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1978 Novel by American Writer Don Delillo

One of my favorite Delillo works, this slim volume is rings with action and is yet somehow strangely static throughout. Delillo modulates the movement of the narrative with great control - some readers hate it, but I loved it. This foreshadows Libra in to some extent - many of the people who I know hated Libra also hated Running Dog. In both style and content, the novel is a link between some of the absurdist elements of End Zone and White Noise, while reaching towards some of the meticulous characterization we see later in Libra, Mao II, and Underworld. But enough of my Lit major bullshit! This book is a existential comic jewel - so on to the good stuff...

The main action concerns itself with the recovery of a pornographic film shot in Hitler's Bunker during the last days of the Third Reich. Many forces are at work here, an out-of-work intelligence agent, an investigative journalist, a millionaire teenaged pornographer, the list goes on. There are the Delillo themes at work here, human need played out against the unseen forces of history. The acquisitiveness of our time and the power of the image. Plus it's just plain funny. At one point, a professional assassin rock and roll's a bar with an full-auto conversion AR-15. The funny part? He wears shooting glasses and hearing protection. He doesn't want to damage his hearing. Nobody else would have thought of this.

In the author's own words:

What I was really getting at in Running Dog was a sense of the terrible acquisitiveness in which we live, coupled with a final indifference to the object. After all the mad attempts to acquire the thing, everyone suddenly decides that, well, maybe we really don't care about this so much anyway. This was something I felt characterized our lives at the time the book was written, in the mid to late seventies. I think this was part of American consciousness then.

Quite simply, a "running dog" is a dog bred for running, e.g. a greyhound. In fact, the name "greyhound" may have come from the Saxon word "Greu", which means running dog. Figuratively, however, "running dog" has a derogatory usage, which means lackey or sycophant. This insult is closely associated with the Communist leaders of old, especially Mao Zedong, who would refer to various USA-friendly states as the running dogs of imperialism.

A running dog, be it a person or state, was a servile entity which did the bidding of greater powers, in order to stay in their good books. The analogy is pretty clear: in exchange for food, protection and other rewards, a greyhound will mindlessly run great distances at great speeds in pursuit of some fabricated lure.

The capitalist side, on the other hand, preferred to use the term puppet to refer to states in a servile relationship with one of the Communist powers. Nowadays, "running dog", "imperialist running dog", or "capitalist running dog" are generally used as amusingly long-winded insults with a retro feel harking back to the days of the Cold War.

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