By Theophilus Savvas (auth.)
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Where the book assumes the structure of a four act opera, it is perhaps ironic that the ‘intermezzos’ provide not the customary relief from performance, but rather a crystallisation and intensification of it. The first, a political speech by Eisenhower, poeticised by Coover; the second a dramatic dialogue between Ethel and Eisenhower, and the third ‘a Last-Act Sing Sing Opera’ titled ‘Human Dignity is not for Sale’, have in common that they are performances constructed, for the most part from verbatim quotation.
28 In fact, I would suggest, that despite ostensible similarities, Coover’s pageant is never quite allowed to reach the level of carnival, at least in the Bakhtinian sense. ’ and Nixon comes to realise that ‘there was nothing more terrifying . . than the aroused voice of the people’ (italics in original, Public Burning 485). And so Uncle Sam, anxious to maintain order, orchestrates a complete blackout over Times Square, he ends the would-be carnival before it becomes a moment of true liberation, before the American people escape his mythical hegemony.
Whether one views this parasitism as innovative, or as totalitarian (in the terms of Adorno and Horkheimer) is a matter of taste, however the point I wish to stress here is that DeLillo’s work, and Libra specifically, betrays a kind of symbiosis between theories of literature and the literature itself. Indeed, the aura of the postmodern is so endemic in DeLillo’s writings, one is often forced to consider whether there is an implicit ironic, or perhaps parodic, critique of that self-same notion.