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‘Let’s regain our grip on things’: metaphysics and the ordinary in DeLillo and Wittgenstein

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posted on 2023-06-08, 14:29 authored by Anthony Leaker
This thesis is a reading of five Don DeLillo novels in relation to the later philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein, beginning with Falling Man, and working backwards to The Names. It is an attempt to think about the philosophical aspects of DeLillo’s work; in particular, the various ways in which it is engaged with the possibility of metaphysics and its relation to the ordinary. It examines the ambiguous status of metaphysics, and the nature of transcendence and the ordinary in his fiction, arguing that they form a dialectical relation, which guides, structures and informs many of the pressing spiritual, existential, aesthetic, ontological and epistemological concerns of his writing. This dialectic is illuminated by a parallel dialectic at work in Wittgenstein’s philosophy. Wittgenstein’s thought is useful for a number of reasons: it is a method or style of seeing rather than a systematic, substantive theory; though critical of metaphysics it is profoundly engaged with the inescapability of the metaphysical impulse, and the way metaphysical problems seem embedded in everyday language; and it is committed to the ordinary, but not in any reductive sense – it is not a defence of common sense or conventional beliefs. Understanding DeLillo’s engagement with metaphysics as part of a dialectic with the ordinary, and viewing it through an encounter with Wittgenstein, will prevent recourse to traditionalist conceptions of language and meaning while at the same time resisting and critiquing the postmodern scepticism frequently invoked in DeLillo criticism. The thesis consists of a series of comparative readings that aim to further our understanding of DeLillo’s novels and Wittgenstein’s philosophy; readings centred around a set of closely related concerns that reflect different aspects of the dialectic between the ordinary and the transcendent: the paradox of the ordinary; the limits of language; looking at the overlooked; spiritual yearning; and the logical sublime.


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