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An American Scholar in Paris


Mount Professor Presents at Paris-Sorbonne University

Jacqueline Zubeck, Associate Professor of English, recently attended and participated in the “Fiction Rescues History” conference based on the work of Don DeLillo. Held at the Paris-Sorbonne University and Paris Diderot University, it featured significant participation by the guest of honor, Don DeLillo himself, a unique involvement for a writer who does not teach, appear on television, or write criticism. Mr. DeLillo, whom Dr. Zubeck has met before, was characteristically dead-pan funny and generous. Eloquent about his own work, he also appeared humble and thoughtful—a “watcher,” as one colleague noted.

Participants came from all over the world, and the conference turned out to be one of those highly productive gatherings that brought together some excellent scholars, especially fired up by Don DeLillo’s extensive presence over the course of four days. Many of the students who had attended the conference had the opportunity to read and hear him for the first time. Presentations featured scholars from around the globe who covered a wide-range of the novelist’s work, as well as a Q&A session with Mr. DeLillo—with specific reference to Falling Man, his 9/11 novel, which follows the family life of a survivor. The combination of his generous participation, the caliber of the papers, and the wide-scale reading of Falling Man, are sure to inspire an abundance of new scholarship, propelled by the enthusiasm and passion such an event ignites. Also significant was Mr. DeLillo’s recent inclusion in the canon of French Universities.

French colleagues and conference organizers warmly welcomed Dr. Zubeck, of whom they know based on her 2012 conference on Don DeLillo, “Riddled with Epiphanies: DeLillo New York.” Karim Daanoune, who attended the event held at the College of Mount Saint Vincent, thought it, at that time, the best academic experience of his career. Dr. Daanoune, who teaches English in a Parisian junior high school, went on to become one of the main organizers of the conference in Paris, hosting many of the events when Mr. DeLillo was speaking on stage. The Paris organizers also took a page out of “Riddled with Epiphanies” and included a staged reading of a Don DeLillo drama, just as it was done here at the Mount in 2012.

At the “Fiction Rescues History” conference Dr. Zubeck presented a paper entitled “The Word for Snow and the Consequences of History.” She discussed Mr. DeLillo’s latest literary vision—global warming—and the historical references in his books that demonstrate the background of that crisis. She was also asked to introduce The Word for Snow, produced at the Cite internationale universitaire de Paris Fondation, beautifully conceptualized and directed by Julie Vatain-Corfdir. With about 300 people in the audience, including Mr. DeLillo and his wife, Dr. Zubeck commented on the author’s genius for dialogue. As he’s said, “Get the voice and you’ve got the character.” Or, as Tal Aviezer—Artistic Director of the Mount’s resident theater company, Red Monkey Theater Group—replied to a student’s question about inspiration: “It’s in the words.”

Don DeLillo’s words come alive in such productions of Valparaiso and Love-Lies Bleeding. Dr. Zubeck has seen the former staged on different occasions, one of which was held in a converted apartment where someone handed out cushions to place on the metal chairs. Though skeptical, she was captivated from the first “What?” of the performance by Stone Soup Company, a group that understood the media, the marriage, and the dark humor. At the top end of the theatrical scale, Dr. Zubeck saw a premiere production of Love-Lies-Bleeding by Steppenwolf Theatre Company, directed by Martha Lavey. Both plays were scintillating because the ensemble cast listened to the words.

These experiences enhanced what Dr. Zubeck recounted to the Paris audience about the work done at the Mount. She and Anthony Lee, Associate Professor of English, guided student and faculty participation for the College’s productions of Love-Lies-Bleeding and Valparaiso in Cahill Theater in 2012 and 2014. These dramatic readings had small audiences, but included some of the most talented and accomplished students from the Departments of English and Communication. Remarkably satisfying to the participants, they were undertaken for no greater reward than the pleasure of the text and the gratification of collaboration. The audience response? Riveting. The Mount’s group had listened to the words.

“It was a great pleasure to be able to talk about these events with the author himself in attendance,” said Dr. Zubeck.

At dinner on the last evening, Don DeLillo made reference to the 2012 conference at Mount Saint Vincent to Dr. Zubeck. “I’m glad that the Bronx made it to Paris,” he said. And, indeed, the Bronx was glad to be there.

Dr. Zubeck’s interest in Don DeLillo’s work has fostered a lively, fruitful dialogue. She recently finished editing and contributing to a forthcoming book on Don DeLillo’s twenty-first century fiction and drama entitled Currencies: Don DeLillo After the Millennium.