Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois

Illinois Department of English Blog


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My name is Vicki Mahaffey and I took over as
head of the department on July 1, 2016. I'll be using this site to post updates and information of interest to our faculty, students, and alumni,
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Friday, May 4, 2012

Sorrow's Rigging

A few weeks ago, I received in the mail a copy of Gary Adelman's Sorrow's Rigging: The Novels of Cormac McCarthy, Don DeLillo, and Robert Stone (McGill-Queen's University Press).  This book, which I know to have been the focus of Gary's considerable scholarly energies during the last years of his life, uses the three writers in its subtitle to capture something distinctive about the relationship between cultural pessimism and artistic ambition in the post-Vietnam era United States.  Here is the book description, pasted in:

"Through the writings of Cormac McCarthy, Don DeLillo, and Robert Stone, Sorrow's Rigging reflects on the American scene from the outbreak of the Vietnam War in 1965 to the uncertain future. In an innovative new reading, Gary Adelman presents these three authors as "Catholic cowboys," renegades, and above all furious parodists of Americana and its larger-than-life mythology, dreams, innocence, and power. Adelman explores the common inheritance of these American lapsed Catholics, born between the two World Wars, who found their voices on the eve of the Vietnam conflict. Their worlds are permeated by spirituality, rage, despair, and self-hatred. He shows how McCarthy creates macabre pageants of hope throttled, while in the Dantesque world of DeLillo's novels, psychopathic characters turn on themselves in an effort to overcome fear of the past. In Stone's work, the characters' rage is turned inward as a form of self-punishment for being a holdout against God. Sorrow's Rigging is a study of panic at the death of hope expressed in novels born of the terrors writers cannot escape, yet in the very act of writing they redeem the world through art."

Gary Adelman, who enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a faculty member in our department, passed away this past January at the age of 76.  For former colleagues and students of Gary's who may have stumbled on this sad news here for the first time, I'm including a link here to an obituary that ran in the local paper in January.  This makes the printing of his book now at once especially meaningful and deeply poignant: as one family member put it, in a touching and heartfelt memorial written shortly after his passing, "Gary wanted desperately to see [the book] in print, but his body didn't make it."

The family is planning to hold a memorial service at 3:00 on Saturday June 9th, on the 3rd floor of the Levis Faculty Center here on campus.  I will make a copy of Sorrow's Rigging available in the main English Department office.

1 comment:

Fred said...

As Gary said, the title 'sorrow's rigging' closes the circle of his life's creative work, hearkening back to a time, ca. 1978-82, when he was immersed in setting the dominion of Milton, Dostoevsky, Flaubert and Tolstoi (to name a representative list) before our eyes.

There were times when he brought students to tears while listening to his readings of literary art. He was a master teacher; he was an inspired reader, and a passionate lecturer (which word wrongs him, my words fall short).

Decades later many of his former students can quote a Gary-ism, or mostly, recount the moment when their respective lives changed -- the book, the poem, the story, the moment of recognition -- sitting in that classroom listening, being challenged to utter something real, no pat answer.

If not any of that, just being enamored of a professor who would weavingly recite long passages of literary art, part of the woof of the teacher's warp.

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