“Don Delillo’s Libra: History as Text, History as Trauma,” by Leonard Wilcox – Questions

This reading presents an examination of the relationship between history (specifically, historical trauma) and the representation of such a history through language.  Wilcox addresses the limitations of language as a signifier, claiming that “Delillo’s novels convey a sense of the impossibility of language ever being able to grasp the non-linguistic, the historical referent in its pristine reality” (340).  He draws on Lacan’s conception of “the real” to understand this limited scope of language in forming a narrative of history, explaining that the traumatic experience produces an “unapproachable void” which “resists symbolization” (345).

How does Delillo’s Libra ask us to think about language in relation to history and the formation of narratives?  In what we have read so far, do you see evidence of the historical traumatic resisting symbolization?  What can we make of the fictional nature of this text which attempts to deal with a very real historical event?

2 Replies to ““Don Delillo’s Libra: History as Text, History as Trauma,” by Leonard Wilcox – Questions”

  1. At the beginning of Wilcox’s paper, he writes: “There is no access to the past that would be unmediated by language; yet Libra grapples with issues that cannot be fully explained by a model that stresses the already written textual nature of the referent.”

    One moment thus far in Libra that particularly stuck out to me (that the Wilcox article makes light of as well) which I believe does a good job at getting at your question of language in relation to history and narratives, Elise, occurs on page fifty of the text, where Everett is constructing the plot of the Kennedy assassination attempt. I’ll stick the quote below:

    “‘Win Everett was at work devising a general shape, a life, He would script a gunman out of ordinary dog-eared paper, the contents of a wallet. Parmenter would contrive to get document blanks from the Records Branch. Mackey would find a model for the character Everett was in the process of creating. They wanted a name, a face, a bodily frame they might use to extend their fiction into the world.”

    “Extending their fiction into the world” is what most resonated with me. Obviously, the leading question in DeLillo’s text is one of hypotheticals: What if the Kennedy assassination was a staged CIA plot? This right off the bat (and quite explicitly) demonstrates how the lines between ‘real’ (historical) and ‘fiction’ are blurred in this text. The above quote is particularly interesting, because it in essence shows how Oswald, who did actually JFK — both in real life and in the text — is actually fictionalized. As Wilcox writes on page 342: “Yet any real Oswald ultimately becomes irrelevant to the conspirators’ design….Oswald has, in effect, become a fictional character in a plot that has taken on a life of its own” (showing that Oswald is easily replaceable).
    Also, I think Wilcox’s concept of the “postmodern historical subject” is a really fascinating one – as a “nodal point in a series of endlessly dispersed images and media voices” (343) (though I wonder how much DeLillo’s Oswald is different from our own conceptions of him). To bolster his point, Wilcox notes the linguistic ‘slippages,’ everything from his misspellings to his dyslexia; such volatile language (in conjunction to our notion of the ‘scripted’ Oswald re: the Kennedy plot), as Wilcox writes, make our ability to comprehend the ‘real’ Oswald incredibly difficult.

    This was a really well-written, clever, and relevant article, and I look forward to your presentation!

  2. “Language and narrative produce meaning by imparting significance and narrative logic to raw events that have no meaning in themselves” (Delillo 340).
    I think this quote has major relevance to the text. Oswald’s entire life is a series of moments. These are moments that are so vast a varied that its difficult to determine who he is. He lives in America, Japan, and Russia. It appears he is unable to reside in any of these places effectively. he is always an outsider, never belonging to one place. These moments are like the raw event Delillo is referring too. They seem to have no meaning since Oswald is such a rouge. However, it is through language that the narrative is created. This language gives meaning to these events. In DiLibra there is a huge focus on language. Oswald spends a ton of effort learning Russian. His wife also keeps asking him if she should learn English. I believe this strengthens the fact that it is language that causes meaning. The Russian language is what grounds Oswald to his communist beliefs. These beliefs were the only consistent attribute of Oswald. Therefore, the Russian language gives him meaning. By creating this understanding of Oswald this allows us to discover why he decided an assassination of JFK was necessary. We must go back to his roots. Through language we discover Oswald’s narrative, which is a narrative of communism.

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