Waste Books - "White Noise" by Don DeLillo
This episode's book was chosen by: Cooper
Published in 1985, White Noise tells the story of Jack Gladney, a college professor who teaches Hitler Studies at the college on the hill. Babette, his fourth wife (by his fifth marriage), and a collection of their children live a life characterized by trips to the supermarket, cycles of laundry, and time spent in front of the television. After a manmade environmental disaster threatens the town, the way that they relate to themselves and the world around them seems to be challenged, for a temporary period at least. Things eventually return to normal for Jack Gladney, Babette, and their brood, but they soon find themselves embroiled in a plot of back-alley pharmaceuticals.
In terms of thematic content, by any measure the novel is certainly a product of its time. Grappling with issues such as environmental destruction at the hands of mankind, the disintegration and reintegration of the family, unabashed consumerism, media saturation, and a world overdetermined by a plastic spectacle of itself, it's no miracle of timing that White Noise was released to an American public reeling under the policies of Ronald Reagan. And while all of the aforementioned were relevant issues at the time of its publication in the 80's, for those of us living in a day and age characterized by Trump, notions of alternative truth, and absolute environmental onslaught, many of the messages conveyed within White Noise are just as important in the world of today, more than thirty years later. In 2017, you could certainly find worse ways to spend your time than to read this book.
Though the book centers largely on cultural critique and satire, it gets its ḥutspâ from the virtusity of the writer himself. The prose proves formidable, and it’s not entirely impossible that it won the national book award in 1985 for this reason alone. To be fair, it’s more likely that it was selected for the story that it portrays and the message conveyed throughout its contents, rather than solely because of the way in which these are articulated, to say nothing of the fantastic sense of humor which is sure to tickle the reader from start to finish. Regardless of why it was chosen, the publication of this novel brought the work of Don DeLillo to the attention of the public at large, which, along with the debut of Wrestlemania at Madison Square Garden and the release of Rambo: First Blood Part II, might be considered by some to be a standout event of that particular year.
White Noise is a postmodern masterpiece of American literature which can be enjoyed by any poor soul who can appreciate the spectacular nature of a world in which stories of monsters and catastrophes provide a basis for most forms of popular entertainment, while the real catastrophes and monsters of this world seem to pass over the scope of our attention, uninhibited and completely beyond our recognition.
Here’s a link to a PDF of a great David Foster Wallace essay. I recommend reading all of it if you haven’t already, but at least check out the excerpt that starts at the the bottom of pg. 169 thru the top of 171.
One of my questions is something like, “What does this book say about the role that the power of the spectacle plays in our lives?”
Relatedly, another might be: “Is WN making a ‘moral’ critique of this power?”
Another yet: “If so, does it succeed, or does it fall victim to the so-called problem of satire (which itself is a kind of articulation of what we might call the problem of spectacle or detachment, etc.)?”
Some reviews, one old, one new:
I also butchered some shit off this Wikipedia page:
Podcast Produced by Phillip Griffin
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