Saturday, September 17, 2011

Back! With a Close Reading of DeLillo's White Noise

Hello! Sorry about being away, getting back to school has been...much more difficult than originally intended. Anyhow, I am actively working on the thesis, and am posting my first (admittedly far out) close reading of Don DeLillo's White Noise. I have also read Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 and will be posting an analysis of it tomorrow.

Anyway, click the jump for some White Noise close reading!

The evocation of human thought into text characterizes Don DeLillo’s White Noise, where speech and thought meld into a consideration of the world as it is presented and presents itself. The primary thought process that drives the novel is death, ultimately coming down to an assessment that “There are two kinds of people in the world. Killers and diers…The more people you kill, the more credit you store up” (290). This is, of course, foreshadowing Jack’s turn to murder in order to solve his own fear of death, as medication, discussion, and the world offered no other immediate answers.
            The immediacy of action as it occurs in thought suggests an era of possibility for those within the elite. Jack’s whim of creating a Hitler Studies department simply happens, Babette’s able to obtain drugs that can put off the fear of death, and Wilder’s ride across the freeway simply occur because they are desired. However, there is a lack of satisfaction in any material gain, as all relates back to the looming fear of death and the coming future, whatever it may hold. The only escape becomes academic discussion, where “Death was strictly a professional matter…” (74).
            It is the humor of the novel which saves it from maudlin depression, engaging a gallows humor that serves textually to keep death at bay. The novel combats itself internally, offsetting Jack’s increasingly bleak future with the natural, albeit written, humor of his life. The constant interplay between these elements allows Jack’s thoughts, actions, and words to mesh into a stream of confusing life.
            This life, however, does not include the monetary concerns of the average human for seemingly any of its character. Class is recognizable, particularly within Murray’s rental complex, but does not present itself through earnings or earnings potential (32). Characters simply maintain the occupations they desire, unless held back by their own thoughts. Emotion instead occupies currency, particularly within the Dylar substance. The only purposeful bloodshed committed is over Jack’s desire to obtain information on Dylar: to better know his wife, forego his fear of death, and destroy the sexual partner of his wife, he kills the man responsible for Dylar’s creation. Murray’s non-violent but voyeuristic move to The College-On-The-Hill is for his own emotional pleasure. In essence, characters trade emotional need and ownership of place because actual dollars are not a true factor in their lives.
            DeLillo raises the question as to how life should be lived with death constantly approaching. In a way, he takes a mathematician or economist’s modeling procedure through invoking “ceteris parabus,” wherein all other things are held constant. By limiting characters not to basic needs such as food or money but only to their emotional ideas of self, DeLillo draws out the rush of the era and the uncertainty of economic stability through this simple constancy. Economic turmoil is absorbed, quite literally, into emotional turmoil, as illustrated by the commoditization of emotion.
            The part and chapter division further enforces commoditization of the emotional path of life into unit values. Each chapter deals almost entirely within one issue, conversation, or event, while each part translates into a sum of these stories. DeLillo keeps Jack as the narrator in order to further a forced pattern, yet also enforces a fiat reading as Jack filters everyone else through his own vision. Every idea is only as powerful as the weight Jack gives it, forming not only his own opinions but those of others into a singular unit used for decision making. By quantifying these values, DeLillo effectively creates a sort-of exchange rate despite the books emotional focus. DeLillo does not disregard monetary measures, but rather incorporates them into the novel as a powerful force which controls the world of Jack but yet does not physically interfere.

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