“To Lose Yourself in Language”–Don DeLillo


I came across this interview with DeLillo quoted in Brain Pickings (the “combinatorial creativity” clearinghouse for material on creativity, design, and innovation). I keep my eye open especially for the material on writers and their work.

This 1993 interview struck me for how much he relied on a unnameable feelings and urges toward meaning and significance in his writing. He puts himself in the receptive, “feminine” position of waiting and yearning, rather than in the heroic, Apollonian position of conquering by will. In the passage below he says, “You want to lose yourself in language, become a carrier or messenger.”

A “carrier” for what? A “messenger” for what?–This is something I understand viscerally as a poet; it’s also a question I want to address psychologically. But in the psychological realm, I have fewer answers, and all of them are analogical–which is to say, there are poetic.

DeLillo identifies his writing as an impulse coming from “a higher place,” saying that it leads to writing done with a brighter genius for linguistic combinations. He feels it yields a “higher kind of sense” beyond the language and meaning that can be willed through ordinary “discipline and control”.

What is this other mind? This “paradox . . . at the center of a writer’s consciousness”?

I think it is what I’ve called here “the Otherness which writes my work”. Because every writer I read discussing their process says similar things, I’m convinced this is a near-universal experience of creative work–that it comes from ‘somewhere’ [in our brain] that our consciously perceived ‘self’ doesn’t have direct access to: the Skinnerian ‘black box’, the neuro black hole.

I’ve run across some neuroscience research that attempts to explain why our conscious self doesn’t have anything like perfect awareness of our own subjective and perceptual experience–how our consciousness is just a bricolaged version–an RSS feed, if you will–of everything our brain is doing.

The gap in understanding between hemispheres and the hiccup between our frontal cortex and other brain regions responsible for associative leaps is part of an explanation. As I find more resources on the neuroscience of creativity, I’ll share. In the meantime, here is DeLillo on his creative states:


There’s a zone I aspire to. Finding it is another question. It’s a state of automatic writing, and it represents the paradox that’s at the center of a writer’s consciousness—this writer’s anyway. First you look for discipline and control. You want to exercise your will, bend the language your way, bend the world your way. You want to control the flow of impulses, images, words, faces, ideas. But there’s a higher place, a secret aspiration. You want to let go. You want to lose yourself in language, become a carrier or messenger. The best moments involve a loss of control. It’s a kind of rapture, and it can happen with words and phrases fairly often—completely surprising combinations that make a higher kind of sense, that come to you out of nowhere.”