Last night, at the Directors Guild Theater on 57th Street, New Yorker Fiction editor Deborah Treisman interviewed Don DeLillo. After reading a passage from Underworld, DeLillo responded to Treisman’s terse questions mostly at length, proving less cryptic than you might think.
While ubiquitous brochures promised this exchange would be recorded and posted on The New Yorker Festival’s website, I don’t yet see it there. I took notes, so below are transcribed fragments that I believe to be of interest. There are bound to be some discrepancies (in prepositions, punctuation, etc.) and elisions in this rush job, and I will correct these errors when that video appears.
“I’m not at all a paranoid individual,” DeLillo said. The audience laughs. “It’s true.”
On becoming a writer: “Writing has to become a natural thing. You have to wait, you have to be patient, and something will happen.”
“It took two years for me to believe I was a writer, and another two to finish [Americana].”
On starting a novel: “I start with something: Sometimes it’s a sentence, sometimes it’s an image.”
“Start writing at random, and see if one sentence connects to another.”
On note-taking: “I discover a note and I have no idea what I was referring to, and it becomes paper.” A brief silence, closed by audience laughter.
On the inspiration for Libra: “I had to go to Dallas to be sure, and I did.”
On the poetry of his descriptions: “It’s not my language; it’s the language these things came with.”
On re-reading Underworld: “I didn’t find passages I regretted, which is surprising for a book that length.”
Treisman: “You majored in Communication Arts.”
DeLillo: “You know why? Because it meant nothing.”
T: “You avoided press.”
D: “Yes, well, no. No one came around.”
On the Oregon massacre: “The gun is the motive as well as the weapon itself. The gun makes it possible for an individual to make sense of everything that is happening. ... It gives him a motive, gives him a sense of direction. The gun is a substitute for real life, and is the way he ends his life.”
"[Lee Harvey Oswald] was no longer thinking in political terms. … More than anything, the motorcade was passing his place of work. [The assassination was] something to assert his identity, to find his place in the world, to remind everyone that he existed.”
“Many of these young men have the same sense of being nowhere. .. Does he buy the gun to shoot twelve innocent people, or does the gun exist to begin with? What else would he do to find that disastrous satisfaction?”
“I certainly never, ever laugh at something I write, never. Some writers tell me they laugh, and this seems like an offense against the state.”