… beautifully about Don DeLillo:

… Of all our novelists, Don DeLilllo is perhaps the most priestly; indeed, it is his example of high-minded renunciation that makes any literary behavior but the writing of rigorously modernist texts seem at best a vulgarity, at worst a betrayal. He is the most purposefully removed of our novelists this side of Thomas Pynchon or Philip Roth; and yet because he is concerned with a very specific condition of modernity — private befuddlement in the face of incomprehensible public events — he is engaged to the point of being oracular. Thanks to his unsurpassed talent for capturing and conjuring free-floating dread, he even has the reputation of something of a prophet; there can be no event so horrific but that DeLillo seems to have anticipated it, from 9/11 to the financial collapse and now to the spill or the blowout or the hemorrhage in the Gulf.

No, he has never written about Top Kills and Junk Shots and the odd flutter of hope elicited by the words “Containment Dome.” But in their suggestion of corporatized violence and above all in the violence they do to the language, they are DeLilloesque. In what is known as his breakthrough novel, 1985’s White Noise, he made his signature contribution to the American language when he wrote of an “airborne toxic event” that results from an accident of chemical cars in a trainyard. The chemical that he created for the occasion, Nyodene D, is less important than the fact that the airborne toxic event is just that — an event that people talk about, argue about, even as it tragically envelops them. And of course what they talk and argue about most of all is what to call it: “They’re not calling it the feathery plume anymore,” one character says. “They’re calling it the black billowing cloud.”

What DeLillo understood, long ago, is the end of the world would be experienced not as the end of the world but rather as a way of thinking and talking about the end of the world. What he understood is that the toxic cloud that has our name on it would be defined by its lack of definition; that we would never have as much information about it as we need to have or that someone else has; that it would turn into a free-floating void, exactly as withholding as it is encompassing; that it would become part of the landscape and that the landscape would become part of it; and that, of course, there would be footage, endlessly recycled but ultimately inconclusive.

No, Don DeLillo has never written about what about BP, Transocean, the MMS, and our thirst for oil have wrought in the Gulf of Mexico. But 25 years ago he imagined the name for a disaster that would come with its own excruciating and tantalizing Zapruder, and that would allow us to talk it — and ourselves — to death:

The underwater toxic event.

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One Response to “Tom Junod, in Esquire, Writes….”

  1. University Diaries » When she encountered the name of the writer Tom Junod in David Brooks’s thoughtful opinion piece about very young American mass shooters… Says:

    […] enough, back in 2010, she cited Junod’s smart remarks about her beloved Don DeLillo; and one of those remarks has now helped her think about the Black […]

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