WHITE NOISE DON DELILLO PDF
De Lillo's White Noise', in Knights, B. (ed) Masculinities in text and teaching. Don DeLillo‟s novel White Noise provides a narrative which critiques the. to situate a key text of this period, White Noise (), in relation to the changes experienced in their texts with the cityscape include Don DeLillo. The title of. PDF | The impact of technology and science could be felt This paper, aimed to explore Don DeLillo's White Noise through the Jean.
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Don DeLillo was born in in the Bronx, New York, and educated at Fordham University. He is the author of eleven novels, including White Noise (). Don Delillo's White Noise (Bloom's Modern Critical Interpretations). Home · Don Delillo's White Noise . Views 1MB Size Report. DOWNLOAD PDF. Rolph 1 Scott Rolph Dr. M Lit 29 August Interpreting White Noise However, Don DeLillo's avant-garde tale of Middle America family life is more.
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required. To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number. Would you like to tell us about a lower price? A brilliant satire of mass culture and the numbing effects of technology, White Noise tells the story of Jack Gladney, a teacher of Hitler studies at a liberal arts college in Middle America. Jack and his fourth wife, Babette, bound by their love, fear of death, and four ultramodern offspring, navigate the rocky passages of family life to the background babble of brand-name consumerism. Then a lethal black chemical cloud, unleashed by an industrial accident, floats over there lives, an "airborne toxic event" that is a more urgent and visible version of the white noise engulfing the Gladneys—the radio transmissions, sirens, microwaves, and TV murmurings that constitute the music of American magic and dread.
In Chapter 6, Jack Gladney has a surprisingly contentious argument with his son, Heinrich, concerning the rain. In Chapter 10, Jack has another tense conversation with Heinrich. He begins by asking his son about the chess games that he plays with a convicted murderer in prison, and follows by asking his son if he wants to visit his biological mother in the summer. Heinrich answers: Who knows what anyone wants to do? How can you be sure about something like that? How do you know whether something is really what you want to do or just some kind of nerve impulse in the brain?
When the family temporarily moves to a camp, Heinrich forms an ad hoc classroom and begins to lecture a crowd about the nature of the toxic chemical, Nyolene.
Jack recognizes that this is an important development for Heinrich. He whispers to Babette: According to Lacan, this critical stage in development takes place between six and eighteen months and is part of the identification process Jack may be a person that has separated from this stage with a sense of discord and a pervasive sense of uneasiness.
Both Jack and Babette operate through a suppressed, silent, and overwhelming fear of death, and those they appear to be somewhat identical versions of each other they even both teach. Both take radical steps to deal with their fear of death.
In addition, they parent a child that seems to reach maturity as he patterns his behavior after the teaching activities of his parents. Thus, not only to Babette and Heinrich mirror Jack through their attempts to teach, but they receive confirmation of their identity through these actions.
The psychoanalytical approach leans heavily on the work of Freud, and he developed a theory that helped explain the difference between healthy and pathological versions of narcissism.
The former assists with the formation of the self and helps build functional relationships, while the latter destroys Freud , which is seen in the myth of the Greek hunter who drowns after falling in love with his reflection. It is this unhealthy type of narcissism that is seen not only as Jack watches students arrive at the college, but through many events and conversations.
Jack imagines himself to be an important lecturer at the school, wearing sunglass to every lecture and changing his initials to appear important. However, like his friend Murray, he seems to focus on triviality, such as the fact that Hitler took piano lessons, was a sketch artist, and had a close relationship with his mother DeLillo Gladney states: He even takes German lessons to prepare for a gathering of Hitler experts, but only masters enough of the language to deliver a prepared speech and then spends a significant amount of time hiding.
His professional identity is essentially a sham. Further, he has deluded himself into thinking that he can protect his family from the challenges of modern life. After the Airborne Toxic Event, Jack attempts to move his family to safety, and unwittingly exposes himself to a deadly chemical.
He eventually learns that he was unable to provide his wife with the safe relationship that could protect her from her fear of death when she reveals she obtained an experimental drug.
Jack finds the man that gives her the drug, and believes that he has the right to shoot him. Although Jack decides to take the wounded man to a hospital, both of these actions are explained by his inflated ego. At first, he is a "punisher," and then he comes a "savior.
On the surface, Jack and Babette appear to deal with their fatal fears successfully. However, both take drastic measures to deal with their fear: Babette trades sex with Willie Mink to obtain the drugs that mitigate her irrational fears, and at least part of the reason why Jack shoots Willie concerns his own fear of death.
But perhaps the fear of death is part of a larger concern of Jack and Babette Gladney that explains other actions: Babette volunteers in her community by teaching adult education lessons, but her classes focus on pedantic subjects like posture. Ultimately, the actions of both adults to attempt to lead meaningful lives appears frustrated. These fears could also be present in the mind of the author, and perhaps the novel represents a response to his own fear of death and related desire to avoid a meaningless and trivial life.
Each of the elements can be found to a degree in the novel, and thus, the psychoanalytic approach appears to be suitable to an analysis of White Noise. In the same way that the novel was viewed through the lens of the psychoanalytical approach, the deconstructionist approach will also be applied.
The deconstructionist approach questions the ability of humanity to objectively know and communicate truth, and even suspects the prima facie intentions of the author, seeing in the text a complicated snapshot of the complex human experience.
Thus, this approach stems from the work of Nietzsche, and tends to take a critical view of the confidence in the human ability to understand and communicate universal truth. Knowledge and language are intimately connected: However, here, each shall be discussed separately to show how DeLillo incorporates a postmodern understanding into his text. In White Noise, DeLillo refers to the human capacity to know throughout the novel and he suggests that the human race is basically unable to perceive a universal truth.
In the first chapter of the novel, the college students are frenetically moving into their dorms and seem to be excited about the opportunity to open new doors of learning. However, the lectures of Jack and Murray appear to be banal, trivial, and pedantic. The previously mentioned conversations between Jack and Heinrich question the ability to ascertain truth. In addition, the certain repetition of certain words and phrases suggests that we are extremely vulnerable to the advertising slogans found in television, radio shows, and the supermarket.
Thus, the deconstructionist approach sees this first chapter in the novel as evidence of a deeply flawed human ability to perceive and understand. In White Noise, DeLillo refers to the inability or incapacity of communicating truth throughout the novel language breaks down , thus providing ample grounds for a deconstructionist reading that distrusts language.
Irvine summarized the view in this manner: Seminar Notes. These ideas appear in the novel in both direct and metaphorical manners. When Babette appears on a television broadcast, Wilder approaches the TV console and looks for her, not realizing the difference between the reality and the electronic representation, and waits for her, crying softly DeLillo The Catholic sisters that operate a hospital no longer have faith, but nevertheless maintain their medical capabilities.
These symbols, like letter in the alphabet, no longer match the reality. Thus, DeLillo appears to echo the deconstructionist view of language that places an emphasis on the changing nature of the signified with the signs. Interpreting White Noise with the psychoanalytical and deconstructionist approaches to White Noise yields distinct yet complementary interpretations. Of the four different ideas approached under the umbrella of the psychoanalytic approach, the tripartite theory of consciousness seems the most appropriate for the analysis of White Noise, because of the fact that the fear of death is an overwhelming factor in the behavior of Jack and Babette.
The deconstructionist also yields what appears to be a fitting interpretation, specifically in regard to views about knowledge and language.
However, another deeper fit for the deconstructionist approach is also present. A deep harmony exists between the novel and the major ideas of the deconstructionist approach to literature and the views present in postmodern works. In addition, the life of the family echoes the ideas of modern criticism. Jack seeks meaning in the ways Americans have traditionally sought; his career, his family, his private interests, and friendships.
Wilder alone represents a person the lives the way Nietzsche might have imagined: He just lives in the moment, crying uncontrollably one moment, and riding his tricycle across a highway in the next. Like most academic conferences, it turns out to be largely a diversion for the participants, a kind of vacation: About ninety Hitler scholars would spend the three days of the conference attending lectures, appearing on panels, going to movies.
They would wander the campus with their names lettered in gothic type on laminated tags pinned to their lapels. The name tags with the gothic lettering are the perfect touch of academic kitsch in the scene.
The density of satiric detail in passages such as this suggests, contrary to Bawer, that DeLillo is distanced from the attitude of his characters toward Hitler. For DeLillo the academic treatment of Hitler becomes emblematic of a larger cultural problem. Any attempt to articulate the horror of a phenomenon like Hitler must inevitably fall short of the mark, and, what is worse, risks draining the horror by assimilating it into familiar categories.
Given their distinctive habits, academics are in fact the least capable of coming to terms with Hitler and Nazism. What I have been calling the distinctively postmodern attitude toward history is, mutatis mutandis, a characteristically scholarly attitude: It is a curious fact that postmodernism as a cultural phenomenon has coincided with the era in which the university has come to play an increasingly dominant role in cultural life, as a patron, an arbiter of taste, and an interpreter of meaning to the general public.
Far from wholly identifying with professors like Jack Gladney, DeLillo may be using White Noise to suggest how the academic world, with its inability to deal with phenomena like Hitler authentically, has contributed to what might be called the postmodernization of contemporary life.
DeLillo may play Hitler for laughs in White Noise, but he takes him seriously as well. Hitler is so potent a reality that even all the forces of the postmodern world cannot wholly drain him of his frightening aura. That, in fact, is why Gladney becomes obsessed with Hitler.
As Siskind explains to Jack: Hitler is larger than death. You thought he would protect you DeLillo understands the psychological appeal of totalitarianism. When people lose their traditional bearings in life, especially religious guidance, they are wide open to the power of anyone who appears to have the conviction and selfassurance to lead them and thus restore meaning to their lives.
DeLillo has a chilling sense that in the twentieth century only the criminals have the courage of their convictions. The only ones. They see clearly, bullseye, straight ahead. They know what they belong to. DeLillo is aware of the component of group psychology in the psychology of fascism. When people seek meaning in a totalitarian leader, they are seeking communal meaning, a restoration of their sense of belonging to a meaningful group.
Crowd scenes predominated. They reveal the other side of the media in the twentieth century. DeLillo shows how media representations may dissipate the force of a phenomenon like Hitler, but he also suggests how Hitler himself was able to use the media to build his power.
This passage dwells on Nazism as a theatrical force. This passage also suggests why Gladney speaks of the continuing mass appeal of fascist tyranny. What we learn about Nazism in the course of White Noise casts the seemingly innocent opening of the novel in a sinister light. In a scene familiar to all college teachers, DeLillo pictures the mass arrival of parents dropping off their children at school at the beginning of the fall semester: This assembly of station wagons, as much as anything they might do in the course of the year, more than formal liturgies or laws, tells the parents they are a collection of the like-minded and the spiritually akin, a people, a nation.
The parents stand sun-dazed near their automobiles, seeing images of themselves in every direction. The conscientious suntans The women crisp and alert, in diet trim.
In White Noise, DeLillo views community as something that has become deeply problematic. Family solidarity is threatened in the contemporary world because it rests on a form of myth, a kind of error undermined by all the forces for enlightenment at work today.
He asks me why the strongest family units exist in the least developed societies Magic and superstition become entrenched as the powerful orthodoxy of the clan. The family is strongest where objective reality is most likely to be misinterpreted.
White Noise by Don DeLillo | salelive.info: Books
One can have community, but only if it is rooted in myth or error; if one wants truth and rationality, one will have to pay for it in the form of widespread anomie and rootlessness.
It is thus the atavistic character of Nazism that DeLillo sees as responsible for its hold over masses of people. Though fully willing and able to exploit the technological resources of the modern media, Nazism is in some sense a turn against modernity, tapping into the primitive strata of the psyches of its followers.
Many of those crowds were assembled in the name of death Crowds came to form a shield against their own dying To break off from the crowd is to risk death as an individual, to face dying alone. Right after this lecture, in one of the most disturbing moments in White Noise, Jack reveals that he and his colleague Murray have been participating in the very phenomenon they have been analyzing: Even a lecture about Hitler can have something of the effect of an actual speech of Hitler.
However troubling they may be, DeLillo is concerned with showing parallels between German fascism and contemporary American culture. He pairs Hitler with Elvis Presley. Still, DeLillo may be on to something. Fame requires every kind of excess I mean danger, the edge of every void, the circumstances of one man imparting an erotic terror to the dreams of the republic In Great Jones Street, DeLillo develops the intimate connection between the rock star and death see especially p.
Like the beloved of a Renaissance sonneteer, only in death can the rock star pass into a world of pure imagination and hence truly become a myth. Elvis has certainly become an American icon since his death, his image impressed on everything from lamps to bourbon bottles.
His presence in American culture today is no doubt more pervasive than if he were still alive. As DeLillo is well aware, Elvis dominates supermarket tabloids as much as any living superstar, whether with rumors of his survival in some strange form or the sort of psychic prediction parodied in White Noise: CANTOR psychological and spiritual need in the American people, becoming in effect canonized and the object of quasi-religious worship, complete with pilgrimages to Graceland.
In the midst of the postmodern flattening of distinctions, people need to look up to something, and their media celebrities become a debased version of an aristocracy they can worship. In the midst of a genuine economic and political crisis, the Germans turned to Hitler for their salvation.
Hegel remarks somewhere that all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add: Or perhaps DeLillo is commenting on the difference between Europe and America. As the offshoot of Europe, America does seem destined to imitate its origin, often in diminished forms.
At one point his characters begin to live out a parody of the story of Othello: Rejecting shallow American conventions, he seeks authenticity by giving his son the German name of Heinrich Gerhardt Gladney: I wanted to do something German. I felt a gesture was called for I thought it was forceful and impressive I wanted to shield him, make him unafraid.
People were naming their children Kim, Kelly and Tracy In the middle of it all is Hitler, of course. At this point he still does not know how to speak it. The word is the same in English and German. Most of the words I used in my address were the same or nearly the same in both languages. I made many references to Wolf, The difficulty with this interpretation of White Noise is that Nazism in the novel is presented as itself imitative and hence inauthentic: I told Murray that Albert Speer wanted to build structures that would decay gloriously, impressively, like Roman ruins He knew that Hitler would be in favor of anything that might astonish posterity.
He did a drawing of a Reich structure that was to be built of special materials, allowing it to crumble romantically—a drawing of fallen walls, half columns furled in wisteria. Evoking the Romantic image of the ruin, Speer reveals the aesthetic side of Nazism, which turns out to be a derivative aesthetic. DeLillo suggests how much of Nazism was a hollow facade: I have been talking about Nazism as some kind of primeval phenomenon, an eruption of authentic barbarism in the twentieth century, which becomes inauthentic only in contemporary media representations.
One of the characters says of Hitler: Movies were screened for him all the time in Berlin and Obersalzburg, sometimes two a day. Those Nazis had a thing for movies. Film was essential to the Nazi era. Myth, dreams, memory. He liked lewd movies too, according to some.
Even Hollywood stuff, girls with legs.
A burlesque, an impersonation. But DeLillo has one last turn of the postmodern screw saved for us. And when we see Hitler, he is clowning around, doing an imitation of Chaplin. This is the ultimate postmodern moment: Still, the result is to diminish the aura of Hitler: I expected something hard-edged.
Something dark and potent. The madness at the end. The perversions, the sex. A disaster. How could the feeble old man shown in Running Dog have been responsible for all the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime? To be sure, DeLillo may wish us to be aware that this is Hitler at the end of his career, thereby leaving open the possibility that at earlier stages he was the dark force he is usually thought to be.
Jack and Murray compare notes on their respective scholarly subjects, Hitler and Elvis, and discover that the two men were really very much alike. Hitler was just like us. We are all Hitler. Nevertheless, it is troublesome that at some points DeLillo tends to efface distinctions that elsewhere he appears to take seriously.
This suggests a significant parallel between the world of Hitler and the contemporary world. For both, the only hope of overcoming a paralyzing self-consciousness seems to be a dangerous return to barbarism. Both are forms of simulacrum: Do we resemble the Nazis in their devotion to dark powers or in their theatrical phoniness? Is the world of Hitler a measure of our postmodernism, or is Hitler already a postmodern phenomenon? I can express the problem in the form of this question: Is DeLillo a postmodern writer or is he a pathologist of postmodernism?
I have tried to show that DeLillo is a powerful analyst and critic of those aspects of contemporary life that are usually labeled postmodern.
His satiric techniques strongly suggest that he is distanced from what he is writing about. But in order to be a critic of postmodernism, DeLillo must delimit the phenomenon, above all, historically. To be able to call contemporary culture inauthentic, one ought to be able to contrast it with earlier culture that was authentic. No matter how comic this question sounds, it raises an important issue: Can one point to concrete developments in the contemporary world that suggest a fundamental change in the human condition, such that we might speak of a new phase of history—the postmodern—or perhaps the end of history itself?
Could one argue, for example, that the all-pervasiveness of television in the contemporary world has given a profoundly mediated quality to human life that it never had before? Part of DeLillo wants to say that we have lost touch with everything that was authentic in our world and in our culture. But I sense that part of DeLillo wants to say that nothing has really changed; things have always been this way. We have our television, but the Nazi Germans had their movies, and neither culture stood in an unmediated relation to reality.
DeLillo is disturbed by the American present, but he is also deeply suspicious of any effort to romanticize a past. Nostalgia is a product of dissatisfaction and rage. The more powerful the nostalgia, the closer you come to violence.
War is the form nostalgia takes when men are hard-pressed to say something good about their country. Entering a Catholic hospital, Jack decides to turn from ersatz religion and look for the real thing: Is it still the old heaven, like that, in the sky? She merely gives the appearance of believing for the sake of those who need not religious faith but the faith that someone else is still genuinely religious.
DeLillo gives us another perfect postmodern moment: But like many others today, DeLillo keeps wanting to extend the range of postmodernism, above all to keep pushing it farther and farther back into the past, until it threatens to lose all meaning as a distinctive term.
This process seems to be the logical outcome of the very concept of postmodernism. If postmodernism is the obliteration of all meaningful distinctions, then in the end it must efface even the distinction between postmodernism and any earlier phase of history. Attila the Hun died young. He was still in his forties. Did he feel sorry for himself, succumb to self-pity and depression?
No weakening of the spirit. As with his fascination with Hitler, he is attracted to the barbaric Attila because he wants to believe in an authentic form of hero, free of his own fear of death. DeLillo himself seems unable to break out of the postmodern circle and offer a convincing alternative to its diminished reality. In short, he can give us a vision of the inauthentic but not, it seems, of the authentic. That is why he disturbs critics like Bawer with his unwillingness to take straightforward stands, even against the evil of Hitler.
But that is also the reason why DeLillo is one of the representative writers of our age and one of the most illuminating. Notes 1. Running Dog New York: Knopf, , p. University of Illinois Press, , p. Yale University Press, , pp. I am not making any of this up. For learning about the existence of Elvis Hitler, I am indebted to a fourteen-year-old named Frey Hoffman, who is just as intelligent and articulate as Heinrich Gladney. Running Dog, p. An interesting word. From the Latin fascinus.
An amulet shaped like a phallus. Great Jones Street Boston: Houghton Mifflin, , p. Paglia, Sexual Personae, p.
Anchor Books, , p. Avon Books, , p. The Satanic Verses New York: Viking, , p. Basil Blackwell, , pp. University of Massachusetts Press, , p. The whole assortment. Our leaders simply lived them out.
Our elected representatives. All we had to do was know our own dreams. This essay contains an excellent discussion of the role of the simulacrum in White Noise. Robert M. Gates, the deputy national security advisor, has found the obsessive television watching at the White House so distracting—and perhaps diminishing to the myth of privileged information—that he refuses to even turn on his office television set now, loyally waiting for reports from the Situation Room.
But even that top-secret intelligence, widely presumed to be fuller and more accurate, has been infected by the television coverage.
Advertising may have discovered and exploited the economic value of the person we all want to be, but the pilgrim-consumer dreaming on the Mayflower, or on the New Mayflower in front of television, invented that person. So in order for America to be America the original moment of yearning for the third-person must be ceaselessly renewed.
One of the harsher charges of postmodern theorists especially of the French type is that America has perfected the practice of cultural imperialism; everyone in the world now—Islamic cultures perhaps excepted—wants to be an American.
In the third chapter of White Noise there is a brief scene that extends this surprising history of television. TV, a productive medium of the image, is only one albeit dominant technological expression of an entire environment of the image. For this environment-as-electronic-medium radically constitutes contemporary consciousness and therefore such as it is contemporary community—it guarantees that we are a people of, by, and for the image.
Less apprehensible, less empirically encounterable—therefore more insidious in its effects. The narrator continues in his recessed way while his companion comments lectures, really on the tourist site, which is previewed for them literally by several signs, spaced every few miles along the way, announcing the attraction in big block letters.
There is a booth where a man sells postcards and slides of the barn; there is an elevated spot from which the crowd of tourists snap their photos.
Every photograph reinforces the aura. We prefer not to know what the barn was like before it was photographed because its aura, its technological glow, its soul, is our production, it is us. The community despaired of by nostalgic modernists located, at last, not in some premodern village of artisans, or some fascist state, but in postmodern society, godless and bereft of tradition though it is? Community sprung wholly from the technology of the image?
Can this be serious? What does Gladney think? The more typical Murray is a subversive whose humor depends on our recognition that postmodern values are the dominant ones of our culture. You may want to wait for one more massive spill. Get your timing down. But in the scene of the most photographed barn the typically witty Murray and Jack are strangely absent.
One worth cherishing, wherever it is found? Does the passage on the most photographed barn represent a new literary form comfortably based on the technology of electronics? And shall we now speak of the postmodern idyll? Walter Benjamin once cited Proust on the phenomenology of the aura as the experience which gives access to tradition: And it is precisely such experience of community that Benjamin would deny our age of: The question he poses in all but words is, What strange new form of human collectivity is born in the postmodern moment of aura, and at what price?
Like a number of novels in the mainstream of American literature, White Noise appears to be motivated by a double purpose: This narrator can read the signs of social class in the commodities we command, and he enjoys passing judgment dryly, the proportions and arrangements that he gives to the items of his list: Nevertheless his weariness is disturbing because it is rooted in the banality of everyday life, weariness apparently unavoidable.
With perception so grooved on the routine, the affective consequence follows rigorously. Where are the books? And what could a book really signify in a series whose rolling rhythms make it hard to tell the difference between an English saddle and a Kaboom? The students greet each other with comic cries and gestures of sodden collapse. Their summer has been bloated with criminal pleasures, as always. The parents stand sun-dazed near their Tales of the Electronic Tribe 81 automobiles, seeing images of themselves in every direction.
Here is image and style classically, suspiciously viewed as tricky, seductive surface, style and image as absence of substantial selfhood, the void at the core. Then suddenly there is a shift in focus and we feel ourselves for a moment on the familiar terrain of the realist novel. A joke about the way we talk these days about the weather, with our voices indentured to the jargon of what is called meteorology?
Or is the sentence delivered unawares, just the way Jack talks sometimes, like a weatherman? In the usual sense of what it means to say that a novel has plot, White Noise has no plot. In White Noise disconnection is the narrative mark of a mind taking pleasure in its meandering progression, a mind that avoids causal coherence by skipping from topic to topic: Not Blacksmith, middle America, but the environment unintentionally produced by advanced technology, the effects of technology, the by-products, the fallout.
In White Noise, DeLillo rewrites the classic naturalist novel. People say the sunsets around here were not nearly so stunning thirty or forty years ago. Is it important that Jack and Babette know exactly why two of their closet doors open by themselves?
Jack hears with paranoid apprehension the quiet rumble of the clothes dryer, the radiator, the refrigerator, the thermostat buzzing for unknown reasons.
Do these standard friends of the standard American family give off something other than harmless sound? Just how far does our unwittingness extend? Hazardous waste dumps are bad, but at least we know where they are. Electromagnetic radiation Heinrich will drive this point home is the menace outside sensory apprehension. Seven or eight boarders A woman who harbors a terrible secret. A man with a haunted look. A man who never comes out of his room.
A woman who stands by the mailbox for hours, waiting for something that never seems to arrive. A man with no past. A woman with a past. There is a smell about the place of unhappy lives in the movies that I really respond to.
What else would I be? There was something touching about the fact that Murray was dressed almost totally in corduroy. Is Jack master of himself, this postmodern Longfellow with a Chaplinesque eye for cultural anatomy, who delivers the maxims by which we frighten ourselves? When times are bad, people feel compelled to overeat. Blacksmith is full of obese adults and children, baggy-pantsed, short-legged, waddling.
They struggle to emerge from compact cars; they don sweatshirts and run in families across the landscape; they walk down the street with food in their faces; they eat in stores, cars, parking lots, on bus lines and movie lines, under the stately trees. The scene is the bedroom of the adult Gladneys; Babette is about to perform an act that Jack hugely enjoys. She will read to him from their historically wide-ranging collection of pornographic literature. Jack chooses; Babette reads: Can we agree on that?
I want you inside me, entering hard, entering deep. Yes, now, oh. Jack, a parodist of contemporary jargons, and, like Murray, a cultural ecologist, knows better. A deep refrain—like a line of poetic chant, with strong metrical structure—is placed by itself in privileged typographical space, part of no paragraph or dialogue, without quotes and related to nothing that comes before or after: Jack in these moments is possessed, a mere medium who speaks: But White Noise is no classic naturalist novel; it is a subversion of the genre played out through the mask thereof.
Setting, in this book, is character become a runaway cancer, intention out of control. Cutting against the grain of this ecological theme of man as selfvictimizer is a countertheme initiated by the romantic poets, elaborated and fully embraced in the high modernist ethos of Yeats, Joyce, Pound, and Stevens: In art, so goes the plea, lies the salvation of our humanity—character shielded from setting, free agency and the autonomy of intention restored.
When Jack thinks, sees, and feels in the categories of art—the book is liberally peppered with such moments—Jack the victim is magically transmuted into Jack the victor, the poised angel of observation whose values are superior to those of the mass culture he anatomizes.
They are effects of the counternarrative sort, spatial rather than temporal, produced with quiet painterly eloquence and the haunting precision of black-and-white photography. These small moments of the aesthetic image in White Noise tend to be put into the background where they belong and do their insidious work by big interpretive moments when Jack sees his world demanding to be read, as if his salvation a recollection of Christian allegory depended upon it. The brand name: And not even the cute malapropisms of his kids can escape.
Aggressive jazz score by Johnny Mandel. What solitary acts? Garbage mediated by literary history becomes a kind of literary text. The isolation of the postmodern moment is alleviated as the individual talent makes contact with tradition.
The difficulty of levitating garbage to the plane of art is nothing compared to the problem posed by the toxic cloud. The second section of the novel offers us two narratives: The media revises the image: The narrator tries hard to disillusion himself.
In his most imaginative moment, he leaps into the future to assume the role of archaeologist digging into the ruins his civilization will leave; the imagined dig becoming romantic adventure, conferring mystery while repressing the harsher question: Who or what is responsible for the dispossession of the dispossessed?
A great surging drama with elements of humiliation and guilt. The revenge of mass culture: Streets thick with the details of impulsive life as the hero ponders the latest phase in his dying. The extended family that phones together stays together—a Trimline, a white Princess; a people, a nation: That night I walked the streets of Blacksmith.
The glow of blueeyed TVs. The voices on the touch-tone phones. Far away the grandparents huddle in a chair, eagerly sharing the receiver as carrier waves modulate into audible signals. It is the voice of their grandson, the growing boy whose face appears in the snapshots set around the phone. Joy rushes to their eyes but it is misted over, infused with a sad and complex knowing. What is the youngster saying to them?
His wretched complexion makes him unhappy? He wants to leave school and work full-time at Foodland, bagging groceries? He tells them he likes to bag groceries. That night at the camp for evacuees of Blacksmith, Jack hears one of the kids mumble something in her sleep; he leans over to catch the meaning, convinced it will be a revelation of innocence and his route to some unshakable comfort. She speaks again—this time clearly, as if in ecstatic chant, a ritualized utterance that he receives not in corrosive satiric perspective—which would have been the conventional literary payoff in this moment—but with amazement and awe: It made me feel that something hovered.
But how could this be? A simple brand name, an ordinary car. Whatever its source, the utterance struck me with the impact of a moment of splendid transcendence. The plot that Jack hatches in order to kill Willy Mink embodies his dream of existential self-determination, precisely what his Tales of the Electronic Tribe 95 culture denies him. Willy Mink is a voice without a center, a jumbled bunch of fragments from various contemporary jargons, mostly emanating from the TV he sits in front of with the sound turned down, overdosing on Dylar— the pure American product who speaks these sentences: Some of these sure-footed bighorns have been equipped with radio transmitters Not that I have anything personal against death from our vantage point high atop Metropolitan County Stadium.
Is Willy Mink a just image of postmodern community in America, a sick representation thereof, or both?
Don Delillo's White Noise (Bloom's Modern Critical Interpretations)
If we cannot, then we are left with this rejoinder to Royce: The era of the shopping mall, the supermarket, the fast-food restaurants, and the ritual family gatherings around the TV is in its infancy. But who knows? One day we might say that at the close of the twentieth century we began to discover the binding power, the comforts of our new Roman Church. Hard to say, before it comes to pass, in all its laws, liturgies, and forms of behavior, that it will do any more damage than the old.
If the two earlier works were preoccupied with the way in which the American dream is manipulated by the media, the later two chart a world that is mediated by and constituted in the technologico-semiotic regime.
They indicate that the transformations of contemporary society that Baudrillard describes in his theoretical writings on information and media have also gripped the mind and shaped the novels of Don DeLillo. The informational world Baudrillard delineates bears a striking resemblance to the world of White Noise: In this world common to both Baudrillard and DeLillo, images, signs, and codes engulf objective reality; signs become more real than reality and stand in for the world they erase.
Moreover, for both Baudrillard and DeLillo a media-saturated consciousness threatens the concept of meaning itself. But the similarities between Baudrillard and DeLillo do not end here. For both, this increasingly simulational and nonreferential world brings about radical changes in the very shape of subjectivity.
For Baudrillard an older modernist order—with its dialectic of alienation and inner authenticity—is eclipsed by new forms of experiencing the self. Indeed, an older modernist subjectivity is in a state of siege in the information society.
Jack Gladney, the narrator of White Noise, is a modernist displaced in a postmodern world. Leaded, unleaded, superunleaded Dristan Ultra, Dristan Ultra Moreover, for Baudrillard and DeLillo the dissolution of a modernist subjectivity in the mire of contemporary media and technology is integrally connected to another issue: But for Baudrillard, the very impulses that gave impetus to this project have dissipated in the contemporary world: For at the core of the modernist version of the heroic is the notion of the constitutive power of the imagination, the idea of an autonomous and authentic subjectivity out of which springs vision and illumination.
Willie Mink —DeLillo implies the exhaustion of late modernist, existentialist notions of heroism. Television, he says, welcomes us into the grid, the network of little buzzing dots that make up the picture pattern. Rather than conjuring up associations with a pioneering past or an authentic rural life, the barn has been subsumed into the process of image replication; it is surrounded by tour buses, roadside signs, venders selling post cards of the barn, people taking pictures of the barn, people photographing other photographers photographing the barn.
Observing the tourists, Murray points to the postmodern experience of proliferating images without ground: Murray expounds solemnly on the unfolding of a new order where the distinction between reality and representation, sign and referent, collapses: Can you feel it, Jack? Increasingly it becomes impossible to distinguish between the spectacle and the real. SIMUVAC regularly stages efficient rehearsals for coping with real disasters—volunteers play dead and videotapes are sent for prompt analysis.
Yet at the evacuation site during the toxic event, Gladney discovers that the SIMUVAC personnel are using the real event to rehearse and perfect a simulation. The world has been turned inside out; simulation has become the ground of the real: Finally the world of White Noise—one based on the abstract circulation of information—follows the logic of the utter commutability of signs.
Any semiological network can become a hermetic system into which the individual subject can be inserted and which constructs the self. Dew, frost, and fog. The jet stream I began to come out of my shell, talk to people on the street. Gladney begins to wear heavy-rimmed sunglasses to bolster his credibility and changes his name from Jack Gladney to the more distinguished J.
Moreover, even death is not exempt from the world of simulation: The body becomes simulacrum, and death loses its personal and existential resonances.
A network of symbols has been introduced, an entire awesome technology wrested from the gods. Such a confrontation has all the makings of a heroic showdown.
A note of literary parody is struck even before Gladney meets Gray. After his exposure to Nyodene D. His comments on his own predicament constitute an overt parody of the existential hero contemplating radical freedom against the knowledge of the inevitability of death: I was moving closer to things in their actual state as I approached a violence, a smashing intensity.
Pastiche implies a world where The End of Heroic Narrative fragmented or heterogeneous linguistic islands supplant centered, heroic narrative positions, a world where the possibility of unique vision and style has been lost.
Even as he approaches the motel, Gladney assumes the voice-over style of the Raymond Chandler hero: I continued to advance in consciousness. Things glowed, a secret life rising out of them. Water struck the roof in elongated orbs, splashing drams.
I knew what wet was. I understood the neurochemistry of my brain, the meaning of dreams the waste material of premonitions. Great stuff everywhere, racing through the room, racing slowly. A richness, a density. I believed everything. As the narrative continues, metaphors of the experience of Dasein through which Being coalesces in an existential moment of recognition startlingly shift to metaphors of the world of networks, information, and white noise: Sound all around The whole atmosphere, so charged with unusual vitality, now becomes bathed in the eerie glow of television: A heightened reality.
A denseness that was also a transparency. Mink voices the drone of the mediascapes; more than that he physically resembles a television set. Moreover he is obsessed with his own deterioration, quelling his fear of death by consuming Dylar tablets one after another. Gladney is temporally suspended as he continues to revise his plans to kill Mink in a toneless, chantlike fashion, perpetually rewriting a present which seems without link to past and future.
And as temporal continuities break down, his experience of the present becomes overwhelmingly vivid: Words themselves loom up in hyperpresent materiality; when he shoots Mink, not sound so much as words echo around the room: Gladney ultimately botches his plan to kill Mink and steal the Dylar: Mink devours the Dylar, and Gladney, after wounding Mink, takes him to the hospital.
Even religious belief is swallowed in the order of the simulacrum. What is saved? This is a dumb head, who would come in here to talk about angels. Show me an angel. It is a decentered and toneless montage of voices, ranging from outcroppings of media slogans to metaphysical meditations on the meaning of death. Gray seems initially to represent patriarchal privilege and power.
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I saw my wife reclining on her side, The End of Heroic Narrative voluptuously rounded, the eternal waiting nude. I saw her as he did. Dependent, submissive, emotionally captive. I felt his mastery and control. Heard the sloppings and smackings, the swash of wet mouths, bedsprings sinking in. An interval of mumbled adjustments. The battle on the heroic terrain of oedipal rivalry and phallic power is abortive: The very basis of the oedipal logic of the heroic narrative is thrown into question, leading to a breakdown in the economy of representation and the collapse of heroic narrative itself.
Basic Parameters. Dylar promises to erase the awareness of death—the last absolute truth in a world of simulation, the last traces of the deep structures of a modernist consciousness. Yet as the lab technician Winnie Richards tells Gladney: And he adds: This is the nature of plots.
The passion for meaning that animates readers is the desire for an end; to eradicate a sense of ending in life or narrative is to extinguish meaning.
In its concern with the importance of plots and narrative, therefore, White Noise suggests that the breakdown of grand narratives such as the heroic narrative does not mean a diminished reliance on plotting. Rather the novel implies that we still rely on plots and have recourse to narrative representations of some kind, that narratives still function to construct and criticize our world, that storytelling is ultimately a historical and political act. If his works exhibit the postmodern concern with the unstable nature of subjectivity and textuality, with representation and LEONARD WILCOX narrative process, his postmodernism retains the legacy of the modernist impulse to explore consciousness and selfhood and to create an imaginative vision that probes and criticizes its subject matter.
If DeLillo uses postmodern devices like parody, pastiche, and parodic intertextual echoes, if he exhibits an interest in the play of language in the postmodern text exhibited especially in a novel like The Names , these devices are deployed with a commitment to interrogate culture in America, to connect the transformations of narrative and subjectivity to cultural and historical processes.
In his depiction of a Baudrillardian landscape, therefore, DeLillo differs from Baudrillard in one important respect. Chakravarty wants to talk to me but I am making it a point to stay away. He is eager to see how my death is progressing He wants to insert me once more in the imaging block, where charged particles collide, high winds blow. But I am afraid of the imaging block. Harlan for his helpful comments on this essay.
Here I am indebted to a considerable extent to Lentricchia 7— The issue of death provides another comparison between Baudrillard and DeLillo.
For another discussion of the same issue, see Kroker and Kroker For a discussion of the relationship between narrative and death to which I am indebted here , see Brooks — In an article on The Names, Matthew J. Here DeLillo differs from Baudrillard. See Kellner, Jean Baudrillard The Pleasure of the Text. Richard Miller. New York: Hill, Baudrillard, Jean. Essays on Postmodern Culture. Hal Foster. Port Townsend, WA: Bay, In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities And Other Essays.
Semiotext e , The End of Heroic Narrative ———. Jean Baudrillard: Selected Writings. Mark Poster. Polity, Semiotext c , Brooks, Peter. Questions of Narrative.
The Question of Reading Otherwise. Shoshana Felman. Johns Hopkins, Crary, Jonathan. Rethinking Representation.
Brian Wallis, New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art, DeLillo, Don. Picador, Hutcheon, Linda. The Politics of Postmodernism. Routledge, Jameson, Fredric. Kellner, Douglas. From Marxism to Postmodernism and Beyond. Stanford UP, Kroker, Arthur, and Marilouise Kroker. Panic Sex in America. Arthur Kroker and Marilouise Kroker. Lentricchia, Frank. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge.
Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi. U of Minnesota P, Morris, Matthew J. Polan, Dana. Mass Culture and the Evacuation of Sense. Critical Approaches to Mass Culture.
Tania Modleski. Indiana UP, Poster, Mark. Foucault, Marxism, and History: Mode of Production versus Mode of Information. Cambridge UP, Like a latter-day Balzac or Zola, he seems to have some giant composite plan in mind, an allencompassing scheme that, when completed, will bear witness to how we lived, worked, played, and sounded in the second half of the twentieth century.
Reprinted by permission. Great Jones Street chronicles, for example, the career and retreat of an idolized rock star; DeLillo is drawn to the big-business sleaze around the performer as well as the visionary desperation of the lyrics themselves.
In the tradition of Fenimore Cooper and Balzac, DeLillo is out to guide his readers into verbal precincts they have never entered before, but in his hands that guided tour Don DeLillo: Rendering the Words of the Tribe becomes an explosive and dangerous affair, an encounter with sounds that can kill.
Consider, in this light, the view of music-language as pure kinetic energy, as articulated by Bucky Wunderlich, the rock star of Great Jones Street: The true artist makes people move. When people read a book or look at a painting, they just sit there or stand there. A long time ago that was okay, that was hip, that was art. I make people move. My sound lifts them right off their ass. I make it happen. Understand, I make it happen. Maybe actually kill some of them. People dying from the effects of all this beauty and power.
Life and death are graphed as language. And he succeeds in these ventures largely because he has the eyes of the anthropologist as well as the ears of the linguist, perceiving the peculiar poetry of everyday rituals and services, chronicling the muffled spiritual impulses concealed within our mundane comings and goings.
Because these are the things that tell us how we live. The Names looks, initially, to be in the tradition of American expatriate novels. Now we do business. Jake Barnes knew which Parisian restaurants to eat in, what hotel to stay at in Pamplona; this group has different expertises: Don DeLillo: We advised each other on which remote cities were well maintained, which were notable for wild dogs running in packs at night, snipers in the business district at high noon.
The world—that extended version of the virgin West—is no longer open to explorers and tourists in the same way, and we see that the American bildungsroman has been turned on its head, that the educational scheme has become one of survival. The imperialist self is also in trouble here: American hegemony is a thing of the past.
And yet, The Names is still in the great quest tradition of Westerners seeking the wisdom and secrets of Europe and the East. Needless to say, Americans are not the only ones who have to be careful in this territory. I am a target outside and inside. I am in the government. This makes me a marked man.
Armenians outside, Turks inside. I go to Japan next week. This is a relatively safe place for a Turk. Very bad is Paris. Even worse is Beirut. The Secret Army is very active there. Every secret army in the world keeps a post office box in Beirut. I will eat this shrimp in garlic and butter. After Japan I go to Australia. This is a place that should be safe for a Turk. It is not. But the real power of the passage resides in its uncertainty, its staccato list of places and particulars that do not cohere.
Rich in exotica, this setting is also rich in secrets and indecipherable codes, in surprises and reversals. But how do we get there from here? Interpretation requires a stable base to which mysteries and enigmas are referred.
Such an environment resists all interpretive grids except one: And this is because conspiracies are nothing but purposeful, interconnecting, secret relations that we do not comprehend, and secrets themselves are a nostalgic term for cogency, the cogency that eludes us, from which we as outsiders are excluded. In The Names DeLillo has presented that paradigm in the purest possible form: And even though DeLillo is not a formally playful writer, has no verbal tricks or pyrotechnics to display, it is hard to think of any Western narrative that matches The Names in its exploration of language as high adventure.
Rendering the Words of the Tribe turned archaeologist and eminence grise, in search of ancient inscriptions and the secrets they harbor. The secret cult at the heart of the matter is, not surprisingly, a language cult. As if he had absorbed large doses of Saussure and Derrida, DeLillo has imagined a quest for the natural language, a language that would eclipse difference, dissolve the space between sign and referent, and install a regime of pure presence.
The cult that Owen has come upon exercises the central fascination of the novel because it is devoted to the power of letters, of the alphabet itself.
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