Choice is a subtle form of disease.
- Don DeLillo, Running Dog

What does this quote mean? Can someone explain it, please?

I googled a lot but didn't get any proper explanation. And if this kind of question is not allowed here, let me know. I will remove the question.

  • 2
    It could mean quite a number of things; if you could possibly give the paragraph, where the quote occurs, it might help to understand author better.
    – Gnudiff
    Jan 25, 2018 at 18:33

1 Answer 1


Selvy, the character to which this line is attributed, is a government agent that follows a very strict, detached approach not just to his job but to his life as a whole: everything from the unfurnished apartment he lives in to the way in which he can passively and unemotionally observe his assailants while being pinned under heavy gunfire to his obsessive fixation and self-identification with cleaning and assembling his gun paint a portrait of a man that is fundamentally alienated from his emotions and from himself, a man who has chosen the certainty of unquestioned orders over all else.

What ends up getting him killed is precisely this kind of Manichean duality to which he unquestioningly adheres; it's a glitch in the system which ultimately exposes him as a double agent, which mistakenly marks him for death and leads to his execution. In this sense, he has realised in some ways the inherent deathward-ness of the way he's lived his life, devoid of choice and responsibility for the consequences of the choices he has not made: even finally having come to terms with this however, he still refuses to make any choices, and obeys his programming - both the draconian rigidity of the sinister government forces which moulded me, and his own emotional coldness and detachment - to the very end.

  • Surely it should then be the lack of choice which is Selvy's 'disease', the disease which killed him?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Feb 1, 2018 at 12:43
  • I've heard this interpretation a number of times, and I can accept it, although I personally stick with the interpretation that Selvy is pointing out a fundamental and apparently irresolvable paradox within his character; he believes decisions poison people and get them killed, and so he resolves to live his life without ever making any meaningful choices of his own - but the irony, which is reflected to the reader, is that his lack of choice is itself a choice, which gets him killed (he has numerous opportunities to revert his fate, but refuses on principle). Feb 2, 2018 at 3:45

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