The Quotable Don DeLillo: A Miscellany

Read on for a selection of divine quotes from this literary great.

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Further Notes on White Noise

In White Noise in particular, I tried to find a kind of radiance in dailiness. Sometimes this radiance can be almost frightening. Other times it can be almost holy or sacred . . . Our sense of fear—we avoid it because we feel it so deeply, so there is an intense conflict at work . . . I think it is something we all feel, something we almost never talk about, something that is almost there. I tried to relate it in White Noise to this other sense of transcendence that lies just beyond our touch. This extraordinary wonder of things is somehow related to the extraordinary dread, to the death fear we try to keep beneath the surface of our perceptions.
An interview with Antony De Curtis for Rolling Stone, 17 November 1988.
‘ . . . the world of White Noise . . . There's a connection between the advances that are made in technology and the sense of primitive fear people develop in response to it. In the face of technology everything becomes a little . . . atavistic.'
New York Times, 19 May 1991
I never set out to write an apocalyptic novel. It's about death on the individual level.Only Hitler is large enough and terrible enough to absorb and neutralize Jack Gladney's obsessive fear of dying—a very common fear, but one that's rarely talked about. Jack uses Hitler as a protective device; he wants to grasp anything he can.
New York Times Book Review, 13 January 1985

On his reluctance to do interviews

It's my nature to keep quiet about most things. Even the ideas in my work. When you try to unravel something you've written, you belittle it in a way. It was created as a mystery, in part. Here is a new map of the world; it is seven shades of blue. If you're able to be straightforward and penetrating about this invention of yours, it's almost as though you're saying it wasn't altogether necessary. The sources weren't deep enough.
An interview with Tom LeClair in 1979.

On the writer

The writer has lost a great deal of his influence, and he is situated now, if anywhere, on the margins of the culture. But isn't this where he belongs? How could it be any other way? And in my personal view this is a perfect place to observe what's happening at the dead center of things. I particularly have always had a kind of endgame sensibility when it comes to writing serious fiction. Before I ever published a novel, this is how I felt about it—that I was writing for a small audience that could disappear at any minute, and not only was this not a problem, it was a kind of solution. It justified what I wrote and it narrowed expectations in a healthy way. I am not particularly distressed by the state of fiction or the role of the writer. The more marginal, perhaps ultimately the more trenchant and observant and finally necessary he'll become.
Hungry Mind Review, 1997

On his working day

I work in the morning at a manual typewriter. I do about four hours and then go running. This helps me shake off one world and enter another. Trees, birds, drizzle—it's a nice kind of interlude. Then I work again, later afternoon, for two or three hours. Back into book time, which is transparent—you don't know it's passing. No snack food or coffee. No cigarettes—I stopped smoking a long time ago. The space is clear, the house is quiet. A writer takes earnest measures to secure his solitude and then finds endless ways to squander it. Looking out the window, reading random entries in the dictionary. To break the spell I look at a photograph of Borges, a great picture sent to me by the Irish writer Colm Tóibín. The face of Borges against a dark background—Borges fierce, blind, his nostrils gaping, his skin stretched taut, his mouth amazingly vivid; his mouth looks painted; he's like a shaman painted for visions, and the whole face has a kind of steely rapture. I've read Borges of course, although not nearly all of it, and I don't know anything about the way he worked—but the photograph shows us a writer who did not waste time at the window or anywhere else. So I've tried to make him my guide out of lethargy and drift, into the otherworld of magic, art, and divination.
Paris Review 128, Fall 1993

On collecting material for his novels

I'm always keeping random notes on scraps of paper . . . Then I clip these together. I'll look at them in, say, three weeks' time, and see what I've got. I've never made an outline for any novel that I've written. Never.
Observer, 20 August 2010

On readers

The best reader is one who is most open to human possibility, to understanding the great range of plausibility in human actions. It's not true that modern life is too fantastic to be written about successfully. It's that the most successful work is so demanding. The novel's vitality requires risks not only by [writers] but by readers as well. Maybe it's not writers alone who keep the novel alive but a more serious kind of reader.
New York Times, 10 October 1982

On terrorism and novelists

I do think we can connect novelists and terrorists here. In a repressive society, a writer can be deeply influential, but in a society that's filled with glut and repetition and endless consumption, the act of terror may be the only meaningful act. People who are in power make their arrangements in secret, largely as a way of maintaining and furthering that power. People who are powerless make an open theater of violence. True terror is a language and a vision. There is a deep narrative structure to terrorist acts, and they infiltrate and alter consciousness in ways that writers used to aspire to.
New York Times, 19 May 1991

On character

A character is part of the pleasure a writer wants to give his readers. A character who lives, who says interesting things. I want to give pleasure through language, through the architecture of a book or a sentence and through characters who may be funny, nasty, violent, or all of these. But I'm not the kind of writer who dotes on certain characters and wants readers to do the same. The fact is every writer likes his characters to the degree that he's able to work out their existence. You invent a character who pushes his mother down a flight of stairs, say. She's an old lady in a wheelchair and your character comes home drunk and pushes her down a long flight of stairs. Do you automatically dislike this man? He's done an awful thing. But I don't believe it's that simple. Your feelings toward this character depend on whether or not you've realized him fully, whether you understand him. It's not a simple question of like or dislike. And you don't necessarily show your feelings toward a character in the same way you show feelings to real people.
Paris Review 128, Fall 1993