Found in the Crowd: DeLillo's Collective Subject
Dwyer, Colin Thomas
Throughout his career, Don DeLillo frequently returns to representations of gathered crowds, yet DeLillo's crowd scenes are nowhere so conspicuous as in his two midcareer texts, Mao II and the novella that immediately follows it, "Pafko at the Wall." In these texts, DeLillo depicts the experience of the crowd as something traumatic, ecstatic, and just beyond the capacity of language. In so doing, he articulates the threat of the dissolution of the individual subject seated in language, as well as the simultaneous promise of a collective subject forming in its stead. This collective subject eludes signification, recognizing itself instead primarily through acts of repetition, as in chants and images of a leader. Though the influence of media in DeLillo's texts may serve to contain the dread of the crowd, nevertheless the nature of this collective subject must call into question the particular medium in which DeLillo's crowds confront the reader--the novel. Using the crowd as his focal point, DeLillo thus examines the position of the contemporary American novelist. In his characters Bill Gray and Russ Hodges, he offers the reader two diametrically opposite understandings of the writer's relationship to the crowd: in one, the perfectly autonomous individual set apart; in the other, the means through which many voices may be spoken by one. Between these two impossible poles, DeLillo demarcates the space that the novelist must occupy--the nebulous boundary line between the individual and the collective, at once both and neither.
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