‘Rubbish Art’: Waste, Objecthood and Visual Culture in Don DeLillo’s Underworld

Waste proliferates in the narrative of Don DeLillo’s Underworld, its residual trace lingers in characters’ lives and its resilient materiality is asserted constantly, thereby rivalling a world of words and human agents with a world of things. DeLillo has been engaged with the themes of waste and visual culture throughout his career. Mao II, the preceding novel to Underworld, takes its title from a Warhol print and examines the themes of image-making and Warholian repetition, and 1985’s White Noise explores the fear of death imposed by the potential toxicity of waste. Underworld, therefore, can be seen as a form of recycling in itself, repurposing elements of DeLillo’s previous writings, even reintegrating parts of the manuscript that had been published in magazines such as Harper’s.[1] DeLillo seems to have been “thinking about garbage for twenty years” before writing Underworld, an assertion evidenced by his archival collection of newspaper clippings from issues of Newsweek and the New York Times which cover fears of an American garbage crisis.[2] Subsequently, most critics read waste as a central theme with metaphorical resonances in Underworld. Peter Boxall assesses waste as the assertion of difference within American society and culture, revealing an “un-American waste product”, and Joseph Dewey sees the recycling of waste replicating the recycling procedure that the reader undertakes to make sense of the fragmented narrative.[3] Waste is linked to identity by Mark Osteen: it is “not only in our garbage, but in our souls”, constituting our being, and Ruth Helyer reads waste-matter as analogous to Kristeva’s abject, acting as the alterity against which identity is defined: it “confirms human identity as a fragile construct, achieved only by disavowing valid parts of ourselves in the evacuation process defined by Kristeva as abjection”.[4] Waste is also representative of national identity and history for Patrick O’Donnell, constituting a “connective tissue that binds us as identities to a highly systematized culture and history”.[5] Finally, waste is seen as a transcendent unifying force by Todd McGowan, who writes that it “comes to occupy the position of the sacred”, and Peter Knight who finds the “hidden story of recent history […] in the daily ephemera and vast entanglement of multinational consumer capitalism”, rather than in official documents.[6] Few critics, therefore, comment on the materiality of waste itself and its manifestation into the artworks depicted by DeLillo as a means of asserting its value, rather than merely its symbolic load.[7] The focus of this essay, then, will be on DeLillo’s use of visual art which incorporates waste in Underworld as a method of bestowing value, both economic and socio-cultural, on the discarded objects of American consumerism, enacted in differing ways by the artists Klara Sax, Sabato Rodia and Ishmael Munoz.

The anthropologist Mary Douglas states, “where there is dirt there is system”, making the presence of dirt or waste symptomatic of and intrinsically tied to our production-consumption processes.[8] The objects that we discard contain unique biographies that connect them not only to their production and distribution histories, but to us, revealing our relationship to the materials that constitute our lives. Michael Thompson has analysed the biographical trajectories of objects, placing them into three categories of ‘durable’, ‘transient’ and ‘rubbish’; durable objects “increase in value over time whilst transient objects decrease in value”, and waste, or rubbish, constitutes the third category of “zero and unchanging value”, an in-between state where objects are useless yet visible, waiting to be hidden and destroyed, recycled into other transient objects, or perhaps reach a stage of durability.[9] Normally, most waste goes by unnoticed, its materiality failing to destabilise the self since it is marginalised. The discarded but still visible, however, constitutes the ‘rubbish category’, a residual yet inherent component of the category system, a present absence that displays the excess of commodity consumption whilst haunting the commodity itself. When disordered objects can no longer be “vigorously brushed away”, according to Douglas, “at this stage they have some identity […] this is the stage at which they are dangerous; their half-identity still clings to them”.[10] It is precisely this potential danger that DeLillo mobilizes in his text through the making-visible of the objects that load our environment. Waste is artistically rendered to expose the creative power of that which we would usually ignore or discard. If art’s value lies in its exchange rather than use, it is analogous to waste as both are equally non-utilitarian. The incorporation of waste into the cultured practices of art thereby normalises the assignation of value to refuse, positing the production of meaning as equally significant to use. Thompson distinguishes two categories of the art object: “‘good art’ and ‘rubbish art’” where “rubbish art is of low status and to think otherwise is to be contaminated” (p. 120). This essay will, however, literalise his term and take ‘rubbish art’ to be the practices whereby the supposedly ‘zero value’ objects of rubbish are assimilated into the high status art institution, making art creation not only a value transfer of “production to durable” (p. 115), but also from rubbish to durable, revealing waste as yet another consumable object.

Waste and art are first conflated in Underworld’s opening scene at the 1951 Giants and Dodgers baseball game; as the Giants win the match, the crowd litters paper and other ephemera onto the field in jubilation. DeLillo writes of falling magazine pages which contain advertisements for brands interspersed among other images, all of which are decontextualized in the littering, meaning that “it is all part of the same thing. Rubens and Titian and Playtex and Motorola” (p. 39), conflating the ‘good art’ of Rubens and Titian with commercial brands.[11] Such brands, in the collective atmosphere of the baseball game, become “an enduring reassurance […] These are the venerated emblems of a burgeoning economy, easier to identify than the names of battlefields or dead presidents” (p. 39). Thus, DeLillo posits the equivalence of American commodity-fetishism with the country’s history, enshrining it in the wasted pages that gather and fall. As David Trotter notes, “littering tends to be a collective activity”, and so the discarding of such “happy garbage” becomes a manifestation of the “fans’ intimate wish to be connected to the event”; the garbage is “personal waste”, enabling participation in a shared history, although it is tentative since the waste only confers a “shadow identity” (p. 45) that will disperse once the game has ended.[12] Garbologists William Rathje and Cullen Murphy define litter as “garbage that is out of place”, allowing it the dangerous ‘half-identity’ that Douglas establishes for visible waste.[13] Such identity is manifested as a print of Bruegel’s The Triumph of Death (Fig. 1), falls onto J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover, a germophobe, is disgusted by the prevalence of waste, “annoyed that the object has come into contact with his body” (p. 41), but is soon transfixed by the painting’s portrayal of seemingly apocalyptic death and destruction. DeLillo writes, “Edgar loves this stuff”, “the meatblood colours and massed bodies” (p. 50), revelling in the materiality of the painted bodies, their visceral destruction reducing figures to an animalistic “meatblood” portmanteau. Hoover fears the making-visible of waste since he views it as connected to private identity; he “ransack[s] garbage” (p. 557) to gain evidence on criminals, leading his own waste to be targeted by “garbage guerrillas” who plan to take it “on tour […] Get hippies to rub it on their naked bodies. More or less have sex with it […] And finally, in the last city on the tour, they plan to eat it […] And expel it […] Publicly” (p. 558). Thus, removing his waste from the hidden confines of the rubbish bin and performatively engaging with it becomes a defilement of Hoover himself by association.

It is significant that the Bruegel painting is a reprint appearing in Life magazine, since it conforms to Jean Baudrillard’s notion of the “semiotics of consumption” whereby commodity culture operates like a language, a “generalized code of signs” which enforce a “fetishism for the signifier”, rather than the signified object.[14] Baudrillard extends Marx’s definition of commodity-fetishism as the reification of products that have had their production history effaced to mean that the object itself has now become relegated in favour of its image, its signifier.[15] Thus, the recycling of Bruegel displays how media can appropriate art and yet retain its material power even in littered form, conflating art with waste and materiality with replication, proving the opposite of Helyer’s statement that artworks are “always susceptible to undermining through reproduction, imitation, and appropriation by random mediums”.[16]

One object, however, that defies Baudrillard’s privileging of the image is the winning baseball from the game. The ball becomes the cohering force around which the strands of chronologically divergent narrative coalesce, it is a unique object that is tied to the history of the game, manifesting an auratic presence, passing “from transience into collectible durability via rubbish in a few seconds”, as Mikko Keskinen elaborates, after Thomson hits his homerun.[17] The baseball is a carrier of nostalgia for its owners, requiring a possessor to complete its narrative, thereby tying it to a sense of individuality. As a possession, it is abstracted from its original function and becomes a type of artwork, gaining value from subjectively imposed meaning rather than use. The baseball memorabilia collector Marvin Lundy observes “people collect, collect, always collecting” (p. 174) and that “these materials have no esthetic interest […] It’s a history they feel they’re part of” (p. 322), noting this subjective fascination with elevating seemingly wasted objects, “melancholy junk from yesteryear” (p. 99), to the mystical status of personal importance.

In the present day of Underworld, the ball is owned by the novel’s protagonist, Nick Shay. Nick values the ball’s commemoration of failure: “it’s about Branca making the pitch”, “it’s about the mystery of bad luck, the mystery of loss” (p. 97). The ball becomes an object for contemplation, drawing Nick deeper into himself, prompting his wife Marian to punningly suggest that he looks like Rembrandt’s Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer (Fig. 2) when gazing upon it (p. 132), figuring Nick’s relation to the ball as one of a spectator to an artwork, just as he is implicated within a visual frame of reference whilst looking. Nick not only looks at the ball, but he also enjoys holding it and feeling its objecthood. DeLillo writes, shifting into the second person imperative and including the reader in his utterance, “you have to know the feel of a baseball in your hand”, “you squeeze a baseball. You kind of juice it or milk it. The resistance of the packed material makes you want to press harder” (p. 131). Through the sensuous materiality of his language in this passage, accumulating nouns in an “industry of vivid description” (p. 111), DeLillo evokes the physicality of the ball, commenting on its “corked centre”, “rough spots”, “marked skin” and “scuffed horsehide” (p. 131). Thus, acknowledging the ball’s presence and Nick’s ownership of it becomes a ritual process: “I look at it and squeeze it hard and put it back on the shelf” (p. 809).

Nick’s interest in the materiality of objects also extends to his job as a “waste analyst” (p. 804) where he oversees the landfill dumping and recycling of waste, making him hyper-conscious of its presence. His family’s recycling procedures are obsessively thorough: “we used a paper bag for the paper bags. We took a large paper bag and put all the smaller bags inside and then placed the large bag alongside all the other receptacles on the sidewalk” (pp. 102-3), with DeLillo’s paratactic accumulation of words mirroring the Chinese-box-like mass of bags that are recycled. Nick sees the materiality of waste everywhere: “first we saw the garbage, then we saw the product as food or lightbulbs or dandruff shampoo. How does it measure up as waste, we asked” (p. 121), thereby overlooking the utility of transient products, measuring their value instead in their potential as waste and potential for consumption by the waste management business. Through handling waste in recycling, separating wax paper from cereal boxes (p. 121), the materiality of objects becomes apparent now they have been abstracted from their function. Waste gains economic value also as Nick states that “they are trading garbage in the commodity pits in Chicago. They are making synthetic faeces in Dallas” (p. 804), conforming to Baudrillard’s semiotics since the replication of faeces, its signifier, has surpassed its valueless original. Thus waste does not “exist outside of the commodification process” as McGowan posits, nor is it “the excess of industrial production which cannot re-enter the production and consumption cycle”, according to Tahl Kaminer, since the processes of recycling and collecting commodify waste and reintegrate it into the production-consumption cycle.[18]

Waste in Underworld is not only valued for its material recycling capacities or subjective significance as a collectible item, it is also valuable as artwork. A scene of abandoned “pariah-dog vehicles” becomes a “museum quality, junkworld sculpture park” (p. 241) in DeLillo’s aestheticizing eyes, and when in Holland visiting a waste treatment plant, Nick describes the scene as “medieval-modern”, “a city of high-rise garbage” (p. 104), bringing to mind the ordered chaos of a Bruegel painting. Thus, the landfill is a painterly landscape and resource for creativity, fulfilling Claes Oldenburg’s assertion that “a refuse lot in the city is worth all the art stores in the world”.[19] When Nick’s colleague Brian Glassic visits the Fresh Kills Landfill, “he imagined he was watching the construction of the Great Pyramid at Giza – only this was twenty-five times bigger” (p. 184), extending the metaphor of accumulated waste as grandiose architecture to surpass man’s greatest artistic achievements. In fact, waste not only exceeds man-made monuments, it also approximates nature by its volume, with Glassic commenting, “in a few years this would be the highest mountain on the Atlantic Coast between Boston and Miami” (p. 184).

Klara Sax conflates nature with waste and art in the novel, using rubbish as a creative resource. Klara’s landscape installation that Nick visits is a repainted collection of decommissioned B-52 bombers; she describes the project as “landscape painting in which we use the landscape itself. The desert is central to this piece. It’s the surround. It’s the framing device” (p. 70), endowing landscape and waste with equal significance in her artistic vision. Repainting the bombers is a means of reinvigorating and partially recycling wasted objects into an aesthetic form; Klara wants to avoid letting “these great machines expire in a field or get sold as scrap” (p. 70) and states, “what I really want to get at is the ordinary thing, the ordinary life behind the thing” (p. 77), attempting to engage with the planes’ objecthood now their functional value is negated and they can be approached as meaningful materials in their own right. Thus, Klara subverts Thompson’s assertion that the value-transfer of production to durable is the only trajectory of art, since she incorporates the mediating factor of rubbish. It is not entirely true, however, that Klara manages to “unearth waste in order to bring it back to its organic nonwaste status”, as Jesse Kavadlo posits, since, rather than revert waste to an ‘organic’ form, her work alters it through adding paint, statically fixing the bombers in a state whereby they are no longer specifically waste, nor are they recycled into new, transient products.[20] The process of consumption to reproduction and reconsumption is interrupted, allowing reconsumption only as artwork. The presence of objecthood is reduced in favour of conceptuality as Nick observes, “she wanted us to see a single mass, not a collection of objects” (p. 83). The paint, therefore, subdues the visibility of waste, turning the planes into a visual ‘mass’, placing significance only in the gap between the original material and its new coating.

The scale of Klara’s artwork moves it beyond the realm of durability and into the epic. She describes her early work as a minimal repurposing of “aerosol cans and sardine tins and shampoo caps and mattresses”, earning her the nickname of “the Bag Lady” (p. 70), and making her art a variation on Nick’s waste management, as he observes that “her own career had been marked at times by her methods of transforming and absorbing junk” (p. 102). Now, however, she has moved on to the vast scale of a desert-field of bombers which can only be viewed from a rarefied birds-eye vantage point, as Nick does from a hot air balloon (p. 125). Her latest work is a territorial assertion, engulfing her environment with waste, challenging Thompson’s notion that “the established order insists that its art must come in the form of objects and that these objects must be durable and possessable” (p. 123). Kirk Varnedoe reveals how Klara’s impulse to make unpossessable works conforms with a larger trend in minimalism in the 1960s whereby artists “want to make things that are too big, too ephemeral, or too unmanageable to be collected or exchanged on the market”, privileging the lability of the sculptured mass which evades market categorisation.[21] Real-life works such as Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (Fig. 3), built from accumulated rocks and natural residue, reflect Klara’s project in its landscape domination, and makes Klara’s work an artistic recycling of earlier canonical pieces. Both Klara’s and Smithson’s works play with the idea of scale, producing different viewing experiences whether situated in the subjective intimacies of the close-up or the simplistic clarity of the aerial view, creating the potential for a “present-tense experience of simple form [being] replaced by a kind of melancholy of duration”, according to Varnedoe.[22] Such durational resilience testifies to the durability of the artwork, even if it is comprised of waste.

Klara states, however, that she has received “foundation grants”, “congressional approval” and “permits” (p. 69) to facilitate her work, thereby giving partial possession of it to the art institution and implicating it within the art market since it requires its cooperation to function. Thus, her work becomes durable rubbish that can be culturally and economically consumed, conflating Thompson’s three ends of economic activity: “consumption, the creation of rubbish, and the creation of durability” (p. 127). As well as finding a parallel in Smithson’s work, Klara is influenced by Sabato Rodia’s Watts Towers. When Klara visits the Towers, she finds in them “an epic quality”, making it “a place riddled with epiphanies”, leaving her “weak with sensation, weak with seeing and feeling” (p. 492) its patterned yet frenzied mix of recycled consumer products. Klara’s recycling of waste into art may seem to mirror Rodia’s, but they are subtly different. Whereas Klara masks and transforms waste into a consumable art product, Rodia engages in its materiality, constructing an architectural space from it, realising Nick’s “city of high-rise garbage” (p. 104), and fulfilling garbage theorist Jesse Detwiler’s imperative to “make an architecture of waste” (p. 286). In their ramshackle eccentricities, the Towers are the antithesis of Rem Koolhaas’ maligned ‘Junkspace’ of infinitely expandable, unremarkable and seamless architecture.[23] By using everyday branded products such as “cans of Canada Dry” (p. 492), “7-Up bottles” and “Milk of Magnesia” (p. 276), Rodia subverts the homogeneity of consumer-oriented branding through appropriation, creating an archaeological index of community consumption habits in the display of waste. The towers convey both “structural unity” and are synaesthetic, “a kind of swirling free-souled noise, a jazz cathedral” (p. 277). Rodia performs a type of bricolage, a melding of materials to express an idiosyncratic selfhood, as well as communal identity, criticising the ubiquity of capitalist society. Since Rodia is “a man whose narrative is mostly blank spaces” (p. 276), the Towers become a public assertion of his identity, carving his initials SR “here and there […] like the gang graffiti in the streets outside” (p. 277), leading Osteen to remark that “Watts Towers is Sabato Rodia”.[24]

Yet, the Watts Towers do share a similarity with Klara’s project: they are both static fixtures in specific locations, and so the reach of Rodia’s bricolage is limited. It is, therefore, the graffiti artist Ishmael Munoz who asserts most forcefully the value of waste in the novel. Living in an area dubbed ‘the Wall’, a marginal space where ‘wasted’ figures of society are excluded to, Ishmael employs his graffiti to transfer artistic value onto these forgotten subjects. He uses the physical wall that demarcates the area as a canvas on which to commemorate the deceased: “his crew of graffiti writers spray-painted a memorial angel every time a child died in the neighbourhood. Angels in blue and pink covered roughly half of the slab” (p. 239), inscribing a material trace of the human objects that have vanished. His memorials avoid becoming visual commodities as they subvert advertising’s monopolisation of the image, providing a sense of transcendent aura through mystery. John Duvall credits Ishmael with the “discovery of a new aesthetic technique” in his remembrance of Esmeralda, a twelve-year-old who is raped and murdered in the Wall.[25] It is implied that Ishmael is responsible for an image of her face appearing beneath a billboard, only visible when a train passes and illuminates it. Thus, he creates “a sense of someone living in the image” (p. 822), countering the media’s imagistic control as TV trucks attempt to turn the event into a spectacle. Even the cynical nun Sister Edgar sees it as a form of spiritual grace, causing her to lose her objectivity, becoming “nameless for a moment […] a disembodied fact in liquid form, pouring into the crowd” (p. 823).

Ishmael also transfers economic value onto wasted goods in his role as scrap-merchant, dismantling dumped “cannibalized cars” (p. 241), thereby completing Thompson’s theoretically impossible transference of “rubbish to transient” (p. 106) value. Furthermore, Ishmael has a history as a graffiti writer, working under the pseudonym Moonman 157, tagging New York subway trains in the 1970s. Ishmael extends Rodia’s carving of his initials to spray-painting his Moonman tag across the subway network, “his signature running on every line” (p. 245), thereby replacing the universality of commercial branding with his own moniker, asserting his identity in opposition. The advertising executive Charles Wainwright states, “whoever controls your eyeballs runs the world” (p. 530) and Ishmael echoes this in declaring, “you hit a train and it is yours, seen everywhere in the system, and you get inside people’s heads and vandalize their eyeballs” (p. 435). Thus, Ishmael’s tagging is experiential and assaulting, “like some blazoned jungle of wonders” (p. 395), refusing the commercial or institutional consumption of his work and instead appropriating the train as commodity, forcing the ‘waste’ of spray paint back into the system that strains to exclude it. He does not self-publicise in Life magazine like Klara, but finds an audience through forcing his art upon New York’s commuters. As Keskinen writes, Ishmael “turns a valuable commodity into a sort of waste, into a vehicle that is still running but that is considered as ‘dirty’”, thereby inverting Klara’s use of paint as a reinvigorating force, and destabilizing a normative hierarchy of values, replacing functional durability with ‘rubbish art’.[26] Klara’s art is institutionally acceptable because it transforms a defunct object into an artwork, whereas Ishmael’s is “dirty” because his object is still functioning. Klara wishes to access a “graffiti instinct”, a will to “trespass and declare ourselves” (p. 77), but her art is too imbricated in the system against which it supposedly operates. Ishmael, however, literally manifests the “graffiti instinct” as he evades Klara’s art dealer’s attempts to enter him into the art establishment by offering him “a wall” (p. 377) in a gallery to replace the Wall with. Ishmael is, then, unlike his non-fictional contemporaries, Jean Michel Basquiat and Lee Quinones, who transitioned from the underground into the gallery.[27] Klara admits that “she did not like the idea of tagging trains”; the inclusion of graffiti transforms them into “mobile dumpsters” (p. 477). What Klara neglects is that the trains provide a means of circulating Ishmael’s work through the subway’s networks of connectivity, thereby giving his art a fluidity and powerful reach that hers and Rodia’s lack.

Rubbish art, like Ishmael’s, is now fully incorporated into the art institution: Gillian Whiteley comments, “trash is no longer the secret or taboo it once was”, entire “trash museums” have been established to display waste as art, which, according to Sonja Windmüller, “strive to re-integrate [waste] into social space”.[28] Thus, the museum encroaches on the habitus of Klara’s, Ishmael’s and Rodia’s art, becoming a conduit for the critical interpretation that culturally manages works. Artists such as Vik Muniz (Fig. 4) reinterpret canonical paintings, such as Caravaggio’s Narcissus, in replacing opulent oil paints with the exposed materiality of wasted goods to create a ‘rubbish collage’ that echoes Klara’s epic scale. Mark Dion displays waste as archaeological artefact in his Tate Thames Dig (Fig. 5) installation, enshrining it in Victorian reliquaries as if sacred, fulfilling Nick’s assertion that “waste is a religious thing” (p. 88), and Justin Gignac’s NYC Garbage Boxes (Fig. 6) promote waste as a fetishistic object which is hermetically packaged and advertised as an authentic remnant of the city.

Thus, DeLillo questions in Underworld, “how do things end, finally, things such as this” (p. 823). The novel ends in the immaterial realm of cyberspace, potentially negating objecthood and waste, however the “threat of virus” and “contaminations” (p. 825) remain, thereby asserting the implied presence of waste and its dangers even within the formless structures of technology. Furthermore, the penultimate sentence of the novel lavishes detail on the materiality of objects present on the writer’s desk, emphasising the recalcitrance of ‘things’ and their potential as waste. DeLillo writes of the “tissued grain of the deskwood alive in light […] the apple core going sepia in the lunch tray […] the monk’s candle reflected in the slope of the phone […] the chipped rim of the mug that holds your yellow pencils” (p. 827). DeLillo paints a still life image with his object-heavy words, employing the vanitas trope in the inclusion of the monk’s candle and browning apple core, seemingly reminding us of the impermanence of material existence. Yet, Underworld emphatically represents the afterlives of objects once they have ‘died’ and become waste, their power to live on whilst characters such as Sister Edgar and Esmeralda die, thereby inverting the symbolism of the vanitas. Readers are left with the hefted weight and materiality of the thousand-page novel itself, a ‘thing’ which attests to the persistence of objects, both symbolically and physically. DeLillo not only reprocesses his own oeuvre, but in the final word of “peace” (p. 827) he echoes Eliot’s closing chant of “shantih shantih shantih” in The Waste Land, performing an intertextual recycling which makes Underworld embody the values of ‘rubbish art’ as inclusive gesture.[29] The novel enshrines art’s power to elevate waste in all its forms, to recognise its materiality and make its value intrinsic, rather than confining it to its potential for transformation.


Figure 1: Pieter Bruegel, The Triumph of Death, 1562

Figure 2: Rembrandt, Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer, 1653

Figure 3: Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty, 1970

Figure 4: Vik Muniz, Narcissus, After Caravaggio, 2005

Figure 5: Mark Dion, Tate Thames Dig, 1999

Figure 6: Justin Gignac, NYC Garbage Boxes, 2001


[1] Jesse Kavadlo, ‘Celebration and Annihilation: The Balance of Underworld’, Undercurrent 7 (1999), note 4.

[2] Don DeLillo quoted by David Cowart, Don DeLillo: The Physics of Language (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2003), p.198; Box 58, folder 7, Don DeLillo Archive, Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas, Austin.

[3] Peter Boxall, Don DeLillo: The Possibility of Fiction, (London: Routledge, 2006), p. 187; Joseph Dewey, Beyond Grief and Nothing (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2006), p. 118.

[4] Mark Osteen, American Magic and Dread (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000), p. 236; Ruth Helyer, ‘“Refuse Heaped Many Stories High”: DeLillo, Dirt, and Disorder’, Modern Fiction Studies, 45.4 (1999), 987–1006 (p. 990).

[5] Patrick O’Donnell, ‘Underworld’ in The Cambridge Companion to Don DeLillo, ed. by John Duvall (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 108-122 (p. 112).

[6] Todd-McGowan, ‘The-Obsolescence-of-Mystery-and-the-Accumulation-of-Waste-in-Don-DeLillo’s-Underworld’, Critique:-Studies-in-Contemporary-Fiction, 46.2 (2005), 123–45 (p.-135); Peter-Knight, ‘Everything-Is-Connected:-Underworld’s-Secret-History-of-Paranoia’, Modern-Fiction-Studies, 45.3 (1999), 811–36 (p. 820).

[7] David H. Evans similarly laments the metaphorisation of waste by critics, stating their interpretations “share an unwillingness to let garbage be garbage. Instead, they recycle the materiality of trash, converting it into useful abstraction or meaningful symbol”. He continues, however, to symbolically read waste as the last preserve of individuality, writing that “one’s garbage is the thing which is most one’s own”, thereby neglecting to value waste in itself. ‘Taking Out the Trash: Don DeLillo’s “Underworld”, Liquid Modernity, and the End of Garbage’, The Cambridge Quarterly, 35.2 (2006), 103–32 (pp. 110-1).

[8] Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger (Abingdon: Taylor & Francis, 1966), p. 35.

[9] Michael Thompson, Rubbish Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), p. 9. All further references will be to this edition.

[10] Douglas, pp. 197-8

[11] Don DeLillo, Underworld (London: Picador, 2011), p. 39. All further references will be to this edition.

[12] David Trotter, Cooking with Mud (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 21.

[13] William Rathje and Cullen Murphy, Rubbish!: The Archaeology of Garbage (New York: HarperPerennial, 1993), p. 197.

[14] Jean Baudrillard, For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign (New York: Telos Press Publishing, 1981) pp. 91, 92.

[15] Karl Marx, Capital (New York: Vintage Books, 1977), p. 165.

[16] Helyer, p. 1000.

[17] Mikko Keskinen, ‘To What Purpose Is This Waste?-From Rubbish to Collectibles in Don DeLillo’s Underworld’, American Studies in Scandinavia, 32.2 (2000), 63–82 (p.-66).

[18] McGowan, p. 135; Tahl Kaminer, ‘The Triumph of the Insignificant’ in Trash Culture, ed. by Gillian Pye (London: Peter Lang, 2010), 95-113 (p. 96).

[19] Claes Oldenburg quoted by Barbara Rose, Claes Oldenburg (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1970), p. 46.

[20] Jesse Kavadlo, ‘Recycling Authority: Don DeLillo’s Waste Management’, Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, 42.4 (2001), 384–401 (p. 388).

[21] Kirk Varnedoe, Pictures of Nothing (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), pp. 146-7.

[22] Ibid., p. 162.

[23] Rem Koolhaas, ‘Junkspace’, October, 100 (2002), 175–90.

[24] Osteen, p. 255.

[25] John Duvall, Don DeLillo’s Underworld (New York: Continuum, 2002), p. 62.

[26] Keskinen, p. 76.

[27] Klaus Richter, Art: From Impressionism to the Internet (London: Prestel, 2001), p. 132.

[28] Gillian Whiteley, Junk: Art and the Politics of Trash (London: I.B.Tauris, 2010), p. 30; Sonja Windmüller, 'Trash Museums' in Trash Culture, 39-59 (p. 45).

[29] T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land (Cambridge: Faber and Faber, 2007), p. 146.

[This piece was originally given as a conference paper on 14/05/16]