White Noise

Back in highschool, me and my friend Les would often stand in the hallway near our lockers during passing period and stare out the door. We wouldn’t talk to each other. We were too busy listening and didn’t want to interrupt what we were hearing: the sound of 400 students gossiping, spilling books, taunting, laughing, slamming lockers, eating snacks, chasing each other, smacking gum, copying homework, making out, tearing pages out of notebooks, etc. When we didn’t focus on one sound at a time but the on whole sound: a low penetrating, ominous, rumble would emerge. It was a hum you would hear only if you knew it was there. Soon, we noticed this could be done almost anywhere. It fascinated us, how this sound seemed to stand on its own, beyond the individuals creating it. Les was the only one I had ever told about my listening to this sound. I think because I thought he would be one of the few I knew who could appreciate it. To this day I could walk up behind Les and hum, and he’d know exactly what I was referring to: white noise.

As a close friend of pop culture, it’s very surprising that I thought Don DeLillo’s White Noise was, in a word, boring. At least mostly boring. The novel held some appealing wit. The scene with like the “Most Photographed Barn In America”, the near plane crash, and some of Jack Gladney’s conversations with his family I found really amusing in DeLillo’s dark and dry way. And though at times the novel produced a disturbed chuckle from me, I wouldn’t say that it was hilarious or even funny, really. In fact much of the time it was annoying and tedious. Yes, this novel was clever, but despite having many facets, it was not fascinating.

It’s true that the meat of DeLillo’s White Noise is held in its observations, not in its plot. But the story held almost no plot. The main character in White Noise tells us that all plots move deathward. Is it a valid reason for Delillo not to include a plot in this novel? I don’t think so.

It could very well be that I have become so accustomed to the torrent of information, often useless, swirling around me that I don’t think that the racket that it creates is worthy of a novel itself. Let alone bothering to read that novel. White Noise seems to be just more white noise. It’s not lost on me that may be exactly what DeLillo had intended.

I did enjoy the cultural themes presented in the novel. DeLillo reveals to us how we as participants in American culture are often more interested in the copy than in the original. We as a culture reject the real event in favor of the simulation. Representation supersedes experience. I also enjoyed the idea that death seems to be the only concept that can equal our society’s white noise in sheer force. And despite popular culture using glitz, packaging, and showiness in an attempt to hide death beneath the surface, death is in the end, inevitable. Despite what DeLillo is trying to portray, I don’t think death has disappeared from american culture, my death clock is testimony to that. Maybe I’m missing something. On the other hand, maybe I get it.

Is Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise high-end art? Maybe. Enjoyable? Maybe not.

I said to him, “Why is it, Alfonse, that decent, well-meaning and responsible people find themselves intrigued by catastrophe when they see it in television?”
I told him about the recent evening of lava, mud and raging water that the children and I had found so entertaining.
“We wanted more, more.”
“It’s natural, it’s normal,” he said, with a reassuring nod. “It happens to everybody.”
“Because we’re suffering from brain fade. We need an occasional catastrophe to break up the incessant bombardment of information.”
“It’s obvious,” Lasher said. A slight man with a taut face and slicked-back hair.
“The floe is constant,” Alfonse said. “Words, pictures, numbers, facts, graphics, statistics, specks, waves, particles, motes. Only a catastrophe gets our attention. We want them, we need them, we depend on them. As long as they happen somewhere else. This is where California comes in. Mud slides, brush fires, coastal erosion, earthquakes, mass killings, et cetera. We can relax and enjoy the disasters because in our hearts we feel that California deserves whatever it gets. Californians invented the concept of life-style. This alone warrants their doom.”
Cotsakis crushed a can of Diet Pepsi and threw it at a garbage pail.

14 thoughts on “White Noise”

  1. Thanks for the review. I’ve been making an effort to read more this year, and I find myself surfing around looking for advice on what I might want to read next, or – in this case – what I might not want to read.

  2. hubs, I can’t submit my comment due to “questionable content,” and I can’t for the life of me figure out what the problem is.

  3. oh, i’m sorry hubs. I really liked the chacters, and i think if the characters dont get you in this book, its screwed. I still love it.

  4. kelly – you might want to give it a try, the book is considered by many to be one of the best novels written in the 80’s. Don DeLillo even has his own society.

    erin – can you please email me your comment so i can try and figure out whats going on. i installed blacklist last week to get rid of the comment spam i’ve been getting and there are certain keywords it looks for (viagra, cussing, etc.)

    se – no big whoop. it was still worth my time to read. and it was on the list so at least i got it out of the way. if you read the death clock comments (link is above) you’ll see you’re not the first to suggest it.

    jocelyn – you’re looney tunes.

  5. I have no time to read. So I wouldn’t have ever read it anyway. Maybe when I am old and tired and ugly–AH HA AH AHA HA AHA HA like I would ever grow old? AH AH aha ha aha ha haha or UGLY? AH AH AHA h ah aha ha aha ha ha aha h

  6. because erin was have problem wit hthe comments (see above) here is what she had to say:

    I liked white noise a lot, though admittedly a bit less on the second go-round a few years later. The two things I liked most were:
    1. the marriage between the protagonist & his wife. I felt that there was something true about the pitiful things they’d do out of fear. actually, more broadly, I thought the characters reactions – to adultery, environmental disaster, etc – were really honest.
    2. the supertuned, almost luscious description of everyday objects and events -the grocery store, television, and so on. a bit like nabokov, though not as good or subtle as nabokov. that aspect of his writing was a big influence on my own writing, so I think of it fondly.

  7. I originally read the novel to when it was suggested to me by a guy I was interested in. I was a little let down by it.

    I think what iritated me most was the sense that DeLilo – like this guy – knew he was being so damn clever. And no one likes that.

  8. lux – no, please fucking cuss as much as you fucking can and if the comment system won’t let you, you better fucking let me know.

    dani – yeah, those are the worst types.

  9. I have been forced to read White Noise for University and the only that i got from it was it obsession with death. i have read horror and ghost stories that mention death less. this is a very depressing novel and relates only to a person mortality and nothing more positive.

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