Today is author Don DeLillo’s 70th birthday. Sure, he’s not Jewish and — as far as I can remember — has written only one significant Jewish character (Murray Siskind from White Noise), but he’s one of America’s great novelists — and probably my favorite — so I thought the occassion worth noting.
Interestingly, DeLillo was the first American writer ever to receive the Jerusalem Prize, awarded biennially at the Jerusalem International Book Fair to an author whose work promotes the “idea of the freedom of the individual in society.” Previous winners include Bertrand Russell, Borges, Simone de Beauvoir, and V.S. Naipaul. (Incidentally, the two award recipients after DeLillo were both American and both Jewish: Susan Sontag and Arthur Miller.)
My column in next weekend’s Jerusalem Post will include a more detailed Happy Birthday summary of DeLillo’s career and significance, and I’ll post a link to it when it’s published. In the meantime, after the jump, I’ve pasted an article I wrote for the Post a couple of years ago for the 20th anniversary of White Noise.
By Daniel Septimus
From the JERUSALEM POST (February 4, 2005)
“It’s about fear, death, and technology. A comedy, of course.”
These are the words of Don Delillo, speaking in 1984 a few months before the publication of White Noise — for my money, the greatest American novel of the past quarter century. The quote is aptly descriptive, but it also captures the essential pathos of White Noise: its grandeur, its insight, its humor, and most subtly, its humanity.
Don Delillo was an important novelist before he published White Noise. His first novel Americana was released in 1971. In it, Delillo exhibited many of the characteristics that have made him one of the most important — if not most read — contemporary writers. Delillo’s subject, in this first novel and thereafter, is America with all its unique pathologies. Delillo’s books are genuinely dark, but they are also genuinely funny. He is smart — perhaps too smart sometimes — and his prescience is uncanny. Americana foreshadowed the rise of reality TV, while Mao II (1991) presaged the intricate relationship between terrorism and television.