Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Prime Passage: Libra by Don DeLillo

(Here "He" = Lee Harvey Oswald)

"He walked through empty downtown Dallas, empty Sunday in the heat and light. He felt the loneliness he always hated to admit to, a vaster isolation than Russia, stranger dreams, a dead white glare burning down. He wanted to carry himself with a clear sense of role, make a move one time that was not disappointed. He walked in the shadows of insurance towers and bank buildings. He thought the only end to isolation was to reach the point where he was no longer separated from the true struggles that went on around him. The name we give this point is history."


  1. I've never read this book, but I enjoy DeLillo very much, particularly "Underground"--I'm 30 pages from the end. But what strikes me here is his depicting a man who is empty, devoid almost of being, in the shadows, lonely, someone with almost nothing. And in Western culture, when you are close to nothing, you are of course the object of ridicule, and you are isolated, in your home or apartment or flat and what you'd like to do is be something. And so it would seem that Lee Harvey Oswald, that little man, little thinker, found his way to be something. Dark, sinister, but a way to glory in the camp that is dark, sinister, and why not? Why not be something rather than nothing, rather than a ridiculed nothing. My take on this just for now; I haven't read this book. I was an 8 year old kid and watched my mother cry in the kitchen at Kennedy's assassination and saw all the pictures of Lee Harvey Oswald on TV (even his assassination), and I of course didn't get it. I knew the terrible thing about it, but didn't, until much later, get what it was (or might have been). I don't know today whether it was a small, empty man or a giant conspiracy that used a small empty man--probably the latter. One big question mark, I guess, or my lack of knowledge of all the facts--never was overly interested in this or the social implications. But, I can't say enough about DeLillo, who I have been late in getting to, like I'm late in getting to a lot of writers--I keep trying, though.

  2. Thanks for the thoughts, Lawrence. Uncanny insights for one who's never read Libra. The novel, and your speculations about its theme here, bring to mind that eerily memorable line from The Talented Mr. Ripley: "It's better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody." I too am late getting to DeLillo. But what a joy to have the entire rest of his corpus still before me. ~Cheers, M.A.C.

  3. Now I'm going to have to put Libra on my long list of things to get to. The quote in the original post here was really intriguing and, I think, very telling. I especially liked "in the shadows of insurance towers and bank buildings," which, of course, are where the major powers that be reside. It's funny, I picked up Libra in the bookstore once but put it down, thinking I wasn't all that interested in such old news, but I know now that was a mistake. Writers like DeLillo never offer old news, but insights into what was, what is, and what will likely be, all at the same time. Made the same mistake ignoring JC Oates' "Blonde," but read an excerpt and am now reading--insights on every page, at least for me. Thanks for the "Mr. Ripley" quote, I'll use it, and for the blog. Excellent web site, btw. Best, LC