Joycean DeLillo

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While Joyce is typically noted as a type of ‘guiding spirit’ for DeLillo—the ‘Irish master’ who taught the American ‘a trick or two’—it is hard to overstate the influence of James Joyce on Don DeLillo’s work (Boxall 2006, 33; Cowart 2003, 47). Indeed, just as Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus proclaimed that he would use ‘silence, exile, and cunning’ to express himself ‘in some mode or art as freely and as wholly as I can,’ so DeLillo told Tom LeClair that he approaches his art with ‘silence, exile, cunning, and so on’ (Joyce 1916; LeClair 1982, 4). While critics like Catherine Morley (2006), Philip Nel (2008), Mark Osteen (2008), and Graley Herren (2018) have illuminated how DeLillo builds on Joyce’s form of modernism in specific texts or at particular stages in his career, the extent to which DeLillo’s aesthetics across his oeuvre draw on his reading of Joyce remains to be unpacked.

This chapter seeks to develop this sense of Joyce’s influence on DeLillo by looking carefully at three key moments from different stages in DeLillo’s career in which he engages seriously, if obliquely, with Joyce’s work. Beginning with Americana, I will unpack what Osteen has described as DeLillo’s early interest in the Dedalian artist, before exploring how Underworld rewrites Leopold Bloom’s homecoming. Finally, I will look to Zero K, where, in the character of Artis, DeLillo offers his most sustained engagement with the form of Joyce’s ‘Penelope,’ and The Silence, in which DeLillo provides his most conspicuous engagement with Finnegans Wake. In this, I propose that we can trace a continuously evolving dialogue with Joyce that is central to any understanding of DeLillo’s aesthetics.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEdinburgh Companion to Don DeLillo and the Arts
EditorsCatherine Gander
PublisherEdinburgh University Press
Publication statusSubmitted - May 2021

ID: 256177227