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The Language of Self

Strategies of Subjectivity in the Novels of Don DeLillo

Phill Pass

The Language of Self explores the portrayal of subjectivity in Don DeLillo’s fiction. It proposes that his characters’ conception of self is determined by the tension between a desire for connection and a longing for isolation. The particular form taken by this language of self is shown to be both shaped by, and in turn formed through, an interaction with larger, social constructions of agency. In order to explore this phenomenon from both an individual and a social perspective, the author undertakes detailed close readings of DeLillo’s texts, informed by nuanced theoretical analysis which stresses the symbiotic interaction of social and individual context.
This method informs the structure of the book, which is divided into three sections. The first, entitled ‘Dasein’, conceptualises how DeLillo’s characters navigate between isolation and connection, shaping a particular enunciation of self which reflects the balance they strike between self and other. ‘Phenomenology’, the second section, explores how DeLillo’s treatment of language and image alters this balance and examines the sustainability of each enunciation of self. The final section, ‘Das Man’, addresses how the language of self shapes, and is shaped by, a wider social context.

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Conclusion To ‘[e]xplore America in the screaming night’: The Language of Self as the Foundation o

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Conclusion To ‘[e]xplore America in the screaming night’1: The Language of Self as the Foundation of Future DeLillo Criticism As Martin Heidegger observed in Sein und Zeit phenomenal ontology begins with the following observation, quoted from Plato’s Sophistes: … δήλον γάρ ώς ύμέν ταντ (τί ποτε βονλεσθε σημαίνειν όπόταν όν Φθέγγησθε) πάλαι γιγνώσκετε, ήμεις δέ πρό τον μεν ώόμεθα, νύν δ’ ήπορήκαμεν … ‘For manifestly you have long been aware of what you mean when you use the expres- sion “being”. We, however, who used to think we understood it, have now become perplexed.’ (Heidegger, 2000, p. 19) Proposing that Dasein has ‘proximally and for the most part’ lost its pri- mordial understanding of Being, Heidegger uses the above quotation as the starting point of an historically contingent theory of subjectivity (Heidegger, 2000, p. 43). While the individual may have known what it meant to be in a particular moment, shaped by a specific historicity (Historizität), once that context alters, so too does the form into which its Being is shaped. Preoccupied with etymology, Heidegger’s project emphasizes the interrela- tion of Being (Sein) – a noun – and to be (Zu-sein) – a verb – conveying the sense in which existence is an action that the subject undertakes, governed by issues of tense and case: linguistic embodiments of temporality and the inf luence of the Other; a particular instance in a language of Self which changes with time and is shaped by an intersubjective context. Correlating with such an ontological vision, DeLillo’s novels of fer a series of ontical depictions of Dasein’s subjectivity, demonstrating 1 Don DeLillo, Americana, p. 10. 206 Conclusion the range and variety...

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