Tendering the Impossible: The Work of Irony in the Late Novels of Don DeLillo
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
The following thesis represents an attempt to account for the novelist Don DeLillo's last three novels (Underworld (1999), The Body Artist (2001), and Cosmopolis (2003)) through the examination of what I conceive as DeLillo's philosophy of language. It is my assertion that the crucial and articulating aspect of DeLillo's philosophy of language is his investment in, and investigation of, irony. As I argue, DeLillo's novels presume a certain conjugation of what I refer to as the work of irony (the seemingly impossible work of tendering both the allegorical imperative of naming and the ironic imperative of Otherness) with the work of art. In other words, DeLillo's theory of language reveals his theory of art and, thus, his own theory of writing. This aesthetic philosophy becomes the critical tool with which DeLillo evaluates the various symbolic economies of a culture and its individuals caught within late capitalism. The impossibility of defining irony becomes, for DeLillo, a metaphor by which to understand language itself as what I refer to as a fallen and tender economy, constituted by an Otherness, which language can only tender. In his novels, DeLillo, I argue, suggests that language and subjectivity ought to be conceived of as forms of a faith in an Otherness, impossible to represent as such, to which all speech, violence, art, commodity and reproduction are indebted, and which we may mourn and represent - as we must - more or less faithfully, more or less blindly, and, by virtue of irony, more or less tenderly. The possibilities of faith and the ethical in art and representation, thus, for DeLillo, arise through an attention to an Otherness that can only be tendered through the very tenderness (fallenness, profanity, weakness) of allegory and language. To understand this is to understand the role of irony in DeLillo's philosophy, and also to understand DeLillo's profound commitment to language, his renovation of allegory through its mortification by irony and, thus, its remembering and mourning of Otherness. In this regard, DeLillo shares much with the melancholia of deconstruction as evinced within the language philosophies of Jacques Derrida and Paul de Man, in particular, Derrida's economic consideration, differance, and his notion of the work of mourning, both of which, I argue, offer the reader of DeLillo's texts ways of tendering the work of irony.