Before we begin, an air of uncertainty hangs over the conversation.
Don DeLillo (the Bronx, New York, 1936), one of the most important American writers of the last half century, author of a handful of masterpieces, such as
The Names, Background noise, Libra, Mao II
, will be 84 years old on November 20 and his extremely fragile physical condition has led his agents and editors to take extreme precautionary measures, in order to minimize the impact that the interviews that he must grant as part of the promotion of his latest work,
For reasons of advertising strategy, the conversation takes place three weeks before its launch in Spain.
Like the rest of the interviews granted to various American and international media, the conversations must take place by telephone and cannot exceed 20 minutes in duration, the maximum time that the author is able to endure without losing his voice.
At the agreed time, eleven o'clock on a Friday morning, just into October, the writer calls from a hidden number and announces his name with strange formality.
The voice, indeed, is brittle.
The first question has to do with the title of the book.
"It took me a long time to find it," he manages to articulate after clarifying his voice, not without effort.
“As I was writing it, I had two in mind:
The blank screen
Space and time
In the end, once the manuscript was finished, the title of
emerged, I can't say from where
I guess it was buried in the depths of my mind. "
Did it take you a long time to write it?
“Although it is by far the shortest novel I have written, it took a long time to finish it.
I started it at the beginning of 2018 and didn't finish it until the middle of last March, more than two years in total.
It takes me much more work to write than before ”.
puts an end to a narrative corpus comprising 18 novels and a collection of stories.
Taken as a whole, Don DeLillo's work constitutes one of the highest points in American literature from the 1970s to the present day.
In a staggered fashion, DeLillo has given the world works that changed the language of the novel in our time.
At the center of its journey is the monumental
Considered his masterpiece, after the effort involved in completing it, there was a change in his way of understanding literature, which entered the open grave in new directions.
comes four years after the publication of
Zero K, a
novel in which DeLillo examines the possibility of science defeating death.
The book that is now coming to light is set in the year 2022 and the driving force behind the action is a technological blackout that cuts off any possibility of communication between human beings.
Does Don DeLillo see in this novel the culmination of the second stage of his career, characterized, so to speak, as a willingness to venture blindly into the unknown, to explore themes of an elusive nature, at times bordering on the realm of the mystical?
“I fundamentally agree with what he says, I just don't know the reason why this is so.
When I write I limit myself to following an impulse that I don't know where it might lead me ”.
“Although it is the shortest novel I have written, it took me more than two years to finish it.
It costs me much more than before to write "
The request that he take a retrospective look at his long career highlighting the titles that have the most resonance for him today makes him stand out two: “The first one that comes to mind is
which took me five years to write.
my first novel, which I wrote without knowing if I would ever become a published author, although when I finished it the first publisher I sent it to accepted it ”.
One of the highlights of DeLillo's novels is the careful inquiry they undertake about the limits and nature of language.
Although it is something that in one way or another is present in everything he writes, there is a moment of particular relevance at the end of
in which the language itself seems to disintegrate.
the names," he
exclaims when he is reminded of that passage.
“It is interesting that I mention that novel because in it I adopted for the first time the strategy of writing one paragraph per page.
I wanted to see the words more clearly, to find the visual connections between the letters that make up the words and the words that make up the sentences.
I could see that it was something that was happening not only in my head but on the page itself.
I need to see clearly how the physical elements of language operate and their relationship to meaning ”.
Is this type of inquiry the reason why
a character appears
who does not dream in images, but in words?
(Prolonged laughter, until his voice is gone, which takes time to recover).
“This is something perfectly possible.
I realized how close the relationship between words and images can be when I discovered European cinema in the early sixties and shortly after Japanese.
The dialogues were in languages that I did not understand, but they appeared translated in the subtitles, which are words projected on a screen ”.
The answer naturally leads to asking you to talk about your obsession with the blank screen image.
(New laughs) “Blank screens have always been a determining factor in my writing.
When I delivered the manuscript of
to the publisher just before the arrival of the pandemic in New York and locked myself at home, looking out the window, what I saw were the empty streets.
This is how the imagination operates, starting from nothing.
A few blocks from my house there is a skyscraper that I really like to observe, a gigantic white building.
I do not see what happens in the apartments, but the rectangles of the windows seem to me words that float on the page ”.
Something that is powerfully striking in
is that, despite the book's extreme brevity, Don DeLillo invokes in it a multitude of disciplines, from philosophy to science.
“I'm not doing it on purpose.
It is the way my conscience operates when I write.
All those things intermingle on their own in my head. "
Science occupies a particularly prominent place in this book, which repeatedly returns to the figure of Einstein and the manuscript in which he exposed the theory of relativity.
When I was a student, I avoided science subjects, but then I became interested in them rigorously.
(1976), mathematics occupies the center of the narrative.
The protagonist, Billy Twilig, is a 14-year-old teenager from the Bronx, a math genius.
There are three fields in which a very young person can operate at the level of an adult: mathematics, music, and chess.
In that novel I tried to create a highly stylized type of fiction, whose language was at the height of that of mathematics ”.
Two hours after the conversation ended, the phone rings again.
It is he who wants to clarify.
His voice sounds much firmer now.
“Before he asked me to tell him who my best writing friends were and I only managed to remember the names of Dana Spiotta and William Gaddis.
I would like to add that of Joy Williams, and among those who have left us, those of Peter Matthiessen, EL Doctorow and Gilbert Sorrentino ”.
It is not the only moment of the conversation that should be rescued, although for this we had to wait for the first reviews of the book to appear.
In the United States, the reception of
has been uneven.
Some independent media have been merciless, remembering that we are dealing with the author of works of the caliber of
Others have been more respectful, pointing out that it is a minor work by a great writer.
There is behind all this an error of perspective.
It is pointless to judge
by what it is not.
Carefully reproduced as a typewritten text, Don DeLillo's final work should not be understood as just another title to add to the catalog of his novels, but as a living testimony of how his imagination operates.
The New York Times
hit the nail on the head by stating that they seemed like the first two chapters of a pending novel, only there's not much chance that something like this could happen.
At one point in the conversation, when asked if he was working on a new project, Don DeLillo answered bluntly: “No.
I'm still trying to recover from the effort it took to write
If you ask me what may come next, I must confess that I don't know.
At my age I am not sure that I will write another novel ”.