“Let’s sit half lotus and think about our spines.”
Review: White Noise
DeLillo’s White Noise forces us to come to terms with the morbid and bleak mentality which runs rampant in much of Western Civilization. Although it was written over twenty years ago, the themes represented here still resonate today. Comparisons with Sartre’s Nausea are striking from the beginning as Jack, or J. A. K., Gladney’s life blurs from one episode of nausea to another. The anxious and nauseated tone of the novel is thick throughout the narrative as it explores key existentialist questions, most notably through Jack’s preoccupation with death and the questioning of the value of human life.
Consumerism is so keyed up throughout the story that it bangs the reader over the head with its message of excess, which is precisely the point. Seeking solace and comfort with things, money, material goods is something that our modern culture is so indoctrinated with and DeLillo captures this greedy obsession well. Avoidance and denial are also big players in Jack’s narrative, another mirror of our modern Western Civilization life style, particularly as seen through the American lens. It is notable that Jack is not the only character who suffers from these deflective faults, all of the main players are afflicted with these negative qualities.
One of the most powerful qualities of White Noise is its way of engaging the reader to relate to many of the issues Jack experiences, either on a personal level (his fear of death, denial, and ineffectiveness in his own life) or through observations of our modern technological society. The more the reader may identify with or recognize certain qualities inhabited by Jack (and other members of his social circle) or observations made by him, the acute nauseated feeling of the bleak realization over our society’s future heightens. The characters’ preoccupation with consumerism and the media is echoed throughout the story in Jack’s seemingly throw-away details of jingles, coupons, and the latest advertisements. I half expected Equus’ Alan Strang to begin singing his eerie jingles at any moment.
I love White Noise completely, starting with it’s descriptive beginning passage, throughout Heimlich’s morbid but strangely charismatic “craving for terrible things”, through the sloppy attempted murder, the provocative nun without faith, right up to the “agitation and panic” over the rearranged aisles, with everything culminating to that “reassuring” supermarket-is-bliss ending.
DeLillo, Don. White Noise. Viking Press. New York, 1985. Print.