Knjižnica Filozofskog fakulteta
Sveučilišta u Zagrebu
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences Institutional Repository

Spectral visuality in novels by Don DeLillo


Downloads per month over past year

Spreicer, Jelena. (2011). Spectral visuality in novels by Don DeLillo. Diploma Thesis. Filozofski fakultet u Zagrebu, Department of English Language and Literature. [mentor Grgas, Stipe].

[img] PDF (English) - Registered users only
Download (281kB) | Request a copy


As this graduation paper has attempted to demonstrate, the concept of visuality is a concept central to DeLillo’s novels Americana, White Noise, Libra, Falling Man and Point Omega. Even though the connection of the American nation to the concepts of the image and its media proliferation constitutes the central theme of each of the novels analyzed, DeLillo does not limit his approach to visuality to just one visual phenomenon inherent in American culture, but rather portrays a wide array of symptoms of different social pathologies arising from America’s pathological need for a visual representation of its identity. However, there are at least two features that all the novels mentioned share. Firstly, the concept of the image functions as an obstacle to the characters who want to achieve self-knowledge because they are unable to extract their sense of self from a self-referential chain of visual representations. Secondly, all the novels in question establish a link between the effect of the image on the individual psyche and the notion of death, so that the two appear contingent upon each other. Americana and White Noise are novels dedicated to the influence of film, television and advertising on the individual and his/her sense of self-definition. The main characters of these novels share not only the fact that they were culturally conditioned by the images of the consumer society but also the incapability to think and act outside of that system. Both David Bell and Jack Gladney, professionally successful people leading seemingly normal lives, function as metonymical extensions of the nation as a whole. It is for that reason that their failure to achieve self-realization draws attention to the fact that the USA is a kind of country inherently incapable of arriving at any kind of positive self-definition, due to the fact that it has succumbed to the power of the simulacrum as it is described by Jean Baudrillard. Libra and Falling Man exemplify two different processes in the formation of collective consciousness that are linked to the power of the image. In Libra, the assassination of JFK by Lee Harvey Oswald is presented as a meticulous construction of a spectacular image that will enter the historical record. Oswald’s act is thus a carefully staged image from its very beginning. The reluctance of the novel to offer an answer to the question whether the assassination was the creation of a lone gunman or of a group of conspirators signals that the resolution of the mystery is superfluous in the face of its effect, which is the same in both cases. What does matter in the case of Libra is that the event has enticed the proliferation of an image that introduced the concept of traumatic memory into the operating mechanisms of collective memory. Whereas Libra records how the images of JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassinations were embraced into the collective image repository of the nation, the novel Falling Man confronts the collective repression of the controversial photograph, entitled “Falling Man”, taken by the photographer Richard Drew on September 11, 2001. Using the example of an ordinary New York family, DeLillo shows that the exclusion of the “jumpers” from the official record of the terrorist attacks is a symptom that the wounded nation refuses to accept versions of history which do not fit into the heroic self-representation of America in the aftermath of the event. Consequently, the nation is collectively unable to process its traumatic experience, which makes it susceptible to political manipulation. Finally, Point Omega portrays the exhaustion of the complex system of American-style visuality and connects it to the space of the desert, where the retardation of time functions as an ominous foreboding of system entropy affecting the genuinely American sense of endless future development, the relentless self-perpetuation of the capitalist system. In the time span of almost forty years, which have elapsed from the publication of Americana to the publication of Point Omega, DeLillo has hence remained consistent in his devotion to critically assess the destructive impact of visuality on both the individual as well as the collective consciousness. In this time span, the focus of his analytical approach shifts from the role of the image in the consumer society to its role in the formation of collective memory. Finally, as a “writer who wants to understand”, a writer devoted to the task of interpreting the culture of his origin, DeLillo will not remain blind to the destructive and dangerous potential of the image to provoke violent and uncontrolled reactions. To this destructive capacity of the image DeLillo will oppose a notion that may appear somewhat archaic in the digital era – the notion of literature, which for him still possesses the analytical impetus necessary to develop an alternative to the stultifying influence of the media-generated visuality.

Item Type: Diploma Thesis
Subjects: English language and literature
Departments: Department of English Language and Literature
Supervisor: Grgas, Stipe
Date Deposited: 30 Nov 2011 15:53
Last Modified: 09 Jul 2014 23:24

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item