Don DeLillo on Samuel Beckett

American writer discusses the influence of Beckett's work
Don DeLillo on Samuel Beckett

Christian Moraru reviews David Cowart's Don DeLillo: the Physics of Language, and makes a note of the influence of Samuel Beckett in DeLillo's work.
In Don DeLillo's 1991 novel, Mao II, a character—a dark visionary—offers that "Beckett is the last writer to shape the way we think and see. After him, the major work involves midair explosions and crumbled buildings. This is the new tragic narrative". At a reading DeLillo gave on the Duke University campus in April 2002, I asked him to elaborate on Beckett's role in Mao II. Beckett was, DeLillo told his audience, among the last to have built a universe—Beckett's "world"—in which his readers could be said to "live." In the post-Beckett era, Mao II further suggests, it is the other way around: writers are somehow sucked into the world surrounding theirs. After Beckett, "the artist is absorbed." Just the terrorist remains "outside," for "the culture hasn't figured out how to assimilate him." And, surprisingly or not, it is the novelist who sees that terrorism speaks "precisely the language of being noticed, the only language the West understands". Whether DeLillo is to postmodern America what Beckett was to late modernity matters less here. What I do want to stress is that DeLillo's language stands out, forces us to take notice. It is not merely a representation vehicle. Rather than a vehicle, his language is a theme and an ontological force that projects worlds and identities. It is of crucial importance in his work, and Cowart argues eloquently for this centrality, zeroing in on "DeLillo's career-long exploration of language as cultural index, as 'deepest being,' as numinosum". [Read more]

[In] contemporary writing in general, there's a strong sense that the world of Beckett and Kafka has redescended on contemporary America, because characters seem to live in a theoretical environment rather than a real one. I haven't felt I'm a part of that. I've always had a grounding in the real world, whatever esoteric flights I might indulge in from time to time.

Don DeLillo
quoted in Anthony DeCurtis, '"An Outsider in Society": An Interview with Don DeLillo'
Conversations with Don DeLillo
Beckett is a master of language. He is all language. Out of the words come the people instead of the other way around. He is the last writer whose work extends into the world so that (as with Kafka before him) we can see or hear something and identify it as an expression of Beckett beyond the book or stage.

Don DeLillo
quoted by Gary Adelman in 'Beckett's Readers: A Commentary and Symposium'
Michigan Quarterly Review, Winter 2004
Also at A Piece of Monologue: