DeLillo in Munich - November 9, 1998

The following report is courtesy Rainer Moerike:

Don DeLillo made an appearance at Munich's Literaturhaus on November 9. The Don was accompanied by his German translator Frank Heibert and German author Uwe Timm. The event was scheduled within the "Memory of the World" lecture series. Timm was the designated MC and introduced the Don, praised the translator's work and gave a somewhat lengthy introduction to the Death and Memory themes (Erinnern und Vergessen, remembrance and actively forgetting, Lethe and all). Timm, of course, remarked on the fact that the event was taking place on Nov. 9, probably the single most important date in 20C German history (1918, 1923, 1938, 1989). He remarked on DDL's use of language, pointed to the importance of the Sub-Text and called the episode about the Jesuit priest and end of the shoe-string (you need to know the names of things to know the world) an "erkenntnistheoretischer Diskurs" (gnostic ? discourse). He commented on Lenny Bruce and called DDL's rendering a "paraphrase of deconstructivism".

DeLillo then read the passage when Nick goes for a run in Phoenix. The reading, voicing, and phrasing was sharp, intense. He read with an accent not too heavy but still clearly discernible as Brooklyn-Bronx Italo-Americanese. The translator read the same passage in German, then continued with the Ballad of Lewis Bakey. A small discussion between the author and the translator ensued where the role of government was discussed (History as the sum total of the things they are not telling us.). William Burroughs was quoted by DeLillo with the words: 'the paranoid is the guy with the real facts.' DeLillo said there were two levels of fear in the post-WWII-era: one concerned the possibility of a "nuclear exchange", the other one the fear of and the trust towards the government. He said, he's not paranoid himself (although, IMHO, they --who's they?-- are pitching him big-time as the spokesman of paranoia, a profile in renowned DIE ZEIT-magazine was titled "Mr. Paranoia", can't say that this hurt his sales figures, quite the contrary), but claimed to have "electric tentacles" for paranoid currents in society. In this decade, he said, paranoia was a "pre-existing commodity", as if the reasons for it weren't there but people are in a paranoid state and then look for what triggered it after the fact. He earned big laughs saying stone-faced that he will be reading in Zurich at the Paranoid Cafe and he wasn't sure the place really exists.

Heibert read the We're all gonna die!-Bruce-passage, and at that time, despite a good translation, the crowd of 300-400 at the sold out place got a bit nervous starting to move in their seats. It seemed that DeLillo wasn't going to read much himself. Friends and I suspected that this was his own call, and for some reason I couldn't really imagine him reading the Bruce passage, although it's a great passage, but maybe it's not his thing to impersonate someone. His reading then concentrated on passages with less dialogue (Up on the roof..., 771; In Phoenix, now..., 803). Here he was sort of jumpcutting and rearranging paragraphs at his taste, he read from paper notes, each containing a paragraph, put them aside like a talking head. The paragraphs were mixed but all from the same passages. Interesting, I thought, would he reedit them now if he had a chance or did he do it for purposes musical and dramatic at a reading...?

The expected questions were asked by Timm then: NYT Oct 4, 1951, role of baseball. DDL commented on the geometry of the field and that there were no standardized fields, called baseball a form of memory, which I didn't get, more than basketball and football. I suppose he really meant all kids will play baseball, some basketball, and very few football when they grow up. He admitted that his interest in baseball ties in with retrieving his own childhood memories, he said baseball had something to do with "kids on a cow pasture." He said about baseball that it was "fluid" and there was an "openness of the game" (time and space). I got that and digged it.

The 1991 article in a (Sports Illustrated?) magazine was mentioned commemorating the 1951 game. He said, he went to the library on a whim to find out "why had the memory of the 1951 game lasted." We know the library MF-reader thing from Curt's page and interviews, I believe; but he said he was curious how we commemorated that game, the _how_ was pretty important, I sensed, but it wasn't really elaborated on. He was asked by Timm where he was that day. Answer: in a dentist's chair awaiting a new filling listening to the game on the radio, pretty relaxed, since his team, the Yankees, had already won the Pennant and I think he actually said, he was sure that time that they were gonna beat whoever won. Which they did, he added coolly. He talked about Bobby Thomson, whom he met 74-years of age. Folks still would come up to Thomson and tell him what they were doing the day he hit the homeric homer, which DDL called a phenomenon.

Timm asked whether Cyberspace influenced the structure of the novel. He said that he had no idea that the novel would end up in Cyberspace but it seemed to him the logical ending. Instead of Sister Edgar going to heaven she goes into cyberspace, the equivalent to a pastoral ending of a 19th C novel.

DDL was asked to read one last passage and chose the `I long for the days of disorder... piece' (810), which came across pretty well and people were applauding like hell. He would not take questions from the floor but signed books which surprised me but made my day. My advance copy and my hardcover copy have his name in them, now. I said to him I admired his work and wished him a great time in Germany and this was pretty much it. Usually I am of the epic sort if it comes to situations like that but respectful of the fourscore plus x line I opted for the time-efficient two-liner.

All in all, this book and the tour really are the breakthrough events for DeLillo in Germany. The press coverage he got in Germany this fall really was amazing. At one point during the reading (a piece in German) people applauded spontaneously, DeLillo was sort of embarrassed and pointed to the translator to delegate the credit for that incredible piece of text. I am saying that the audience grasped the aforementioned Subtext and there is no doubt his use of language travels into German and with this book he got the credit he deserves.

Back to DeLillo's America

Last updated: 07-DEC-98