"All of this we choose to forget. We devise a counter-system of elaborate forgetfulness. We agree on this together. (...) But the experience is no less deep because we've agreed to forget it."
Don DeLillo, from: The Names
I have now read three novels by Don DeLillo: White Noise, Underworld and The Names. And out of those reading experiences re-emerges the essence of what makes a great writer. The great writer, in essence, does not write about the so-called great themes of life. He does not write about (on) love, hate, loss, sex, health, madness, politics, ethics. No, the great writer writes about the things that escape the incidental, the surface look. He writes about what is beyond all those grand themes. He writes about what is beneath. He writes about the things under these things. He understands.
The great writer (Borges, Dick, Ballard, Pynchon) mentions, employs and deploys all these great themes to keep his story going and he may even say very meaningful things about them. But he does not position them as the essence of his story. His story is about the phenomena that are always there, so omnipresent that we tend to forget the realm of their importance. The noise, the murmur in the background (in White Noise), waste and junk, the things we use and then throw aside - and then are stuck with (in Underworld), language, the words we use, the way we express ourselves (in The Names).
In parallel you will see emerge other important undercurrents in Borges (language, myth, knowledge), Dick (reality, believe and make believe), Pynchon (science, history) and Ballard (violence, dis-ease, man against nature). It is not the believe in, the knowledge of, the science of, the myth about, the language with which that are important. No, it is the believe itself, the science and the knowledge themselves, language itself that need explanation, inquiry. It is not what those mechanisms produce, no, it is the mechanisms themselves that a great writer concerns himself with.
It is no coincidence, then, that the sentence that emerges as most important from those DeLillo's three books is the eternal "What does it mean?". The truly great writer does not care for surface, symptom or attributes. They all come second, they are a means. He is looking for the first causes. He is trying to unforget. He may not immediately find what he is looking for. Of course, he does not find what he is looking for. That is why he writes.