When I was a senior in college, I asked for and received all of Don DeLillo’s novels for Christmas. Underworld had just been published, so I received that one in hardback and the others in paperback. I read them all except for End Zone – because EWW, it’s about football. Never mind. But when I picked it up off my shelf the other day and read the back cover, I realized that it is about both football and nuclear war (because DUH – it’s by Don DeLillo), which is just the sort of thing I enjoy. I picked it up and started reading it and am enjoying it very much.
After I read the first few chapters, in which a white football player is asked to be a part of the process of welcoming and orienting the college’s first black football player, I was occasionally tricked into thinking I was reading a PAT CONROY novel (and if you know both Conroy and DeLillo, you know that this is probably the first time in history that the work of one was mistaken for the work of the other). It’s true that this basic plot outline resembles the sort of thing that happens in Conroy’s novels (with small deviations, it’s a plot line in The Lords of Discipline and also in South of Broad), but it soon became clear that this is most definitely a Don DeLillo football novel.
This is a novel in which football players say things like this:
“Reality is constantly being interrupted. We’re hardly even aware of it when we’re out there. We perform like things with metal claws. But there’s the other element. For lack of a better term I call it the psychomystical. That’s a phrase I coined myself.” (35-36)
“History is guilt. It’s also the placement of bodies. What men say is relevant only to the point at which language moves masses of people or a few momentous objects into significant juxtaposition. After that it becomes almost mathematical. The placements take over. It becomes some sort of historical calculus. What you and I say this evening won’t add up to much. We’ll remember only where we sat, which way our feet pointed, at what angle our realities met. Whatever importance this evening might have is based on placements, relative positions, things like that. A million pilgrims face Mecca. Think of the power behind that fact. All turning now. And bending. And praying. History is the angle at which realities meet.” (45-46).
This novel was written in 1972. Did American football players at dinky little west Texas colleges spend time in 1972 thinking about pilgrims bending toward Mecca? My thought is no – not even if they were enrolled at DeLillo’s fictional Logos College (Logos as in “In the beginning was the…”; a brilliant name for a fake Texas college if ever I heard one). Like many of DeLillo’s novels, this one feels up-to-date even when it isn’t.
And yes, these football players do also have drunken brawls and pee on the floor of their dorm common room and get killed in drunk driving accidents and all the other things that real football players do. But mostly they philosophize, and I am enjoying their pontifications immensely. More soon.