screening of the Zapruder film of
John F. Kennedy's assassination. Watching this film, the characters have to confront the actual
[End Page 698] death of the president less than "the famous headshot [that obliges them to] to
contend with the impact" (488); that is, they have to confront the existence of the event as film.
The two films, one real and one not, provide a kind of textual subconscious to the novel. They
not only raise questions about the ontological status of the narrative but also are doubled as
secret films that tell stories from opposite sides of the Cold War. Underworld's more than 800
pages are loaded with Cold War incidents: from Bobby Thomson hitting the home run that
became part of the "miracle on Coogan's bluff" coinciding with the Russians' first successful
explosion of the atom bomb in 1951, to narrator Nick Shay witnessing an underground nuclear
detonation of waste in the 1990s. According to Underworld's version of the Cold War, political
ideology is subsumed within the mechanical forces of reproduction by which Cold War
attitudes are circulated. Thus, what connects the various Cold War events in the novel are their
technological reproduction and re-representation. Watching the Eisenstein film, Klara senses
that "this is a film about Us and Them" (444). With Zapruder, what begins as a commemorative
home movie becomes a document that is classified as a threat to national security because it

might undermine the "official truth" of the assassination. For DeLillo, these two films are Cold
War narratives not simply because they reflect familiar Cold War attitudes of paranoia, but
because they enable him to explore how the Cold War was itself created in part by the
disjunction between author and text that each of these films reproduces. Unterwelt has an
author, Eisenstein, but no existence; the Zapruder film has a reality--it exists---but no author.
Walter Benjamin imagined a degrading of the aesthetic product because of the separation
between artist and art enforced by the technology of mechanical reproduction. DeLillo, by
contrast, understands the aesthetic product created by the technological forces of reproduction
to have achieved an augmented power that he wants to capture as an artist. 6 In this respect,
DeLillo's novelistic ambition is to absorb the unauthorized cultural power of the Zapruder film
and fuse it with the artistic authority that he attributes to the Eisenstein film. Presenting his
novel Underworld as the double to the film Unterwelt, DeLillo invokes the possibility of
mimicking something that does not exist not to assert through the form of the novel his status
as creator. Not only a novelist of technology, DeLillo is creating a new technology of the novel.
[End Page 699]
If DeLillo has no Stephen Dedalus in his work, he expresses his aesthetic sensibility through
marginal or unlikely artists who create competing and often complex renderings of experience
in different formats. 7 His portrayal of baseball broadcaster Russ Hodges, junk artist Klara Sax,
comedian Lenny Bruce, and the graffiti tagger Moonman 157 as rival artists reflects his own
conception of himself as a late twentieth-century novelist who, like them, experiments in
hybrid forms for transient audiences. Although only Bruce relies on the manipulation of
language, all of DeLillo's artists use available technologies in an aesthetic akin to what DeLillo
fashions in his novels. While DeLillo's self-identification with bricoleur artists is
understandable, more shocking is his aesthetic sympathy with the "creative" work of J. Edgar
Hoover and the Texas Highway Killer. As Underworld makes clear, DeLillo's practice as an
oppositional, postmodern novelist feeds on and reconstructs the same technologies of
information control for which Hoover became "Director" of the FBI. Indeed, implicit in
DeLillo's presentation of Hoover is the uncomfortable recognition that Hoover's ability to
combine politics, aesthetics, and capitalism made him an exemplary postmodern theorist,
reader, and even artist. By DeLillo's reasoning, Hoover is to postmodernism as Joyce is to
modernism. DeLillo writes Underworld not to supplant Hoover, but, in a sense, to out-Hoover
Hoover. That is, by siphoning the techniques that Hoover and these other rival artists employ,
DeLillo, as he says in an interview with Anthony DeCurtis, wants to use the novel's ability to
be both within history and outside of it in order to provide a framework for understanding the
past fifty years of American history (DeCurtis 294).
This process begins in the Prologue to Underworld with DeLillo's attempt to defamiliarize the
familiar by historicizing it. Here, DeLillo recreates the legendary 3 October 1951 encounter
between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers that was decided in the bottom of the
ninth inning by Bobby Thomson's dramatic home run. If for many readers baseball is an
emblem of American identity, DeLillo reveals how the famous recording of announcer Russ
Hodges's call of this game transmits an empty, decontextualized American history. To DeLillo,
what is compelling about this moment is not merely the game, but how the game seems to be
played in isolation from the cultural context that surrounds it. On the same day that Bobby
Thomson hits "the shot heard around the world," the Soviet Union successfully detonates [End
Page 700] its first atomic bomb. Ironically, this cataclysmic event, which would ensure that the
Cold War continued for another forty years, seems relatively insignificant in the context of an
epic baseball game. Throughout the novel these two events become intertwined so that DeLillo
can explore how nostalgic recollection of the baseball game seems to efface any historical
consciousness of the Cold War. In subsequent decades, memory of the game replaces memory
of the bomb. The game stands as a cultural reference point for the innocence of the 1950s, in
contrast to the social and political chaos of the 1970s.

DeLillo originally published the prologue to Underworld in Harper's magazine under the
lovely title "Pafko at the Wall." Andy Pafko was the left fielder for the Dodgers that October
day and it was over his head the ball traveled past the left field fence and into the memories of
mid-century Americans. Thus the phrase "Pafko at the Wall" marks the boundary in DeLillo's
text between nostalgia for the game itself and the secret history that is about to overwhelm the
game's meaning (42). The ball's journey beyond the park and into history becomes the thread
that ties together the disparate parts of this massive novel. Recovering the ball becomes a way
of refusing both history and one's involvement in it. Most obviously, this connection is made
through the novel's occasional narrator, Nick Shay, who buys the ball for $34,500 and seems
amazingly unaffected by the social and political events through which he lives. However,
Marvin Lundy, who makes recovering the ball his life's mission, recognizes that the lost ball
might have a more complex "inner history" than the nostalgic version normally attached to it.
Having spent years tracking the ball and discovering the many shades of meaning it has taken
since leaving Thompson's bat, Lundy understands his search for this lost baseball as a kind of
conspiracy narrative. Upon hearing Lundy's convoluted account of his search for the ball, one
character thinks he is listening to "an eerie replay of the investigations into the political
murders of the 1960s" (180-81).
The comparison is apt because conspiracy theories demand that there be an originary moment
from which a concatenation of events can be traced. In Underworld, the baseball game is that
moment, though of course DeLillo on every page deconstructs our desire to believe in that
moment. No matter how complicated the reasoning becomes, one still believes that an
explanation exists that could explain everything. [End Page 701] All plots lead to death, a
character observes in White Noise. But here DeLillo suggests that the converse is true, too.
Following a plot to its mythical point of origin offers the hope of a birth, or a rebirth, that
replaces the original one. Lundy tells Brian Glassic that "the hidden mentality of let's stay
home" surrounded the game. (It was played before a nearly half-empty stadium.) "It's like they
knew. They sensed there was a connection between this game and some staggering event that
might take place on the other side of the world" (172). Without alluding specifically to the
nuclear bomb the Russians exploded that day, Lundy implies that the atmosphere of the bomb
permeated the perception of the game. He adds, "people had a premonition that this game was
related to something much bigger. They had the mental process of do I want to go out and be in
a big crowd, which if something awful happens is the worst place to be, or should I stay home
with my family and my brand-new TV." Glassic acknowledges that Lundy's account is
"lyrically true," even "unprovably true," as it has about it the aura of "authentic inner narrative"
through which paranoid narrative makes sense of the world (172). 8 Lundy is, like DeLillo,
inventing the game after the fact, making it conform to the audience's altered sense of reality.
Lundy suggests how the search for Thompson's baseball is a desperate effort, an attempt to
repress the cultural forces that were being unleashed that day. More than a return to the security
of the womb, the ball is a form of birth that is also a death. "People who save these bats and
balls preserve the old stories through the spoken word and know the nicknames of a thousand
players, we're here in our basements with tremendous history on our walls. And I'll tell you
something, you'll see I'm right. There's men in the coming years they'll pay fortunes for these
objects. They'll pay unbelievable. Because this is desperation speaking" (182). The men Lundy
describes are also using fragments of history to piece together a version of the past that will
explain their present. However, their historical reconstructions are committed in the name of
lost innocence. They are blissfully unaware of the interpretative issues that Lundy recognizes;
consequently, they imagine that with the ball they can recover the game's original aura. Lundy,
though, discerns that recovering the original ball requires an act of technological reconstruction
incompatible with the purity that the lost ball represents. Lundy employs the same sort of
techniques of historical [End Page 702] recovery used by Kennedy assassination buffs. He
advertises for amateur film footage and rephotographs it; he alters, enhances, repositions the
images to find the clue he needs to begin his search. It is "a work of Talmudic refinement"

(177). Finding the ball is less important than Lundy's discovery that he can reinvent history
through technology. "Reality doesn't happen," he wryly observes, "until you analyze the dots"
(182). DeLillo amplifies this point: "This is what technology does. It peels back the shadows
and redeems the dazed and rambling past. It makes reality come true" (177). Technology does
not bring us any closer to the lived experience of the game; it replaces a memory of the game
with another version.
DeLillo underscores the ironies of Lundy's act of techno-historical reconstruction by presenting
his account of the baseball game through his own act of reconstructive simulation. Ironically,
this is an art that he adapts from the announcer Russ Hodges. Waiting for the pennant-deciding
game to begin, Hodges reflects how he "spent years in a studio doing re-creations of big league
games. The telegraph bug clacking in the background and blabbermouth Hodges inventing
ninety-nine percent of the action. And I'll tell you something scout's honor. I know this sounds
farfetched but I used to sit there and dream of doing real baseball from a booth in the Polo
Grounds in New York" (DeLillo, Underworld 25). Relying solely on the facts that the telegraph
provided, an announcer would simulate a game as if he were witnessing it live. Crowd noise,
the sound the ball makes when struck by a bat, the umpire's voice--with the help of an engineer,
the announcer worked these details of authenticity into his description of the game. What
matters more than the basic facts of the game is the experience being recreated. Thus, along
with telling who made which out when, the announcer might describe, as Hodges says he did,
"a carrot-topped boy with a cowlick (shameless, ain't I) who retrieves the ball and holds it
aloft" (26). That such images were finally as canned as the recorded sounds of ball striking bat
matters less than the fact that the moment described was part of an established ritual. Even as
the recreated event was taking place, then, there was an element of nostalgia.
Where Hodges once faked games to create what was in some sense an authentic experience,
DeLillo mimics nostalgia for an audience who no longer believes in it. He makes the distance
separating his recreation from the original moment part of the narrative that he [End Page 703]
relates. He thereby complicates an exercise in willed innocence by historicizing it. 9 The home
run ball becomes a symbol for Cold War America's desire to recreate perpetually the conditions
of its own cultural innocence despite the obvious conflicts of its history; the recording of
Hodges's radio transmission becomes the narrative mechanism by which DeLillo exposes the
willful and dangerous nostalgia required to maintain such an illusion. As DeLillo makes clear,
it is an accident that Hodges's call and hence the game ever became ingrained in our cultural
memory. The game was filmed, but it was not officially recorded for audio. The recording
exists because an amateur with a tape recorder happened to preserve Hodges's call. DeLillo
recreates the game to explore how this accidental recording replaces--becomes, in fact--the
game itself. Paradoxically, as the recording replaces the game, the game accrues meaning in the
culture's memory of it. Through this bit of technology, the game becomes detached from the
moment it records and thus that moment can be continually re-experienced outside of the
history in which it was played. "The shot heard around the world" signifies memory of Bobby
Thomson's homer, not the acceleration of the Cold War. Reliving the game over and over is a
way of repressing the fact of the Cold War. For DeLillo, if not for Hodges, the communal
camaraderie of the ballgame exists only in the context of "the secret of the bomb" (51).
Speaking of how technology has to influence cultural perception, DeLillo has described the
assassination of John Kennedy as the "seven seconds that broke the back of the American
century" (Libra 181). For DeLillo, a transformation in cultural perception took place as a
consequence of Zapruder's film that has had a greater cultural impact than the fact that a
president was assassinated: "We seem from that moment to have entered a world of
randomness and ambiguity, a world totally modern in the way it shades into the century's
'emptiest' literature" ("American" 22). The Zapruder film--which confirms Lundy's theory that
reality does not happen until you analyze the dots--provides the reader with the context for
understanding what Hodges's call, replayed into infinity, now signifies about the game. By

Lundy's post-Oswald reasoning, this altered sense of reality was already part of the game as it
was being played. Hence, his desire to recover the ball is also a desire to discover an "inner
narrative" that demands, as another character puts it, that everything be connected. [End Page
704] Consequently, Lundy identifies a coincidence between the atomic bomb and a baseball
that resituates the two events as mutually constitutive reflections. "When they make the bomb,"
he says, "they make the radioactive core the exact same size as the baseball" (DeLillo,
Underworld 172). Practicing a kind of paranoid history that DeLillo endorses, Lundy is able to
see how the bomb that the Russians explode and the ball that Thomson hits become
interchangeable. During the game, the spectating Hoover intuits this connection by saying that
he "can almost hear the wind blowing across the Central Asian steppes, out where the enemy
lives in long coats and fur caps, speaking that old weighted language of theirs, liturgical and
grave. What secret history are they writing?" (50). While the ultimate answer to this question is
of course the history that DeLillo presents in Underworld, it also points to Hoover's own skills
in writing secret histories.
Hoover's presence introduces an element of paranoia to a narrative that seems to be about the
easy familiarity of community. Sitting with Frank Sinatra, Jackie Gleason, and Toots Shor,
Hoover "admires the rough assurance of these men. [. . . T]hey have a size to them, a natural
stamina that mocks his own bible-school indoctrination even as it draws them to the noise"
(DeLillo, Underworld 29). Hoover cannot blend into the scene without knowing that "their
hidden lives are in his private files, all the rumors collected and indexed, the shadow facts
made real" (17). Initially, Hoover is another mechanism by which DeLillo distances the
received memory of that event in order more fully to historicize it. A messenger informs
Hoover that the Soviets "have exploded a bomb in plain unpretending language." The "news is
hard, it works into him, makes him think of the spies who passed the secrets, the prospect of
warheads being sent to communist forces in Korea" (23). Ostensibly enjoying the ballgame,
Hoover's thoughts predict the next forty years of United States foreign and domestic policy:
"the genius of the bomb is printed not only in the physics of its particles and rays but in the
occasion it creates for new secrets" (51). As a reader of the game whose thoughts shift from
intuiting the writing of a "secret history" to interpreting that history immediately in "plain
unpretending language," Hoover is more than just a particularly adept postmodern reader.
Rather, he deciphers the text of history before it is even written.
If DeLillo uses Hodges to advance the art of historical recreation, [End Page 705] then he
portrays Hoover as his master conspiracy-theorist-as-artist. In this respect, Hoover marks the
culmination of a series of characters (Globke in Great Jones Street, Murray in White Noise, and
Ferry in Libra, among others) who are adept analysts of media forces and conspiracy theories.
Hoover is the only character present who is capable of making the sorts of cultural and
historical connections that DeLillo demands of his readers; thus, in a disturbing way, DeLillo
makes reader and author complicitous with Hoover. Hoover is included in the novel almost as
an homage. Like Hoover, DeLillo cherishes secrets for their own sake. His art depends on
them. For example, a character in Libra at one point wonders whether identity itself is not
contingent on keeping secrets. In that same novel DeLillo suggests that the Hearings before the
President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, or the Warren Report, is
the logical extension of Finnegans Wake. The claim that DeLillo makes about the Warren
Report suggests how DeLillo understands his own aesthetic practice. Its massive accumulation
of detail, the sense of multiple contradictory narratives existing simultaneously as valid
explanations of an historical event, the location of millions of facts that seem to reproduce
themselves exponentially, breeding ever more narratives of conspiracy and secrecy, comprise
not only DeLillo's view of the Cold War era but also configure the historical "text" of America
that Hoover so masterfully manipulated. Where, for instance, Julio Cortzar's postmodern
novel Hopscotch (1966) imagines the possibility of rearranging narrative sections into endless
possible wholes, DeLillo's Warren Report likewise becomes a toolkit for constructing rival and
even contradictory histories. While Libra is invented largely out of the materials of the Warren

Report and hence is almost a subsidiary work, Underworld, with its one, massive accumulation
and astonishing scope, aims to supplant the Warren Report. DeLillo's counter-history then is
equal parts Joyce and Hoover.
None of DeLillo's prior conspiracy theorists has Hoover's astonishing imaginative power.
DeLillo understands that Hoover is a dominating figure, both real and mythical, and as an artist
he wants to usurp Hoover's power. John N. Duvall suggests that "it is through the figure of
Hoover that [DeLillo] suggests how global politics become aestheticized, so much so that the
history of the Cold War nearly disappears from American consciousness" (293). Obviously, this
sort of critique applies perfectly to Ronald Reagan, who, it can be argued, hovers over [End
Page 706] the narrative as an unnamed presence. 10 DeLillo here presents a highly
aestheticized version of the Cold War, but does so not to efface it from our consciousness. As
DeLillo and Hoover both recognize, aestheticizing cultural processes is not necessarily
coincident with anaesthetizing cultural processes. Like DeLillo (and unlike Hodges), Hoover
stands apart from the ballgame even as he predicts how the ballgame might be recreated by the
future. The ballgame is open: the home run is for everyone to enjoy and remember. The bomb
also is for everyone, but it releases layers of information unavailable to all. Hoover reflects on
the importance of announcing the news before the Soviets do. "By announcing first, we prevent
the Soviets from putting their sweet spin on the event. People will understand that we've
maintained control of the news if not of the bomb" (DeLillo, Underworld 28). If spies cannot
control the Soviets' ability to develop nuclear technology, then the U.S. government can
produce agencies that can create information for the purpose of concealing it. Hoover's power
derives from his recognition that secrets must remain secret in order for him to augment his
own cultural and narrative power. What the secrets contain matters less than the fact that
people believe in their existence. DeLillo thus co-opts Hoover's narrative strategy by recreating
the baseball game as if it were the bomb. Unpacking the layers of history embedded into this
seemingly innocent baseball game allows DeLillo to explode the mythology of the Cold War.
Co-opting Hoover's narrative power does not eliminate Hoover or expose him as some sort of
terrible cultural presence. It is important to understand that DeLillo is undermining Hoover's
politics, not his aesthetics. DeLillo is not so naive as to think that by exposing Hoover's
aesthetic practice he can eradicate Hoover's dangerous cultural legacy. Demonizing Hoover or
the technology that Hoover employs, as attractive as this is, does not alter the fact that Hoover
was capitalizing on possibilities inherent in the culture and therefore available virtually to
anyone. Years after the baseball game, caught in the midst of the 1960s, Hoover reflects on his
enemies-for-life[. . . T]he way to deal with such people was to compile massive
dossiers. Photographs, surveillance reports, detailed allegations, linked names,
transcribed tapes--wiretaps, bugs, break-ins. The dossier was a deeper form of
truth, [End Page 707] transcending facts and actuality. The second you placed an
item in the file, a fuzzy photograph, an unfounded rumor, it became promiscuously
true. It was a truth without authority and therefore incontestable. Factoids seeped
out of the file and crept across the horizon, consuming bodies and minds. The file
was everything, the life nothing. (DeLillo, Underworld 559)
As DeLillo recognizes, Hoover's dossier becomes a kind of novel-in-progress--a counterpart to
the Warren Report. As a new form of media, Hoover's dossier is more powerful than the
Warren Report not simply because it is never released and thus never readable. It also acquires
power because it does not attempt to formulate a cohesive narrative or reveal an organizing
authorial agency. The mere fact of its existence--its unlimited capacity for rumor and innuendo-implies omnipotence. DeLillo describes Hoover's dossier in terms traditionally associated with
the novel--a deeper form of truth, transcending facts and actuality. By showing how Hoover coopts novelistic strategies, DeLillo imagines Hoover inventing the kind of postmodern novel
that DeLillo writes.

On the other hand, writing in the era after the Cold War, DeLillo's narrative task is in a sense
more difficult than Hoover's because the paranoia of the Cold War no longer provides structure
to his narrative interventions. Lundy recognizes that
You need [. . .] both sides to keep the Cold War going. It's the one constant thing.
It's honest, it's dependable. Because when the tension and rivalry end, that's when
your worst nightmares begin. All the power and intimidation of the state will seep
out of your personal bloodstream. [. . .F]orces will come rushing in, demanding
and challenging. The cold war is your friend. You will need it to stay on top.
(DeLillo, Underworld 170)
By the time Lundy finally catches up with the baseball that is the object of his desire, it has
become the last vestige of the Cold War, the talisman that props up the shaky edifice of the
Cold War. It comes into Lundy's possession by way of what might be called the future. Though
he tracks the ball relentlessly, Lundy hits the critical jackpot because "a man's driving along in
his car, someone shoots him dead" (179). Among [End Page 708] the murdered man's effects
is the ball. DeLillo leaves it to the reader to make the connection, but Lundy's search is
completed by the Texas Highway Killer.
The reader is also left to determine why the ball's mystery should be solved--unknowingly--by
the Texas Highway Killer. The appearance of the Texas Highway Killer marks the point at
which the centrifugal energies of the Cold War dissipate. The confluence of these two plot lines
is a coincidence that is no accident. What connects the baseball game with Richard Henry
Gilkey's murdering spree is that both are public events apprehended through the media. Part of
the initial charm of DeLillo's account of the game is the suggestion, ultimately withdrawn, that
the game is an unmediated event. "The Thomson homer continues to live," says one character,
"because it happened decades ago when things were not replayed and worn out and run down
and used up before midnight of the first day" (98). The narrative begins with a single kid,
Cotter, sneaking into the game. The implication is that we will know this game through
someone who was actually present. As we have seen, one of the meanings the ball yields is the
longing for unmediated presence. The game's mystique, however, derives from the fact that
there was "a man on 12th Street in Brooklyn who has attached a tape machine to his radio so he
can record the voice of Russ Hodges broadcasting the game. The man doesn't know why he's
doing this. It is just an impulse, a fancy, it is like hearing the game twice" (DeLillo,
Underworld 32). A precursor to the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination, the 12th Street
recording arrives as a moment of lost innocence, miraculously recaptured.
Contrasting with the recording of Hodges's radio call is the random recording of Richard Henry
Gilkey murdering a randomly chosen driver. The account of a little girl who, while playing
with a video camera during a family outing, accidentally catches a murder on tape develops the
troubling implications that have been attached to the proliferation of amateur recordings since
the Zapruder film. Likewise, the Texas Highway Killer lives by virtue of the repetition of his
act before a faceless and nameless audience--among which is his next likely victim. Appearing
every half-hour on networks like CNN's Headline News, his carefully planned and executed
murder of a person randomly chosen briefly becomes part of the national consciousness. By
giving a second-person account of the video, DeLillo implicates the [End Page 709] reader in
the serial reproduction of the Texas Highway Killer. As if we were watching television instead
of reading a book, we become part of the logic that transforms a family video shot for fun into
a documentary of a murder. What DeLillo says of the little girl shooting the video is also true
of the audience: "it is the camera that puts her in the tale" (DeLillo, Underworld 157). DeLillo's
narrative voice posits a reader/viewer who has seen the tape over and over--who enjoys
repetition for the opportunities it allows for analysis. DeLillo encourages the reader to
recognize a crucial connection between the video and the crime. While "taping-and-playing
intensifies and compresses the event," the fascination the video inspires has something to do

with the suspicion that "this kind of crime became more possible when the means of taping an
event and playing it immediately, without a neutral interval, a balancing space and time,
became widely available" (159). Marvin Lundy's "dot theory of reality, that all knowledge is
available if you analyze the dots," suggests that the video's authority takes precedence over the
event it depicts (175).
Whatever power or energy the primary event has is subsumed by the technology of the video:
the manipulation of the event that the technology makes possible is itself a kind of serial
killing. He "came alive in them. He lived in their histories, in the photographs in the
newspapers, he survived in the memories of the family, lived with the victims, lived on,
merged, twinned, quadrupled, continued into double figures" (271). By treating the tape as
"entertainment," the viewer becomes complicitous with both the murderer and the victim. As
the tape becomes "deader and colder and more relentless," it "sucks the air right out of your
chest but you watch it every time" (160). In this context, the random shooter Gilkey is in turn
"shot" by the random camera holder. The camera does not record what he did, but changes the
reality in which he acted. Likewise, allowing for the differences between film and video, we
can see how the "identity" of Gilkey or Oswald can be broken down, rewound, and cut up in
the same way one splices a film. Technology creates a mass death wish that advertisers and
Texas Highway Killers gratify even as we consume it.
Ironically, the Texas Highway Killer experiences the same deadening effect that any other
viewer watching the tape would. This recognition is partially what prompts him to call CNN
studios and explain his actions over the airwaves. "Why I'm calling is to set the record [End
Page 710] straight," he announces. "I feel like my situation has been twisted in with the profiles
of a hundred other individuals in the crime computer" (DeLillo, Underworld 216). DeLillo has
elsewhere pointed out that assassins and serial killers in American culture require three names
to maintain the integrity of their identity. The assassin needs to believe he is original; hence, he
solidifies his identity by claiming the name "Texas Highway Killer" as his own. There is after
all only one Lee Harvey Oswald, just as there is only one Texas Highway Killer, Richard
Henry Gilkey. Thus, Gilkey is "suspicious of the tape" because it implies that the act no longer
belongs to him (270). So does the fact that his acts are doubled by an anonymous person who
copycats the crime. The doubling that changes Gilkey's existence is the video itself, for it
makes Gilkey into a copycat of himself. He kills serially to reassert the authenticity of his
original, once singular, act of murder. The Texas Highway Killer's response to his own
accidental videotaping recalls the brilliant moment in Libra where DeLillo imagines Oswald's
death as coming through the television monitors. Oswald dies watching himself being
murdered on TV: "[H]e could see himself shot as the camera caught it" (Libra 439). DeLillo, of
course, throughout Libra, challenges the idea that Oswald could have acted alone. Even
discounting the conspiracy theories that link Oswald to the Mafia or the CIA, the more subtle
point is that the way in which the event is received by the intended audience renders it
impossible for Oswald to control the reaction. Thus, one can almost say that Oswald is not
killed by Jack Ruby's bullet, but by the self-division the image of himself on television creates
in his own mind.
If the Cold War establishes the context for understanding Bobby Thompson's home run, then
what provides the context for understanding Gilkey's murders? The existence of the bomb
cannot explain this event, nor can a Hooverian theory of the power of secrets. In this case, an
act meant to be unrepresentable becomes public property. As the popularity of television
programs such as America's Funniest Home Videos and Cops demonstrates, one now expects
that the camera is always on and trained on you because the camera now belongs to any and
everyone. The private information that Hoover so meticulously recorded and collected is now
an established communal ritual. As the documentation and circulation of secrets through
technology become ubiquitous, Hoover's power is dispersed. What private information [End
Page 711] could Hoover possibly have on Gilkey that would compromise him in the eyes of his

audience, especially since by this logic we have all become Hoover? That there is no
conspiracy to explain Gilkey, no obvious social or political context in which to understand his
actions, suggests how thoroughly our frame of reference is created by the technological
innovations through which we see ourselves. The ideological vacuum left by the Cold War's
disappearance becomes the space in which the technological advances of the Cold War
continue to be played out.
While the Cold War may be over, Gilkey's emergence reveals how the energies that went into it
continue to find expression. Our sense of history becomes irreparably fragmented--like
Oswald's image of his own assassination. Consequently, Gilkey is a more terrifying figure than
Hoover because his murders--his narratives, if you will--have, even to him, no context beyond
their random technique. To use an outdated expression, he is all form and no content. At the
outset of the novel DeLillo suggests that "longing on a large scale is what makes history"
(Underworld 11); it is impossible to see how Gilkey's longing, such that it may be, creates
history in any recognizable sense. Baudrillard has argued that, in the postmodern era, history
loses its sense of progression because "events [. . .] no longer have a negative (progressive,
critical or revolutionary) potency since their only negativity is the fact of their not taking place"
(17). In other words, history goes commercial: it becomes different forms of advertising. In this
commercialization of American history, the singularity of J. Edgar Hoover has given way to the
machinations of an endless series of corporate figures. As Charles Wainwright, pioneer
advertising executive who is also one of the baseball's many owners, tells a colleague, "You
have to read the mysterious current that passes in the night and connects millions of people
across a continental landmass, compelling them to buy a certain product first thing in the
morning" (Underworld 534). Thus, Gilkey's act becomes entertainment marketed as abject
terror. The representation and replication of his act become equivalent with a well-produced
orange juice advertisement. Forced to become a call-in talk show crank to take credit for his
acts, Gilkey finds that both the forces and the audience that he wishes to control subsume his
"artistry." He emphasizes that he is a virtuoso performer because he can kill and drive at the
same time only by taking into account the physics of the [End Page 712] situation. Having to
explain the power of his own work betrays his frustration at being unable to control his acts.
From DeLillo's perspective, Gilkey may suggest both rage and anxiety regarding the cultural
relevance of the postmodern artist.
Despite resisting the totalizing tendencies of postmodernism, DeLillo depicts the way we are
implicated in these systems of information control. To DeLillo, Hoover and the Texas Highway
Killer exploit the same techniques of cultural creation used by more sympathetic figures such
as Klara Sax, Moonman 157, and Lenny Bruce. The difference is that where Sax and Moonman
create to express--in an old-fashioned sense--their humanity, Hoover participates in a process
that replaces humanity with aesthetic technique. In this respect, Hoover is a precursor to the
Texas Highway Killer. DeLillo resists the formulation of postmodern theorists such as
Jameson, Baudrillard, and even Wainwright, who argue that there can be no difference between
aesthetic production and commodity production. Ultimately, DeLillo's model postmodern
artists practice an art that, in Hutcheon's terms, "depends upon and draws its power from that
which it contests" (120). Consider the example of Lenny Bruce, the centerpiece for part 5 of
the novel, entitled "Better Things for Better Living Through Chemistry: Selected Fragments
Public and Private in the 1950s and 1960s." An expression of "whatever zoomed across his
brainpan," Bruce's "rap mosaic" is so quick he often becomes bored by his own act. DeLillo
says he closed one show
with a monologue that had a kind of abridged syntax, a thing without connectives,
he was cooking free-form, closer to music than speech, doing a spoken jazz in
which a slang term generates a matching argot, like musicians trading fours, the
road band, the sideman's inner riff, and when the crowd dispersed they took this
rap mosaic with them into the strip joints and bars and late-night diners, the places

where the nighthawks congregate, and it was Lenny's own hard bop, his speeches
to the people that rode the broad Chicago night. (586)
By describing Bruce's art, DeLillo evokes his own. As Bruce speaks, DeLillo writes--moving
in and out of voices, channeling through the cross-currencies of American speech and
consciousness. These 150 [End Page 713] pages may represent DeLillo's most realized effort
along these lines. Like Bruce, DeLillo is a mimic, an impersonator, a ventriloquist. His novels
consist of the simultaneous expression of multiple, disparate voices. A verbal practitioner of
what we call, after the French film director Jean-Luc Godard, jump-cutting, DeLillo's novels
proceed by moving multiple voices in and out of one another so that his narratives seem to
come to us "without connectives."
Bruce, of course, was known for his ability to improvise--to put himself into a comedic
situation and then work through it to see what would happen. Formally, his work was about
risk. Once he found a line that worked, Bruce would duplicate it endlessly, changing the timbre
and intonation of his voice, pulling it out in unexpected contexts, but nonetheless repeating it
over and over. Just as Bruce himself ventriloquized the heteroglossia of the American voice,
DeLillo mimics Bruce's dialogic monologues to capitalize on their multi-voiced power. DeLillo
uses Bruce to focus seemingly random cultural energies into a single, devastating joke. In
response to the Cuban missile crisis, DeLillo's Lenny Bruce improvises the perfect line: "we're
all gonna die!" In performance after performance he screams it repeatedly at his audience
regardless of context. "Lenny loves the postexistential bent of this line. In his giddy shriek the
audience can hear the obliteration of the idea of uniqueness and free choice. They can hear the
replacement of human isolation by massive and unvaried ruin" (507). Bruce here captures the
atmosphere that DeLillo creates in this section: a seemingly improvised, free floating, surreal
atmosphere of hysteria--one that combines humor and terror. Bruce's bond with his audience is
based on a kind of knowing powerlessness, yet he transforms this powerlessness into a
perspective from which to comprehend the incomprehensible. The laughter he inspires initially
releases the tension this knowledge creates in the audience only to leave them feeling angrier
and more powerless after the show is over. Thus, "the line that had made them bust their guts
laughing astonishingly" ultimately leaves them feeling "morose and then angry and then
fatalistic and plain shaking scared" (508-09).
A character in DeLillo's The Names remarks, "If I were a writer, how I would enjoy being told
the novel is dead. How liberating, to work in the margins, outside a central perception" (235).
Bruce is not a novelist, but he achieves this kind of aesthetic desire. As one willing to assume
the role of writing in the margins, DeLillo toys with the possibility [End Page 714] that the
bond between him and his audience also derives from a sense of knowing powerlessness.
DeLillo's rejection of this stance is apparent in his creative sympathy with Moonman 127 and
Klara Sax. Moonman is a graffiti artist who paints subway trains and whose "tag" is Moonman.
He himself was first inspired by a graffiti writer's tribute to Charlie Parker: "Bird Lives."
Moonman responds to the power of the "spray-paint scrawl" (435); it makes him wonder who
this Bird was. What is the power of an art form that could inspire a tribute to someone who is
unknown to almost everyone who will see the tribute? What is the power of a tribute that most
would see as eye-litter and not a powerful form of expression? "I'm your movie, motherfucker,"
Moonman apostrophizes his unknown audience (441). Invoking alternative forms to explain his
art, DeLillo forges a connection between himself and Moonman (and Parker) as artists.
Complicitous with the cultures they write over, they are also motivated by their knowledge of
how to use unfamiliar and discredited forms to reach an audience unlikely to appreciate the
power or aim of their work.
Hence, Moonman relishes working in obscurity. While he creates for his peers, other graffiti
writers and watching kids literally hold him up when the "master" needs to paint a difficult-toreach place. He creates principally for equally anonymous audiences--those thousands of

unknown passengers riding Moonman's trains to all parts of the city. Esther Winship, one of
those riders who happens to be an influential art house broker, wants to sign him up to do a
showing. "The kid's a goddamn master," she tells Klara Sax. However, Moonman's art is not
meant for the galleries. Its power derives largely from its contingent status, refusing closure,
remaining unsanctioned. From a legal perspective, he defaces public property; from an
aesthetic perspective, he declares his existence despite all the forces that would render him
anonymous. "The whole point of Moonman's tag," DeLillo writes, "was how the letters and
numbers told a story of backstreet life." His art is poignant, then, because it is always on the
verge of disappearing. Moonman boards a train "that was bombed inside and out by Skaty 8, a
thirteen year old writer who frantically tagged police cars, hearses, garbage trucks," and
everything else. "Not a style king, no way, but a legend among writers for the energy he put
forth." Moonman recalls the "genuine regret" that went through him upon Skaty 8's death: "he
slumped and sagged all over again and felt the deepest kind of soldierly [End Page 715]
sadness--Skaty 8 hit by a train while he's walking on the tracks under downtown Brooklyn"
(DeLillo, Underworld 434).
Writing this kid's secret history, Moonman and other graffiti artists challenge the status quo in
ways that even Lenny Bruce could not. Where Bruce acknowledges changing his name from
Leonard Alfred Schneider to Lenny Bruce in order to assimilate into the mainstream society he
viciously mocks, Moonman and his confederates are "spray-paint scrawling" the fact of their
urban ethnic existence all over the city. Their creations assert identity as acts of defiance: "The
trains come roaring down the rat alleys all alike and then you hit a train and it is yours, seen
everywhere in the system, and you get inside people's heads and vandalize their eyeballs"
(435). As the word "system" suggests, Moonman works within and against a Cold War context
as well--his enemy is not just the city politicians and newspaper editorialists who want to
protect the "cleanliness" of the city, but the CIA and Dow Chemical, whose alliance creates a
chemical solvent more effective than orange juice in erasing the art from the trains. But DeLillo
makes an ironic, undercutting connection as well. To "vandalize their eyeballs" is to get inside
his audience's unconscious more completely than even Hoover can--as completely as those
conducting massive ad campaigns. As Charlie Wainwright explains elsewhere, "They're doing
research" on "retinal discharge. They secretly photograph women in supermarkets" to "record
excitations of the inner eye, motions of the eye far more subtle and telling than a simple blink,
and it seems women go completely crazy eyeballwise when they see certain colors, packages,
and designs" (531). Like DeLillo, Moonman writes against Wainwright's knowledge by
affirming an individual consciousness despite the seemingly anachronistic nature of this desire.
Moonman's work partakes of consumer culture without entirely being of it. Like his creator,
Moonman is less seducing his audience through technological mastery than challenging them
to recognize chains of startling associations. The real triumph of Moonman's art is the unlikely
connections it establishes among different classes and races of people who ordinarily refuse to
acknowledge each other's existence. Like the advertising executives, Moonman watches and
studies strangers' reactions to what he produces. He observes how
they reacted to the train, their heads went wow. Some shocked looks too, they're
seeing hell on wheels, but mostly [End Page 716] the eyes go yes and the faces
open up. And he studied the riders as they shuffled in, carrying umbrellas, some of
them, and concealed weapons, others, and gum wrappers and phone numbers and
crushed Kleenex and hankies wrapped around house keys all wadded together in
their mulatto bodies because the subway's where the races mix. (434)
He sees a tourist, a man perhaps from Sweden, he thinks, so amazed by the spectacle Moonman
has created that the man takes out a camera to photograph it. Moonman steps into the train so
that the man, unknown to himself, might have a picture of the "writer" with his work. In that
moment, the pathos of Moonman's at once deeply public and terribly private work is almost

unbearable. An act of self-irony, Moonman enacts both his achievement and his eventual
disappearance. Thinking of the wall-writing that first inspired him, we can say, "Moonman
Lives!" but only in the photograph of the anonymous man who cannot know what he possesses.
Without the novelistic frame that DeLillo provides, though, Moonman's art would have no
context other than the immediate one of its creation. The only other artist in Underworld who
rivals DeLillo in scope is Klara Sax. Called at times the "bag lady," she possesses the wit and
daring of Moonman 127, since her works convert discarded scrap materials into art. Yet her
major work, like DeLillo's Underworld, covers the past fifty years. Her major exhibit, if that is
the right word, takes places on an abandoned airfield in the southwestern desert where she is
converting deactivated bomber planes into a massive spectacle of experimental art. Using a
battery of helpers (as Moonman did), she is reclaiming the instruments of the Cold War. As she
explains, "we're painting, hand-painting in some cases, putting out puny hands to great
weapons systems" (77). The point, she says, is that the nuclear bombs many of these planes
carried were never dropped.
The missiles remained in the underwing carriages, unfired. The men came back
and the targets were not destroyed. You see. We all tried to think about war but I'm
not sure we knew how to do this. The poets wrote long poems with dirty words
and that's about as close as we came, actually, to a thoughtful response. Because
they had brought something into the world that out-imagined the mind. (76) [End
Page 717]
On one level Klara's strange, ambitious project is itself a version of the Cold War--it even
duplicates the basic Cold War supposition that there exists an anti-universe parallel to the
known one insofar as her project is an eerie refection of the military's own operations. Klara,
however, deactivates the dangerous energies of the Cold War by transforming its materials into
forms for her art. Like DeLillo borrowing the surveillance and narrative techniques of J. Edgar
Hoover, Klara takes possession of her subject by adapting its paranoid power to her own uses.
Klara admits that her project brings with it a sense of loss. Along with Marvin Lundy, she
suspects that the Cold War was what "held us together, the Soviets and us" (76). Sax's
wistfulness, her willed poignancy at the end of the Cold War, is shared by Nick Shay.
Contemplating the fact that the nuclear war did not happen, he says, "I listen to the microtonal
hum of the systems and feel a quiet kind of power because I've done it and come out okay"
(803). Actually, Nick, unlike these other artists, has been absorbed into the microtonal hum. He
toils in the fields of waste management for a company, Whiz Co, that advertises itself as "The
Future of Waste" (282). Nick is so comfortable living among the ruins of the Cold War that he
makes his living cleaning up after it.
We are flying to a remote site in Kazakhstan to witness an underground nuclear
explosion. This is the commodity that Tchaika trades in. They sell nuclear
explosions for ready cash. They want us to supply the most dangerous waste we
can find and they will destroy it for us. [. . .] Tchaika is connected to the
commonwealth arms complex, to bomb-design laboratories and the shipping
industry. They will pick up waste anywhere in the world, ship it to Kazakhstan, put
it in the ground and vaporize it. We will get a broker's fee. (788)
Nick's description brings us full circle back to 3 October 1951, the date of the baseball game
and the Soviets' first nuclear explosion. Former enemies are now partners in nuclear garbage. J.
Robert Oppenheimer once remarked that the atomic bomb is "merde." Nick amplifies on this
remark by observing that "waste is the secret history, the underhistory, the way archaeologists
dig out the history of early [End Page 718] cultures, every sort of bone heap and broken tool,
literally from under the ground" (791). Waste theorist Jesse Detwiler suggests that you know a

culture by its garbage. Like shit, waste works as a kind of fertilizer to make cultures grow.
Nick, however, lacks the self-consciousness to be the kind of cultural archaeologist that he
describes. Ironically, he purchases Thompson's ball from Marvin Lundy, but he tells Lundy that
he does not know why he is buying it. He has neither historical nor aesthetic selfconsciousness; in comparison with the other artist-figures in the book, he seems strangely
stillborn. Perhaps DeLillo employs Nick's unselfconsciousness as a way of suggesting how
postmodernity denies not only alternative or oppositional perspectives but also impedes the
ability to have a perspective at all. "No one talks about the Texas Highway Killer anymore,"
Nick remarks, unaware of the connection that he shares with that figure through the purchase of
the ball. Yet, if Nick cannot see how his possession of the ball connects him to the other
disturbing events in the novel, DeLillo makes sure that we, his paranoid readers, do. As
DeLillo also knows, he is a rare creature--a serious novelist in the age of technology. As I have
argued, it is misleading to think that DeLillo writes against technology; rather, he strives to
explore as thoroughly as possible how we invent and sometimes destroy ourselves by
postmodern technologies that threaten to produce a new Cold War from within. Like Klara and
Israel, though, DeLillo wishes to preserve what remnant of human individuality still exists. He
even aims for what technology seems to deny--transcendence. It may even turn out that
transcendence and technology are connected too.
DeLillo thus concludes Underworld with a weird melding of technology and grace. After
Nick's final words, the narrative is interrupted yet again: "http://blk.www/"
(810). Inviting his readers to imagine we that we might be joined, author and audience, on the
Internet, DeLillo accomplishes his last narrative transformation of technology. In so doing,
DeLillo signals his narrative mastery of technology by presenting his book's conclusion as a
fictitious website--as unreal as the Eisenstein film, Unterwelt. Although the website might be
seen as an opportunity to provide an outlet for readers to record their interpretations, the truth is
that this imaginary website belongs to DeLillo and thus marks his attempt to control the
published material. [End Page 719] If with Unterwelt he evokes a real director to postulate an
imaginary film, here he parodies the "real" DeLillo website to create an impossible address.
You must be logged on to DeLillo's imaginary website to receive the conclusion both to the
novel and to the story of Esmeralda, a homeless Bronx girl who is first raped and then thrown
from a building to die. An otherwise anonymous death becomes legendary when an image of
Esmeralda begins to appear nightly on an advertising sign meant to catch the glances of
commuters on trains. The two nuns, Sister Grace and Sister Edgar, who for weeks had been
trying to coax the wild girl to come to their shelter, join the crowds that have gathered to
witness the miracle for themselves. They watch the train approach.
The headlights sweep the billboard and she hears a sound from the crowd, a gasp
that shoots and sobs and moans and the cry of some unnameable painful elation. A
blurted sort of whoop, the holler of unstopped belief. Because when the train lights
hit the dimmest part of the billboard a face appears above the misty lake and it
belongs to the murdered girl. A dozen women clutch their heads, they whoop and
sob, a spirit, a godsbreath passing though the crowd.
Esmeralda. (821)
Sister Edgar wants to believe that a miracle has occurred while Sister Grace sees only a trick of
light. It is Sister Edgar, though, who dies a few pages later and is reincarnated in cyberspace,
where she can shed her veil and habit and become "open--exposed to every connection you can
make on the world wide web" (824).
Those wanting to argue that DeLillo is memorializing the death of the individual would seem
to have ample evidence here. The spirit of Esmeralda, who was too wild to be captured or to

live, moves into Sister Edgar, who abandons herself to become one with technology. On the
other hand, Sister Edgar's apotheosis might be seen as an emblem of DeLillo's novelistic
curiosity, a brave commitment to weld his ferocious intelligence to every available media of
transformation. From this perspective, one may understand why DeLillo chose to have the
former Moonman 127, Ismael Muoz, standing near the billboard where Esmeralda was
appearing as if by a miracle for a little while before the billboard sign is torn down and
replaced by the words [End Page 720] "Space Available" (824). Ostensibly retired from
tagging trains, Muoz is seen by the nuns to be "looking a little ghostly in the beams of
swinging light" (821). Previously, Moonman signed his work by stepping into the photograph
taken by the German tourist; here DeLillo autographs Underworld by making Moonman his
signature to this miracle of representation. In his prime, Muoz would tell himself to "think of
your tag in maximum daylight rolling over the scorched lots where you were born and raised"
(439). Underworld becomes DeLillo's tag as it rises above not just the Bronx where he was
born and raised and where Esmeralda died and was reborn, but the second half of the American
twentieth century, which is coming to look like nothing other than Don DeLillo's own
Timothy L. Parrish has published essays on Kenneth Burke, Ralph Ellison, Charles Johnson,
Toni Morrison, Cormac McCarthy, Flannery O'Connor, and Philip Roth. The title of his booklength work in progress is Walking Blues: Making Americans from Emerson to Elvis. He
teaches in the Department of English at the University of North Texas.

* I would like to express my appreciation to Elizabeth Spiller for her generous and insightful
suggestions regarding earlier drafts of this essay.
1. Joseph Kronick says of Libra that it "refuses the satisfactions of narrative, the belief in
language as a source of knowledge above historical reality" (115).
2. Paul Civello suggests that, through Nicholas Branch, DeLillo portrays "the impossibility of
the objective observer and, by extension, of the experimental novelist" (54).
3. Baudrillard is the postmodern theorist that many critics see as most relevant to DeLillo's
work; see Carmichael, Frow, and Wilcox. Employing the work of Ludwig von Bertalanffy's
General Systems Theory (1968), Thomas LeClair conducts an intriguing systems analysis of
DeLillo's work through White Noise. John Johnston draws on Gilles Deleuze to explain the
effect of Oswald's doubling in Libra. For an application of the critical theory of Hayden White
to DeLillo's fiction, see Thomas and Carmichael, and for that of Paul de Man, see Kronick.
4. Frank Lentricchia also notes that film in DeLillo's fiction "is the culturally inevitable form of
our self-consciousness" ("Libra" 446).
5. DeLillo employs a similar strategy in Running Dog (1978), which hinges on the author's
account of a home movie allegedly shot by Hitler only hours before his death.
6. Benjamin's classic and by now well-known definition of "aura" as what distinguishes the
original artwork from copies derives mainly from his essay "The Work of Art in the Age of
Mechanical Reproduction." For two different, but highly engaging, discussions of the
relationships between DeLillo's ideas and those of Benjamin, see Lentricchia, "Tales," and
7. Much ado was made in the prepublication publicity for Underworld about this being the first
DeLillo novel in which the author explored his ethnic roots. DeLillo employs an occasional

narrator, Nick Shay, who is from the same part of Brooklyn where DeLillo himself grew up.
Although DeLillo uses Shay to narrate many sections of the novel, he is not DeLillo's alter ego;
see Remnick and Kamp.
8. For an excellent discussion of productive paranoia in DeLillo's fiction, see O'Donnell.
9. Duvall notes that Hodges is "DeLillo's ironized self-figuration," adding that "Hodges's
participation in the mythologizing of baseball parallels President Reagan's use of a
mythological American past" (303). DeLillo is not equating Reagan with Hodges so much as
transforming Hodges's medium of communication into a reconsideration of how the past is
packaged through nostalgia.
10. DeLillo expects his readers to know that Reagan's career began as a simulator of baseball
games. As president, Reagan was able to enact--simulate-- the official meaning of the Cold
War. See Duvall's discussion.

Works Cited
Baudrillard, Jean. The Illusion of the End. 1994. Trans. Chris Turner. Stanford: Stanford UP,
Benjamin, Walter. "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." Illuminations.
1955. Ed. Hannah Arendt. Trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken, 1969. 217-51.
Borges, Jorge Luis. Labyrinths. 1962. Ed. Donald Yates and James E. Irby. New York: New
Directions, 1964.
Cantor, Paul. "Adolph, We Hardly Knew You." Lentricchia, New 39-62.
Civello, Paul. "Undoing the Naturalistic Novel: Don DeLillo's Libra." Arizona Quarterly 48.2
(1992): 33-56.
DeCurtis, Anthony. "'An Outsider in This Society': An Interview with Don DeLillo."
Lentricchia, Introducing 43-66.
DeLillo, Don. "American Blood: A Journey Through the Labyrinth of Dallas and JFK." Rolling
Stone 8 December 1983: 21-22 +.
------. Great Jones Street. New York: Vintage, 1973.
------. Libra. New York: Viking, 1988.
------. The Names. New York: Knopf, 1982.
------. Mao II. New York: Viking, 1991.
------. "Pafko at the Wall." Harper's Oct. 1992: 35-70.
------. Running Dog. New York: Knopf, 1978.
------. Underworld. New York: Scribner's, 1997.
------. White Noise. New York: Viking, 1985.
Duvall, John N. "Baseball as Aesthetic Ideology: Cold War History, Race, and DeLillo's 'Pafko

at the Wall.'" Modern Fiction Studies 41 (1995): 285-313.

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