Literature as Antidote: Reflections on Don DeLillo's Falling Man


  • Salah el Moncef University of Nantes, 2, rue du Général Meusnier, F-44000 Nantes



9/11 terrorist attacks, Alzheimer’s, terrorism, trauma, grief, PTSD, posttraumatic recovery


This essay proposes an interpretation of Don DeLillo's Falling Man based on a combination of textual analysis and contemporary theoretical approaches to the specific questions of trauma, grief, and posttraumatic healing as well as the more general question of the status of the subject in a postmodern context marked by increasing globalization and transnational interactions. This multidimensional interpretive approach makes it possible to theorize one of the central metanarrative questions posed by DeLillo's novel: the potential function of the postmodern novel as an antidote against various expressions of contemporary angst, such as the dread of terrorist violence or the fear of aging and age-related maladies. In exploring the significance of a double esthetic articulation in DeLillo's novel (an esthetic of estrangement and an “esthetic of disappearanceâ€), the essay analyzes the author's representation of his characters' varying reactions to terror-related trauma and the role of the imagination in such reactions. While Falling Man represents subjective experiences of trauma and loss in painful and at times shocking ways, its dissection of the imaginary dimension of trauma also presents its readers with the possibility of incorporating various effects of traumatic experience into cohesive and constructive strategies of self-reassessment, grief management, and healing.


Aptizsch, Julia. 2010. “The Art of Terror—the Terror of Art: DeLillo’s Still Life of 9/11, Girgio Morandi, Gerhard Richter, and Performance art.” Pp. 93-108 in Terrorism, Media, and the Ethics of Fiction: Transatlantic Perspectives on Don DeLillo, edited by P. Schneck and P. Schweighauser London: Bloomsbury.
Armitage, John. 1999. “From Modernism to Hypermodernism and Beyond: An Interview with Paul Virilio.” Theory, Culture, and Society 16(5-6):25-55.
Badiou, Alain. 2004. Infinite Thought: Truth and the Return of Philosophy, translated by O. Feltham and J. Clemens. London: Continuum.
Bataille, Georges. 1967. La Part maudite: précédé de la notion de dépense. Paris: Éditions de Minuit.
Baudrillard, Jean. 1976. Pour une critique de l’économie poli¬tique du signe. Paris: Gallimard.
Baudrillard, Jean. 1981. Simulacres et simulation. Paris: Galilée.
Baudrillard, Jean. 1983. Les stratégies fatales. Paris: Grasset & Fasquelle.
Baudrillard, Jean. 1986. Amérique. Paris: Grasset.
Baudrillard, Jean. 1990. La transparence du mal: essai sur les phénomènes extrêmes. Paris: Galilée.
Bayman, Henry. 2003. The Secrets of Islam: Love and Law in the Religion of Ethics. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.
Berman, Marshall. 1988. All that is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity. London: Penguin Books.
Berman, Morris. 1981. The Reenchantment of the World. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Blanchot, Maurice. 1953. “Sade.” Pp. 687-732 in Sade, edited by J. J. Pauvert. Paris: Le Club Français du Livre.
Blanchot, Maurice. 1980. L’écriture du désastre. Paris: Gallimard.
Borradori, Giovanna. 2004. Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Caillois, Roger. 1967. Les jeux et les hommes. Paris: Gallimard.
Caporale Bizzini, Silvia. 2010. “Grieving and memory in Don DeLillo’s Falling Man.” Pp. 40-50 in Terrorism, Media, and the Ethics of Fiction: Transatlantic Perspectives on Don DeLillo, edited by P. Schneck and P. Schweighauser London: Bloomsbury.
Certeau, Michel de. 1973. L’Absent de l’histoire. Paris: Mame.
Certeau, Michel de. 1992. The Writing of History, translated by T. Conley. New York: Columbia University Press.
DeLillo, Don. 2011. Falling Man. London: Picador.
DeLillo, Don. 2001. “In the Ruins of the Future: Reflections on Terror and Loss in the Shadow of September.” Harper’s, December (2001), pp. 33-40.
Derrida, Jacques. 1967. L’écriture et la différence. Paris: Seuil.
Derrida, Jacques. 1981. Dissemination, translated by B. Johnson. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Derrida, Jacques. 2001. The Work of Mourning, translated by P. A. Brault and M. Nass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Derrida, Jacques. 2006. Spectres de Marx: l’état de la dette, le travail du deuil et la nouvelle internationale. Paris: Galilée.
Diken, Bülent. 2009. Nihilism. London: Routledge.
Dupuy, Jean-Pierre. 2002. Pour un catastrophisme éclairé: quand l’impossible est certain. Paris: Seuil.
Eliot, T. S. 1971. Four quartets. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Freud, Sigmund. 1936. The Problem of Anxiety, translated by H. A. Bunker. New York: W. W. Norton.
Freud S. 1941. “Splitting of the Ego in the Defensive Process,” translated by James Strachey. International Journal of Psychoanalysis 22:65.
Freud, Sigmund. 1978. Mourning and melancholia. Pp. 237-58 in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Vol. 14, translated by J. Strachey. London: The Hogarth Press.
Freud, Sigmund. 2003. The Uncanny, translated by D. McLintock. London: Penguin.
Frye, Northrop. 1957. Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Gourley, James. 2013. Terrorism and Temporality in the Works of Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo. London: Bloomsbury.
Goux, Jean-Joseph. 1978. Les Iconoclastes. Paris: Seuil.
Goux, Jean-Joseph. 1990. “General Economics and Postmodern Capitalism.” Yale French Studies 78:206-224.
Heinrichs, Hans-Jürgen. 1983. Sprachkörper: zu Claude Lévi-Strauss und Jacques Lacan. Frankfurt am Main: Qumran.
Hodgkin, Katharine and Susannah Radstone. 2006. Memory, History, Nation: Contested Pasts. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
Jameson, Fredric. 1974. The Prison-House of Language: A Critical Account of Structuralism and Russian Formalism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Kermode, Frank. 1968. The Sense of an Ending. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kristeva, Julia. 1980a. “Postmodernism?” Bucknell Review 25(2):136-41.
Kristeva, Julia. 1980b. Pouvoirs de l’horreur: essai sur l’abjection. Paris: Seuil.
Lacan, Jacques. 1966. Écrits. Paris: Seuil.
Lacan, Jacques. 1973. Le Séminaire de Jacques Lacan: les quatre concepts fondamentaux de la psychanalyse. Paris: Seuil.
Lefort Claude. 1978. Les Formes de l’histoire: essais d’anthropologie politique. Paris: Gallimard.
Leps, Marie-Christine. 2010. “Falling Man: Performing Fiction.” Pp. 184-203 in Terrorism, Media, and the Ethics of Fiction: Transatlantic Perspectives on Don DeLillo, edited by P. Schneck and P. Schweighauser London: Bloomsbury.
Levinas, Emmanuel. 1961. Totalité et infini: essai sur l’extériorité. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.
Levinas, Emmanuel. 1982. Éthique et infini: dialogues avec Philippe Nemo. Paris: Fayard.
Luhmann, Niklas. 2014. Vertrauen. Ein mechanismus der reduktion sozialer kompläxität. Stuttgart: UTB.
Lyotard, Jean-François. 1985. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, translated by G. Bennington and B. Massumi. Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press.
Lyotard, Jean-François. 1991. “Logos and techne, or telegraphy.” Pp. 47-57 in The Inhuman: Reflections on Time, translated by G. Bennington and R. Bowlby. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Lyotard, Jean-François. 1991. “Representation, Presentation, Unpresentable.” Pp. 119-28 in The Inhuman: Reflections on Time, translated by G. Bennington and R. Bowlby. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Mallarmé, Stéphane. 1914. Poème: un Coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard. Paris: Gallimard.
Martín Salván P. 2010. “Terror, Asceticism, and Epigrammatic Writing in Don DeLillo’s Fiction.” Pp. 145-57 in Terrorism, Media, and the Ethics of Fiction: Transatlantic Perspectives on Don DeLillo, edited by P. Schneck and P. Schweighauser. London: Bloomsbury.
Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. 1969. Manifesto of the Communist Party. Pp. 98-137 in Marx/Engels: Selected Works. Vol. 1, translated by S. Moore. Moscow: Progress Publishers.
Montaigne, Michel de. 2009. “That to Study Philosophy is to Learn to Die. Pp. 187-218 in Essays, translated by C. Cotton, edited by W. C. Hazlitt. Auckland: The Floating Press.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1989. On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo, translated by W. Kaufmann, edited by W. Kaufmann New York: Vintage.
Rich, Adrienne. 1984. “Diving into the Wreck.” Pp. 162-64 in The Fact of a Doorframe. New York: W. W. Norton.
Ricoeur Paul. 2004. Memory, History, Forgetting, translated by K. Blamey and D. Pellauer. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Singh, Rashmi. 2011. Hamas and Suicide Terrorism: Multi-Causal and Multi-Level Approaches. Oxford: Routledge.
Virilio, Paul. 1977. “L’État d’urgence ou du lieu d’élection au lieu d’éjection.” Traverses 9 (November):60-74.
Virilio, Paul. 1988. La Machine de vision. Paris: Galilée.
Virilio, Paul. 1989. Esthétique de la disparition. Paris: Galilée.
Weber, Max. 1992. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. London: Routledge.
Wolfe, Cary. 2008. “The Digital, the Analog, and the Spectral: Ecographies from My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.” Angelaki 13(1):85-94.
Zafirovski, Milan and Daniel G. Rodeheaver. 2013. Modernity and Terrorism: From Anti-Modernity to Modern Global Terror. Leiden: Brill.
Žižek, Slavoj. 1989. The Sublime Object of Ide¬ology. London: Verso Books.