Buying Urine


I am very interested in the recurring theme of waste and how personal and revealing it is. In Underworld, we saw that Marvin hid the smell of his waste from his wife because it was something he found very personal and secret. Waste had the power to display a person totally.

In Infinite Jest the characters take it one step further. Its more than just hiding their waste now. Now characters are actively trying to fabricate their waste through buying urine. They understand how their waste can reveal their secret of drug use, so they must falsify their waste. This kind of becomes a problem however about how revealing waste can be.

Watt's Tower

I was intrigued by the multiple references to Watt's Tower in Underworld. I meant to write about this earlier, but haven't had a chance. Both Klara and Nick (I think) are entranced by the building- a structure built of waste. Wikipedia says its "non-traditional vernacular architecture" built primarily of steel, wire mesh and mortar. However, "found objects" cover the buildings: bed frames, bottles, ceramic tiles, scrap metal and sea shells.
The idea that trash can be compiled into a piece of art is baffling in the beginning, but then Klara herself turns to that idea- that we can save the waste and put it on clean museum walls and it becomes beautiful. Nick is reminded of his father as he strolls through Watts Towers "The work he (Rodia- the architect) did is a kind of swilring free-souled noise, a jazz cathedral, and the power of the thing, for me, the deep disturbance, was that my own ghost father was living in the walls." Good art stirs emotions- everyone knows that, but when you take stuff no one else wants and turn it into something that speaks- that's impressive. Nick's job is centered around boxing up waste and hiding it from the world- whereas Rodia and Klara find the most boring trash and turn it into art.

Moments of (faux) redemption

I was just looking back through the earlier sections of the book, and the following passage, where Nick asks his wife about Brian and then wishes he had done it earlier: " 'What do I detect?' 'What do you mean?' she said. 'Between you and Brian.' 'What do you mean?' she said. 'What do I detect? That's what I mean.' He makes me laugh,' she said finally ... I hear the shower rnning accross the hall and I realized I'd done it all wrong. I should have rbought up the subject standing in the doorway while she was watching TV. Then I could have been the one who walks out of the room" (117). There is something strikingly filmic about both the exchange itself and Nick's curious reaction.

One man's trash


I hadn't been quite sure what to make of waste in the novel to this point. A few people have mentioned it in their post (whoever found DeLillo's quote about buried plutonium, that was reaaly cool, thanks) but for how much it has shown up in the novel it hasn't been dealt with all that much on the blog. Oh damn. Stumpy just posted something about it as I'm writing this, oh well. ANYWAY, this section, particularly 275 to 345ish dealt a lot with waste since it focussed so much on Nick. I particularly was interested, much like Stumpy, damn you (Just kidding) in the idea of trash as treasure, or waste as beauty.

Waste-centric World

One theme that has been recurring in Underworld is the theme of waste and garbage. Not only are several strorylines and characters (including a main protagonist, Nick Shay) involved in Waste management, but the more I read the more garbage seems to have a secret but immense effect on human life in the book. The people who work for waste management seem to be in on this secret, however, and admire the influence of garbage:

Nick's life, for example, seems to revolve around thoughts of garbage, even outside of work: "Marian and I saw products as garbage even when they sat gleaming on store shelves, yet unbought. We didnt' say, What king of casserole will that make? We said, What king garbage will that make?" (121) This passage is particularly interesting because this couple immediately sees beneath the newness and wonder what an item's destruction will look like.


As I read more and more, this book, even more so than GR layers itself. Each of the chapters and sections seem to be a certain delta-t taken out and individually examined (but not necessarily in order) reveal a history of individuals and ultimately of a society. In the same way, the landfill that Nick visits with Sims and Detwiler seems to represent layers of history put together that also give birth to a history and age. Conventional history has more often than not followed the aristocrats and the wars of those in power. The landfill, the accumulation of everyone's waste, seems to me a very plebeian but unified representation of society's history.

Waste theme


A link taken from the Wikipedia article on Underworld: http://www.lichtensteiger.de/WTCunderworld.html

Here DeLillo explains how he chose the title of the book:

"While I worked on the book, I gradually compiled a number of titles. I first hit upon Underworld when I started thinking about plutonium waste buried deep in the earth. Then about Pluto, the god of the dead and ruler of the world. New connections and meanings began to suggest themselves, and I recall drawing a circle around the title Underworld on a page filled with prospective titles." -- Don DeLillo to Jonathan Bing, 1997

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