September 23, 2021

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Don DeLillo: ‘We lose our footing when technology disappears’

Interview.- calm, The latest novel by the cult American author, plunges us into a shocking failure of power. A definitive story that crystallizes all the fears of our time to the point of dizzying.

from BalanceDedicated to the assassination of President Kennedy, fallen manThe 9/11 novels never stop exploring the darker side of American history. In his new book, calmWhich takes place in 2022, five friends planned to meet Sunday at the Super Bowl when an apocalypse-like event occurs: all digital communication is cut off, without anyone knowing how far the phenomenon extends. A theme that fits the master of the novel like a glove, paranoid in some, prophetic in others.

Madame Figaro. – calm It begins with a man staring at a screen and ends similarly. What do these screens permeate your novel represent?
Don DeLillo. – They were not intended to represent anything. In the context of the story, it is an indication, on a local level, of a greater collapse that could have affected the entire world…

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Do they not, however, indicate a form of alienation at a time when everyone is still glued to their smartphones?
Yes, the impact of technology, which changes our lives minute by minute, is so deeply rooted in our lives that we lose touch when it disappears… Technology has changed the way we think and talk. Our thinking is less reflective and more momentary. I don’t use a cell phone because I want to keep thinking the traditional way. It helps me focus on the words on the page. It has always been an important part of my way of working.

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Why focus on a fictional catastrophe rather than a real one, such as the current pandemic for example, that the book alludes to?
It’s a work of fiction and that’s just the idea that came to me, with the mental image of a character staring at a black screen. Most of my novels were born from visual inspiration, whether it was a blank street, the forced landing of an airplane, a desert landscape, or even some organization of letters and words on the page. Here, the idea of ​​a blank screen was my driving force. I drove the whole book. Added to this is the concept of the Super Bowl, which has stuck in my head for several years. Watching an American football game bring us all together in some way, then staring at the blank screen all of a sudden feels like a disastrous marginal note…

Your characters seem to have monologues instead of dialogue. Was this a way to emphasize their unity?
It’s just the way the narrative took shape. There is not necessarily logic in my novel or my thematic choices. There’s the motive, the pure idea, and if that idea wins me over, if it convinces me, I’m willing to discover where it all leads… The characters of this novel make fairly formal notes, speak and act in a very stylized manner.

You often post global concerns – fears of a plane crash or global electronic failure – and in one chapter, one of your characters, Tessa, lists all kinds of disasters, natural or abnormal…
The beauty and power of some forms of technology tends to cast a shadow. This is what happens in calm. Shadow becomes 3D, affecting not only devices but also the humans who depend on them.

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You said that visuals played an institutional role in your art. What photos will you keep from this pandemic year in New York?
The Covid-19 outbreak became apparent in New York by the time I completed my work calm. A small novel, obviously, but it took me more than two years to write it – I’m not getting old and wiser, just older and slower … The still images in the 3D reality of the city are deserted streets, people rush to go who knows where, with masks On their faces – masks almost everywhere – and shops and restaurants closed, the constant feeling of people who cannot move in the rooms. A single man, single woman, or family is unintentionally crammed into a confined space.

calm, by Don DeLillo, translated from English by Sabrina Duncan, Éditions Actes Sud, 112 pages, €11.50.

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