‘Hell is when no one believes’: Don DeLillo and the Post-Secular Search for a Supreme Fiction

  • William Tucker (Participant)

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Don DeLillo once claimed that the role of the novelist is to ‘create an environment, not to react to one.’ Throughout his oeuvre DeLillo maintains a preoccupation with the cultural vacuity arising from the collapse of metanarratives and the subsequent rise of simulacra within a postmodern, neoliberal epoch. However, rather than merely lamenting the loss of an objective and/or transcendent meaning, DeLillo embraces the myriad false ideas and images proliferated within consumer society and harnesses them in order to foster alternative systems of meaning. This complements Wallace Stevens’ notion of the supreme fiction which is ‘the belief and not the god that counts […] the final belief is to believe in a fiction, which you know to be a fiction, there being nothing else. The exquisite truth is to know that it is a fiction and that you believe in it willingly.’ Accordingly, DeLillo claimed that writing brings him ‘closer to spiritual feelings than anything else’ and therefore ‘[w]riting is the final enlightenment.’ It will be argued that DeLillo’s work promotes a post-secular religiosity which attempts to revitalize contemporary fiction with a sense of faith through self-deception and myth-making while also conceding the impossibility of a re-enchanted cosmos. Thus, some of the gaps left to be ‘filled in’ within fiction are spiritual gaps targeted by the supreme fiction. This is most apparent regarding the treatment of faith within The Names and Falling Man as well as the fictions generated by characters such as the nuns in White Noise and Underworld.
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