0 05 1 - 11 2007

Apocalyptic Nostalgia in the Prologue of Don DeLillo’s Underworld

Randy Laist

Abstract


Characters in Don DeLillo's novels repeatedly grapple with the existential contradiction which Frank Kermode has called the "immanent apocalypse" and which Jean Baudrillard has identified as a nuclear "implosion." DeLillo's fictions commonly depict the post-apocalyptic sensibility Kermode and Baudrillard describe; a historical transition from the conventional kind of apocalypse - the end that will happen - to the postmodern variety - the end that is always already happening. DeLillo's most concise illustration of this condition is arguably the prologue to his 1997 opus, Underworld. Originally published in 1993 in Harper's as "Pafko at the Wall," this 50-page vignette tells the story of the famous Dodgers-Giants game in 1951, the game concluded by Bobby Thompson's three-run, game-winning, pennant-deciding homer that came to be known as "The Shot Heard 'Round the World." DeLillo evokes and manipulates the nostalgia inherent in this collective memory to dramatize the manner in which apocalypticism enters into the structure of Cold War perception. According to DeLillo's conceit in the prologue, the crack of Thompson's bat announces the postmodernizing of the apocalyptic imagination in the American psyche. This narrative device allows DeLillo to interrogate the apocalyptic shift from various points of view, as well as to induct the reader into a sense of his or her own situatedness within this historical reinscription.

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ISSN 1749-9771