Greg's Reviews > Great Jones Street

Great Jones Street by Don DeLillo
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's review
Nov 30, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction
Read from November 30 to December 02, 2010

I'm going to be dropping some Infinite Jest spoilers throughout this review. So don't read this review if you haven't read Infinite Jest. Seriously, don't read this review. Or read it until I say I'm going to drop a major DFW spoiler (not really I ended up not being nearly as spoiler-ific as I thought I would be, but there is till a major thing said that I believe knowing would make a first reading of Infinite Jest less interesting).

I have a new theory about Infinite Jest and maybe others have had this theory too, or maybe I'm just full of shit, but I think a key to understanding parts of Infinite Jest might be the early works of Don Delillo. I haven't read all of the early Delillo novels yet so this is only a working theory, but my general thesis is that in at least some of the novels from White Noise and earlier there are themes that DFW is specifically dealing with. Delillo's second novel End Zone I would suggest is some of the inspiration for the Tennis Academy in DFW and may even suggest eschaton as a response to scene where one of the characters talks about football and war by saying football isn't a metaphor for war, war is war it needs no metaphors. Maybe one day I'll write my review for End Zone and go into the book a little more.

Delillo's third novel, Great Jones Street is about a rock star who runs away from the tour he's on with his band, packs it all up and moves back to a small studio apartment in the East Village. A bunch of themes are going on in the book, stuff about the nature of celebrity and revolt and music and things like that, but also in the book is a mysterious drug that is mostly referred to as The Package. The Package is stolen from a government lab by some dirty hippies who give it to the main character to hold on to. The hippies are part of a commune called Happy Valley who believe that privacy is the most important freedom worth fighting for, and that privacy is being stripped away from the American (or Amerikan as they might write it) people. They have invaded on the privacy of the counter-culture rockstar hero who is in the process of trying to escape from the shine of the public (that is simplified but go with it) and it's the existence of The Package that drives much of the action in the book. No one knows what The Package will do if you take it but everyone knows that it's got to be heavy shit and everyone wants it. It's from the government so everyone figures that there has to be some kind of serious war / terrorist use that the drug could be used for, but that it must also be some kind of super-amazing new drug that will radically alter something. No one knows what, just that they want it.

The competing groups who want The Package will go to any lengths to get it in their possession, but unfortunately for them the goods are no longer in the hands of the rockstar. Unfortunately for the people looking for the elusive Package and for the main character who can't even just hand over the goods and have everyone leave him alone.

That is all a really idiotic book report version of the part of the book. Now here comes the DFW spoiler. Turn your head, or don't, but if you think you'll ever read Infinite Jest turn away now!

The Package is similar to The Entertainment in Infinite Jest. It is just as elusive, just as sought after and just as cloaked in mythology and speculation. Also the characters who everyone thinks would have access to the grail of sorts in both books are just as clueless to it's whereabouts and ultimately become victims to the item in question. In Great Jones Street The Package is a drug. At the end of the book (this isn't a spoiler, or it should be but it's on the back of the fucking book, seriously) the drug is discovered to mess with the language part of the brain. Someone taking the drug has language literally removed from them, they no longer have access to being able to speak they are still aware of the world but they lack the ability to experience the world in language, or at least to express anything. The rockstar is given the drug and falls into this state, but ultimately to his own despair language returns and he eventually goes back to normal after a few weeks.

One of the big mysteries in Infinite Jest is what happened to Hal. There are quite a few valid theories about what could have happened to Hal. DFW leaves clues all over the book pointing to a few different solutions to the question, and I don't think there is a definite answer, but the Hal of the books first chapter is in the same state as Bucky (the rockstar) is while he's being affected by The Package. With someone as meticulous and aware as DFW, and knowing that he had read Delillo I can't help but wonder at the similarities, even to the way that the two items, The Package and The Entertainment are referred to in their respective books. I would like to say that Hal ingested The Package, and that if that were the case he'd eventually regain his use of language and end up being ok (this is a whole other topic, was Hal ever ok? and then there is the Wittgenstein aspect of language and what would it mean in a Wittgenstein sense to lose the total use of language, what would that make us and the world around us? What does that mean for a concept of the self? And can we even be thought of as a self without the use of language? What would we be then? And since there is the difficulty of interiority and exteriority throughout Infinite Jest does the loss of the use of language not only trap one's self (and do we have a self without the other's gaze, and the language implicit in that gaze?) but also liberates the self in a crypto-Buddhist sort of way? But more importantly Wittgenstein, Wittgenstein, Wittgenstein because this points back to Broom and it's language that is at stake with The Package (but of course I'm drawing conclusions where there isn't even explicit relations)). Equating the two through their respective uses in the two books could it be said that Hal is a victim of the The Entertainment? Maybe The Entertainment isn't so entertaining as much as numbing that it shuts down the language part of the brain. The part of the brain that would say I'm hungry and drive a human to go eat, or that would say, stand up, and you'd stand up and leave. What is the ultimate in entertainment if it is not stupefying?

This is all just conjecture, but I'm going to continue on reading through the early Delillo to see if I can find more ways to talk out of my ass.
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Quotes Greg Liked

Don DeLillo
“Be willing to die for your beliefs, or computer printouts of your beliefs.”
Don DeLillo, Great Jones Street

Reading Progress

02/13/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-50 of 58) (58 new)

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio This is actually the first DeLillo I ever read. I remember very, very little about it. I think I was like 12 or 13. I'm curious to hear what you think about it, see if that jogs any memories for me. I'm also a little curious to re-read it myself, but I still have a good chunk of his books to get to before I go and do a thing like that.

Greg I don't know what I would have thought of this when I was 12 or 13. I think it would have been a giant, huh?!?

I'm really liking this, I think I would have hated this if I read it ten years ago but I'm now able to like it.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I was into the idea of the tortured artist/hermetic musician thing by then. That had some pull for me I'm sure. Otherwise I don't really remember anything else about it. There's some sort of espionage or conspiratorial type stuff in it as well, right? I distinctly remember liking some detail about a tiny little hidden room where the rock star/protagonist sits to record his hermit album.

Greg I might write it tonight, or else I should write it in the next couple of days.

Greg Here is the review. It's more about Infinite Jest though that about the novel.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I'm not reading it then. Fuck Infinite Jest.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio There aren't enough TWSSes in the world to cover this packagey review!

Srsly, I liked your ass-talking-out-of speculation here. Your ass has some good theories.

I'll have to return to this book one day. The Mountain Tapes! That's the name of the solo music he records in a little hidden room in a cabin in Colorado or something, right?

Greg Yep, I liked the idea of The Mountain Tapes they sounded like a cross between Dylan's Basement Tapes if Dylan became Jandek.

message 11: by karen (new)

karen Srsly, I liked your ass

message 12: by Greg (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg karen wrote: "Srsly, I liked your ass"

Everyone does. It's the blessing/curse I have to live with.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Jandek is weird shtuff. I haven't listened to a whole lot of it yet, but I like controlled dissonance and I'm also a fan of the eccentric/possibly genuinely insane loner musician. Examples par excellence: Syd Barrett's solo albums and Skip Spence's Oar.



message 14: by Greg (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg I have a fascination with Jandek and in small doses I like his stuff. I couldn't find the song I really wanted to share, it's called something like "I saw you standing there". Live though Jandek is painfully awful, one of the worst concert experiences I've ever had.

message 15: by [deleted user] (last edited Dec 05, 2010 09:12AM) (new)

The Package reminded me of Muriel's deaf-mute uncle in Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, a story that seems to me to deal with language and communication. The uncle is the only one to whom Buddy can confide the story of Charlotte's stitches, because no one else would understand Seymour's motivation--only the Glass kids, and this inscrutable guy who can't hear or talk.

The line that's haunted me most of any book anywhere is the end to this story which seems illuminating in the context of this review, for this book which I haven't read. It seems very Zen-like in the same way you describe The Package.

My last guest had evidently let himself out of the apartment. Only his empty glass, and his cigar end in the pewter ashtray, indicated that he had ever existed. I still rather think his cigar end should have been forwarded on to Seymour, the usual run of wedding gifts being what it is. Just the cigar, in a small, nice box. Possibly with a blank sheet of paper enclosed, by way of explanation.

Maybe not relevant, but your description had me wanting to read that story again.

message 16: by Greg (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg Shit, I've never heard the Skip Spence before, I should have looked for it before since it's part of the Cat Power cover of "Schizophrenia", a great great song.

message 17: by Greg (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg For anyone who wants to hear the great great song I mentioned and hasn't heard it before:

message 18: by Greg (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg I had forgotten about that Salinger story when I was thinking about The Package. I think I'm going to go find the book and read the story again soon. Thanks for reminding me of it!

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Greg wrote: "Shit, I've never heard the Skip Spence before, I should have looked for it before since it's part of the Cat Power cover of "Schizophrenia", a great great song."

My stoned little mind was totally blown when I stumbled across Chan Marshal's mixture-cover of that song and "Schizophrenia" on lastfm. Unfortunately I wasn't with anyone else that could appreciate with me so I was just spazzing out alone while my friends just had to take my word for it that it was awesome.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio karen wrote: "Srsly, I liked your ass"

Jealous much?

message 21: by Greg (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg The Skip Spence song reminded me of this song that I'm in love with too:

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio The song reminded you of British jailbait exercising their pillow-fighting instincts??

message 23: by Greg (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg I'm not sure about the choice for the video. But I figured it would be something better to watch than just a shot of the album cover.

It reminds me of something Raymond Carver characters would listen to while drinking whiskey and smoking a lot.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I can see that. It would be really weird if they just listened to 70's disco or 90's techno instead though, wouldn't it?

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio No, I hadn't. Really great resources there. Thanks.

message 27: by JSou (new)

JSou I love this review, Greg. Really.

MFSO, you read DeLillo when you were 12 or 13?? You don't even want to know the shit I read when I was that age.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Yeah, but I didn't really "get" it, ya know? It was probably the first "postmodern" book I ever encountered and I didn't know anything about literature then. I stumbled upon it through a friend who happened to stumble upon some great stuff at an early age somehow (he also introduced me to Naked Lunch around the same time and later would introduce me to Infinite Jest). I still read some embarrassing crap back then, including some Christian YA fiction books that my dad would buy me despite my wanting nothing to do with them, and I also read trashy true crime books about serial killers and other assorted real life, horrific, crazy shit.

message 29: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Dec 06, 2010 08:33AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Thomas Harris, too. Though I think I stand by Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon as decent books...for genre fiction, of course.

message 30: by karen (new)

karen i fucking loved shelley when i was 12. percy shelley.

god i am glad i grew out of that.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I've read some essays by Shelley. He's responsible for a favorite quote of mine.

("Life and the world, or whatever we call that which we are and feel, is an astonishing thing. The mist of familiarity obscures from us the wonder of our being. We are struck with admiration at some of its transient modifications, but it is itself the great miracle.")

I want to read Prometheus Unbound one of these days.

message 32: by karen (new)

karen oh, god - the wonder of our being.... yeah - that's shelley all right...

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Why do you hate wonderment? And cripples?

message 34: by karen (new)

karen he's just so head-in-the-clouds. he is the quintessential effeminate poet.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Ah, I see. A little light-in-the-ascot, eh?

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I liked a movie about ballet that I chose to go and see by myself the other day. It nourished the wonderment of my fleeting subjective attachment to the whirling whole of existence. Plus, it had hot girls kissing each other in it.

message 37: by tim (new)

tim Those are some really great observations, Greg. I'm surprised I've never seen mention the possible connection between The Package and The Entertainment. The Package also sounds a bit like the DMZ in IJ. Although, if the urban myth accompanying the DMZ can be trusted, the effects on language are somewhat different than those of The Package. DMZ -- a good substance for those wanting to brush up on their show tunes.

message 38: by Greg (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg I was hoping that this was one of the books that the Ransom Center would have up on the website to view. It's not though, but they do have two other early Delillo books that are viewable. But in their collection there is DFW's marked up copy, I'd love to see if he draws any attention to The Package. Anyone in Austin want to go and look for me? Maybe take some digital photos?

message 39: by Greg (last edited Dec 06, 2010 01:00PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg There is an unpublished work in box 27 folder 9 called "The Enema Bandit and the Cosmic Buzzer".

message 41: by Greg (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg For MFSO and his Thomas Harris comment:

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio For some reason I'm not able to see any of the images in the last two posts.

message 43: by Greg (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg Weird. I'll post links to where they are....

This comes from there too, it's in one of the syallabi from a DFW taught class:

Because critical reading and prose fiction are such hard, weird things to try to study a stupid-seeming comment of question can up being valuable or even profound. I am deadly serious about creating a classroom environment where everyone feels free to ask or to speak about anything she wishes. So any student who groans, smirks, mimes machine-gunning or onanism, chortles, eye-rolls, or in any way ridicules some other student's in-class question/comment will be warned once in private and on the second offense will be kicked out of class and flunked, no matter what week it is. If the offender is male, I am also apt to find him off-campus and beat him up.

All those pictures can be found on this page:

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Cool. I'd recently read about DFW teaching Red Dragon and it made my slightly guilty pleasure feel more valid.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Greg wrote: "There is an unpublished work in box 27 folder 9 called "The Enema Bandit and the Cosmic Buzzer"."

WTF?? Must. Find. This.

message 46: by Greg (last edited Dec 06, 2010 01:31PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg If you were still in Austin you could run right over and make copies for us all!

message 47: by Greg (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg It's pretty fascinating looking through the finding aid for the DFW archive and the list of books that were in his library and are now available in the collection to be looked at.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I can try and persuade two of my friends who still live there to go check it out. I'll keep you updated.

message 49: by Greg (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg Actually it might be possible to order scans of some of the work, it costs 10 dollars. I'm trying to see if I can do this remotely.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Let me know what you find out.

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