Don DeLillo: Underworld
Don DeLillo’s Underworld is a novel of ends: of the Cold War; of the 20th century; of the millennium; of history; of metanarratives; of humanism; of the American Century. It is, at the same time, a novel of the new—of the underworlds that might give rise to other worlds. The story of Nick Shay, a waste management executive living in Arizona, spans the period from the end of World War II to the end of the Cold War, and maps the United States from ballparks in the Bronx to military barracks in the Southwest, defunded cities to suburban strip malls, art projects in the desert to H-bombed atolls in the Pacific, offering an expansive analysis of the American Century and its afterlives. How do we capture the past, in all its vastness? Which American narratives does Underworld negate, and which does it support—or even create or make possible?
In this course, we will read Underworld in its entirety. We will consider the novel alongside discussions of late-century or post-historical “Capitalist Realism”—an ideology best summed up by Margaret Thatcher’s famous declaration that “there is no alternative” to capitalism—including texts by Mark Fisher and Francis Fukuyama. Against such narratives of closure, we will consider essays by Walter Benjamin, Fredric Jameson, and bell hooks that will help us see how the novel uses history, memory, and underworlds (or subalterns) to imagine new alternatives and possibilities. At the heart of DeLillo’s vision are two preoccupations: late-century closure and the futures latent in the overlooked, ignored, or forgotten. How do we reconcile past with present and future? Is the narrative of America thoroughly exhausted, or is there potency still in the American sublime?
Course ScheduleThursday, 6:30-9:30pm EST
October 22 — November 12, 2020