I am of the opinion that the next two American Nobel Literature prizewinners should be John Irving and Don DeLillo. I’ve thought that for a while, and so I was delighted to find an essay by Gerald Howard at Bookforum.com urging on the selection of DeLillo.
The failure of the Academy to select Philip Roth before he died was a constant complaint in literary circles. It was described as equal to their failure to recognize Nabokov, Joyce, or Borges. However, writes Howard:
“[E]ven while Roth was alive I regarded DeLillo as the greatest living American writer, and now the matter is not remotely debatable. Roth, of course, was a highly visible public figure and a shrewd manager of his own career and reputation, while DeLillo, though by no means the Pynchonian recluse he was once mistaken for, shuns the spotlight and has no interest in the wages of fame. To the extent the matter of a DeLillo Nobel is discussed, the consensus seems to be that yeah, he probably should get it, but he won’t because, well . . . he’s too cerebral, he stays under the radar.”
“By every metric that we use to measure literary greatness—including overall achievement, scope and variety of subject matter, striking and fully realized style, duration of career, originality and formal innovation, widespread influence here and abroad, production of masterpieces, consistency of excellence, pertinence of themes, density of critical commentary, and dignity in the conduct of a literary career—Don DeLillo, now eighty-three, scores in the highest possible percentile.”
Howard writes well of the various reasons DeLillo deserves the Prize. He concludes by noting
“the dignity and nobility that he has brought to his vocation as a novelist. He may be the last totally free man in American literature. He eschews almost all the encumbrances and strategies of a postmodern literary career. His public appearances at readings and panels are sparse … [But] he has in fact given enough interviews over the decades to fill an entire book of them, and in those interviews he speaks of his personal history, his intentions and obsessions as a novelist, his working habits, and, especially, the larger place of the writer in our culture with epigrammatic wit and unshowy eloquence. While his oft-repeated mantra is Joyce’s motto “Silence, exile, and cunning,” Don DeLillo has taken care to be perfectly understood.”
I agree entirely with Howard on DeLillo’s literary importance, on the power of his prose, and on his insights into post-war America. Given DeLillo’s age, I agree too that he should be the next Nobel winner. But once that happens, I’ll be leading the charge for John Irving.