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White Noise
by Don DeLillo

Better than any book I can think of, White Noise captures the particular strangeness of life in a time where humankind has finally learned enough to kill itself. Naturally, it's a terribly funny book, and the prose is as beautiful as a sunset through a particulate-filled sky. Nice-guy narrator Jack Gladney teaches Hitler Studies at a small college. His wife may be taking a drug that removes fear, and one day a nearby chemical plant accidentally releases a cloud of gas that may be poisonous. Writing before Bhopal and Prozac entered the popular lexicon, DeLillo produced a work so closely tuned into its time that it tells the future.


Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (1 of 20), Read 48 times Conf: Reading List From: Marcy Vaughan vaughan@yahoo.com Date: Wednesday, July 17, 2002 01:57 AM I’ve participated in a few discussions before, but I’ve been absent from the board for a long time. I hope it’s OK that I went ahead and posted a couple of ideas to get the thread going – I loved this book and have been looking forward to the discussion! A fundamental question focused on in White Noise concerns the theme of the natural: What is “the nature and being of real things” (243)? DeLillo makes the point that in modern society, the reproduced simulation has replaced the original reality. An important example of this that occurs early in the book is when Jack and Murray visit “the most photographed barn in America.” Murray says, “Once you’ve seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn. […] [The tourists] are taking pictures of taking pictures” (12-13). Another example from early in the book is the description of the fruit in the supermarket, which is “sprayed, burnished, bright,” and the fruit bins, which are “backed by mirrors that people accidentally punch when reaching for fruit in the upper rows” (36). DeLillo is suggesting that the actual pieces of fruit are themselves only images; they have been removed from nature by how burnished and bright they are. In fact, everything the supermarket sells is not real food but its representation – in how its packaged and advertised. Of course there’s the example of SIMUVAC, but I don’t want to spoil anything… Also tied to the theme of the natural is the nature of people when dealing with the idea of their own deaths. Jack says, “It’s natural to deny our nature, according to Murray. […] It’s the only way to survive” (296). DeLillo discussed what he thought about how people handle their fear of death in an interview: “I think it is something we all feel, something we almost never talk about, something that is almost there. I tried to relate it in White Noise to this other sense of transcendence that lies just beyond our touch. This extraordinary wonder of things is somehow related to the extraordinary dread, to the death fear we try to keep beneath the surface of our perceptions.” An example of this idea occurs towards the beginning of the novel is in the narrator’s description of the supermarket, which Murray views as some kind of post-modern temple: “I realized the place was awash in noise. The toneless systems, the jangle and skid of carts, the loudspeaker and coffee-making machines, […] And over it all, or under it all, a dull and unlocatable roar, as of some form of swarming life just outside the range of human apprehension” (36). There’s so much to say about this book – this should be a great discussion! -Marcy
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (2 of 20), Read 49 times Conf: Reading List From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Wednesday, July 17, 2002 08:01 AM Thank you so much for this note, Marcy. It gave me some themes to mull over as I'm reading without giving me the ending. This idea of the unspoken dread of death is one that I've marveled about from time to time-how we all go about our business from day to day with that feeling right below the surface. However, DeLillio does an excellent job of contrasting it with the wonder and appreciation of life seen in Jack and Babette. I'm puzzling over the choice of Hitler studies as Jack's specialty. In some ways, it seems like the ultimate cynicism, along with Murray's efforts to establish Elvis Presley studies. And, yet, it also seems like an effort to understand evil. The irony seems to be that what is threatening them in the book is far more difficult to defeat than Hitler. I'm wondering if that is the point or if there is something else that I am missing. Murray seems to me to be taking the role of a Greek chorus, at least a bit. What a terrific character he is! Barb...on page 122
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (3 of 20), Read 50 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Wednesday, July 17, 2002 09:16 AM Thanks, Marcy, for that excellent beginning. Where did you find the interview with DeLillo? Is it online? Sherry
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (4 of 20), Read 48 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Wednesday, July 17, 2002 12:14 PM Marcy, What a wonderful note! Thank you. That's one of the many real joys of Constant Reader; to have others come in with this sort of insight and clear up so many questions! Beej, a fellow Virginian
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (5 of 20), Read 43 times Conf: Reading List From: Marcy Vaughan vaughan@yahoo.com Date: Wednesday, July 17, 2002 04:28 PM My thoughts on Hitler Studies: I thought it was partly a commentary on the power of the media to transform the tyrant into just another image/representation. When one of Jack’s ex-wives asks, “How is Hitler?” Jack replies, “Fine, solid, dependable” (89). The image/representation of Hitler has lost the dangerous and scary quality of the original. Jack says that Hitler is “always on [TV]. We couldn’t have television without him” (63). We are bombarded by so many images, they become jumbled together; none really has any value or meaning - thus Elvis can be interchangeable with Hitler. Barbara, you commented “what is threatening them in the book is far more difficult to defeat than Hitler.” This is exactly what makes Hitler studies attractive to Jack. I won’t say any more here, except that Murray says something particularly enlightening on this subject on p.287. On a related topic, it seems like for Jack, the special attraction of fascism is the power of the Nazi rally to ward off fear of personal immortality. “Crowds came to form a shield against their own dying. To become a crowd is to keep out death” (73). It seems like he thinks of Nazism as a kind of substitute for religion, giving people a sense of participating in something larger than their individual selves and thereby overcoming their fear of death. I too, Barbara, thought of Murray like a Greek chorus, but the last section of the novel changed how I thought about him. We’ll have to talk about that later! -(Sherry, the interview with DeLillo was in a library book that I have since returned, and I only copied down that one quote. Sorry, I can’t remember the title or author of the book.) -Marcy
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (6 of 20), Read 28 times Conf: Reading List From: Jane Niemeier jniemeie@hotmail.com Date: Thursday, July 18, 2002 10:19 PM Marcy and Barbara and Beej, You have brought up some excellent points for discussion. Even though this is a very serious book, I found myself laughing out loud at parts of the book. I loved the fact that Jack had this image of how he should look on campus. He had to wear his sunglasses and be cool. I also loved the description of the family arguments. Did anyone ever figure out how many times Jack had been married? Was Babette wife number 5? I know that he was married to one woman twice. More later. Jane
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (7 of 20), Read 25 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Friday, July 19, 2002 08:54 AM As far as I can figure, yep, Babette was wife number five. I still can't keep track of whose kids are whose, tho! I'm heading down the homefront, and should be done by this afternoon. Beej
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (8 of 20), Read 28 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Friday, July 19, 2002 09:19 AM I loved the humor, too, Jane. In fact my favorite kind of book is one that is funny and serious at the same time. When someone can present a black poisonous cloud and the fear of death as main points in a book and have you choking with laughter (well, I did have bronchitis at the time) he is skillful indeed. Sherry
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (9 of 20), Read 18 times Conf: Reading List From: Lynn Isvik washualum@yahoo.com Date: Saturday, July 20, 2002 12:44 PM I laughed out loud many times myself, and could never quite manage to convey to my friend and traveling companion just why it was so funny. Some of what made me laugh was that DeLillo is good at capturing elements of ordinary family and campus life (the discussion with Heinrich about whether it was raining or not, for example). But I have as much fun with his non sequitur's and the things that you just aren't expecting. Murray's description of why he's in Blacksmith is one: "I'm here to avoid situations. Cities are full of situations, sexually cunning people. There are parts of my body I no longer encourage women to handle freely. I was in a situation with a woman in Detroit. She needed my semen in a divorce suit." Lynn
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (10 of 20), Read 21 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Saturday, July 20, 2002 12:45 PM I'm about 2/3 through. What's with this Wilder kid? Has anyone caught any mention of his age? If he's not a toddler, then he's pretty weird. Ruth
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (11 of 20), Read 22 times Conf: Reading List From: Lynn Isvik washualum@yahoo.com Date: Saturday, July 20, 2002 12:55 PM I agree, Ruth. I couldn't find that his age was ever pinpointed. I pretty much decided he was a toddler from some of the physical descriptions and the fact that he rides a tricycle. However, Jack says at one point that it occurred to him that Wilder was too old and too big to be riding in the front of the grocery cart and he wonders why his vocabulary is stalled at 25 words. I kept expecting to find out he was being affected by environmental contaminants or something. Lynn
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (12 of 20), Read 24 times Conf: Reading List From: Jane Niemeier jniemeie@hotmail.com Date: Saturday, July 20, 2002 01:44 PM Here is a section that made me laugh, and since it is on page 6 of the book, I knew right away that I was going to like the book. Babette: "It's not the station wagons I wanted to see. What are the people like? Do the women wear plaid skirts, cable-knit sweaters? Are the men in hacking jackets? What's a hacking jacket?" I was wondering that myself. Ruth and all, I was also wondering about Wilder. It is interesting that the last chapter starts with Wilder's so-called ride around the block. Jane
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (13 of 20), Read 26 times Conf: Reading List From: Lynn Isvik washualum@yahoo.com Date: Saturday, July 20, 2002 01:56 PM In the end, I think Wilder is an important part of the message. Jack and Babette both feel better when they can watch him, because in his youthful innocence he has no concept of death and therefore no fear of it. Lynn
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (14 of 20), Read 21 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Saturday, July 20, 2002 05:55 PM I suppose I'm odd man out because I really didn't think the book was all that funny. Sure, there were some light hearted moments, but I think that might have been included as a way to let us know that fear of death wasn't always in the foremost thoughts of these people; that they were able to put this fear on the back burner, and most definitely did have some moments free of this fear, call it repression, or not. Repression of the fear of death is necessary, to an extent, in order to function. But, having no fear of death isn't healthy, either, and might even cause death to come sooner, as we saw when Wilder, who had no fear of death (or did he? He did, after all, fear the shadow of his grandfather when he was in the backyard in the middle of the night..) cross the busy highway, ignoring the onslaught of speeding vehicles. One section of the book leaves me puzzled..was the shooting of Mink real or was it a dream? A fantasy? Or, is all of life a fantasy, more or less, and ultimate death the only reality? I mean, we all spend our lives making at least a stab at eating right, getting medical care when we need it, making certain our kids have all their inoculations. But, the the reality is that the most we can do is ward off death temporarily. Wow, what a bleak thought. Is DeLillo saying that most of our choices in life are subconsciously tied in with our fear of death? I think Jack felt if he studied Hitler long enough, understood him better, took him to his heart to the point of making him his life's work, he would, in a way, be conquering death. He was attempting to remove the mystery. At first, I really enjoyed Murray, but by the end of the book, he got pretty annoying. Beej
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (15 of 20), Read 19 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Saturday, July 20, 2002 06:08 PM I thought some of the wisecracks and some of the family discussions or banter were funny, but they seemed more like the shtick of a professional comedian than true dialogue. I was raised in a family that put a high premium on verbal humor, but the WN humor just doesn't ring true for me. (Not that every family's humor has to be the same.) Murray annoyed me from the gitgo. Whatta twerp. (Sniff, sniff.) Ruth
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (16 of 20), Read 18 times Conf: Reading List From: Lynn Isvik washualum@yahoo.com Date: Saturday, July 20, 2002 07:03 PM In general, it wasn't the actual conversations I found funny. In fact, some of the conversations were really slow and boring. It was more the weirdness of it all. I'm not sure I can even explain it, but DeLillo uses words and thoughts in unexpected ways that made me laugh -- strange twists and turns of thought. In fact, it was the weirdness of some woman needing Murray's semen in a divorce suit that was funny to me, not that Murray was entertaining at all. Most of the characters had odd elements of strangeness about them that made you think "why on earth did he do that?". Lynn
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (17 of 20), Read 13 times Conf: Reading List From: Jane Niemeier jniemeie@hotmail.com Date: Sunday, July 21, 2002 09:06 PM Beej, I thought that the fact that Jack was head of the Hitler department was just a send-up of the academic community. Who on earth would major in Hitler or Elvis? I thought that it was all just part of the joke. That whole exchange between Murray and Jack about Elvis and Hitler was hilarious to me. I don't think that Jack was studying Hitler to avoid death, because he started those studies long before he got his death sentence. He was looking for a way to be different and cool. I found the conversations among the family members to be somewhat realistic, because I have heard my students have similar conversations. You just can't jump in and correct everything, and Jack can't either. I know that I have a weird sense of humor. Jane
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (18 of 20), Read 10 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Monday, July 22, 2002 07:58 AM I must have a weird sense of humor, too, Jane, because I thought just about everything about this book was funny. But then, my favorite movie is Doctor Strangelove. The very idea of Hitler studies is funny to me. And I really cracked up during the SIMULVAC talk. The elements of truth in all the craziness was what made it funny to me. Sherry
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (19 of 20), Read 10 times Conf: Reading List From: Lynn Isvik washualum@yahoo.com Date: Monday, July 22, 2002 09:56 AM Oh, Sherry, yes! The SIMULVAC conversations had me laughing out loud too. That was one of the segments where I just couldn't make my friend see the humor, even after I explained the situation and read the segment to her. I finally quit trying and decided there really are some fundamental differences in senses of humor. Lynn
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (20 of 20), Read 10 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Monday, July 22, 2002 11:20 AM I thought the Hitler studies and the whole Murray thing were not so much a sendup of academia in general, but a very pointed sendup of the academia that actually allows a major in Popular Culture or somesuch thing. Where theses are written defending romance novels because they deal with the same issues as, say, Shakespeare. Where Murray would not be an exaggeration. Ruth
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (21 of 50), Read 69 times Conf: Reading List From: Marcy Vaughan vaughan@yahoo.com Date: Monday, July 22, 2002 01:54 PM Beej, I thought your last post was very insightful. Don’t you love how there was “agitation and panic in the aisles” (325) when the supermarket shelves were rearranged, in contrast to the way Wilder peacefully, obliviously navigated the highway lanes!! As to Jack’s shooting of Mink, I’m pretty sure Jack really did do it; it was not just a dream or fantasy. I think it really happened because of his subsequent treatment at the hospital by the nun and the conversation that ensued – I don’t think Jack could have dreamed that up! This is my take on the shooting: With his Budweiser shorts and “Planter’s peanut” skin, and the way he was staring at the TV repeating the ad slogans, Mink is the embodiment of the commercialism that composes much of the white noise that surrounds us. On shooting Mink, Jack is trying to break through the mass media, the white noise, that separates himself from the natural world. Jack says, “I was moving closer to things in their actual state […] I knew for the first time what rain really was” (305, 310). (Remember, he’s used to getting his info from “Cable Nature”!) After the shooting Jack says, “I saw beyond words. I knew what red was, […]” (312). I’m not sure if DeLillo is saying that most of our choices in life are subconsciously tied in with our fear of death – that’s a great question to mull over. In the novel he has Murray say that whether we choose to practice religion or not is definitely tied to this fear. Murray says, “you can always get around death by concentrating on the life beyond” (285). I wonder to what extent Murray speaks DeLillo’s ideas? I was also wondering what the significance of the following was: when Jack is on his way to confront Mink, the triad we’re presented with is “Random Access Memory, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, Mutual Assured Destruction” (303). We have these triads interspersed throughout the book – “Dacron, Orlon, Lycra Spandex,” “Clorets, Velamints, Freedent,” etc. It seemed to me to be a prayer of sorts – consumerism’s own religious mantra. But it’s different here – it’s not composed of product names. -Marcy
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (22 of 50), Read 78 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Monday, July 22, 2002 02:51 PM Marcy, I sit here musing over this triad business, especially as you tie it in to a consumerism religious mantra, and immediately, what comes to mind is 'thefatherandthesonandtheholyspirit,' but only insofar as that would relate to the idea of a trinity..a unique triad... of being simultaneously one and yet, separate; We have this fear of death and this need for comforting security (as in the routine of the super market) uniquely and separate from one another as human beings, and yet this fear of death and the desire for routine is what basically binds us together and makes us, collectively, more as 'one.' Is death what really gives humans a feeling of 'oneness,' do you suppose? The premise that we are all in the same sinking ship, with no life boat? How very interesting that you compare Wilder's trek across the busy highway with the panic that resulted from the rearrangement of the super market shelves! I suppose, knowing that Wilder had minimal knowledge of death and therefore, little or no fear of it, he did not need to concern himself with the journey of life, but only the destination of where he wanted to be. I suppose, with the knowledge that the final destination ain't all that great, we would have more need of a security of routine within the journey, itself...sort of a measly attempt to control.. (Does that make sense?) Beej
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (23 of 50), Read 60 times Conf: Reading List From: Marcy Vaughan vaughan@yahoo.com Date: Monday, July 22, 2002 09:57 PM Beej, that definitely makes sense! Adults need to feel in control of their lives – even if it ultimately makes them more fearful. Also, I think DeLillo is definitely saying that what ties people together is the fear of death, and that we form groups as a way of warding off death. At the end of the novel, people gather together in a group to watch the sunset, which, like death, remains a mystery. “Some people are scared by the sunsets, some determined to be elated, but most of us don’t know how to feel, are ready to go either way” (324). (Can almost be talking about death here - made me think back to how excited the Baptist preacher was during the Airborne Toxic Event, and how even most people who do believe in Heaven are scared of death too – and may not “know how to feel”.) People are reluctant to separate once the sun has set, to be “restored to [their] separate and defensible selves” (325). Also, I got the impression that people looked to the tabloids, and Babette got hooked on that talk radio show, not to look for answers but to feel like we are joined with others in our anxiety and misery over the fact we all die. (Doesn’t it seem like the Holy Trinity has been replaced in the novel by the unholy trinity of radio, TV, and the tabloids?) -Marcy
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (24 of 50), Read 63 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Monday, July 22, 2002 10:18 PM '“Some people are scared by the sunsets, some determined to be elated, but most of us don’t know how to feel, are ready to go either way” (324). (Can almost be talking about death here..)' Oh, yes, Marcy! And, thinking of it that way, isn't it ironic that the destination Wilder so recklessly sought, was the viaduct from where his family viewed these intense sunsets? Beej
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (25 of 50), Read 63 times Conf: Reading List From: Edward Houghton eddh@pacbell.net Date: Monday, July 22, 2002 11:10 PM MARCY Speaking of sunsets: When we were in Key West and the end of the day grew near we would stroll down to the end of Duval Street (road?) and grab a spot to sit and sip a Tequila Sunrise. As the sky became more beautiful and the day drew to an end we would lift our glasses and toast the day. And then everyone would clap to show their appreciation for the sunset. Some day there may be no applause and the sun will not return. EDD
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (26 of 50), Read 49 times Conf: Reading List From: Candy Minx candyminx@hotmail.com Date: Thursday, July 25, 2002 02:12 PM Great comments here, enjoyed catching up on this thread. DeLillo is one of my favorite writers. I feel that he and Pynchon and McCarthy are some of the most challenging thoughtful writers out there, I believe they are writing books that make you think about so many things, more than just human, but about the world and questioning humans place in it... I also found many aspects of White Noise to be hilarious, sometimes just plain funny like the semen quote...and satirical funny! And sad too...
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (27 of 50), Read 48 times Conf: Reading List From: Candy Minx candyminx@hotmail.com Date: Thursday, July 25, 2002 02:14 PM Ha, I just bought a copy of Gravity's Rainbow and just now see it is a version by Penguin of "Pengiun great books of the 20th century series" and this represents 1973. For 1985, they have White Noise!
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (28 of 50), Read 50 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Saturday, July 27, 2002 10:39 AM Candy, I agree that DeLillo definitely makes you stop and think, but he's rather unique in doing so, because he doesn't try to clobber you over the head with any of his ideas. He uses a much subtler approach by planting the seeds of thought so that the reader is able to slowly cultivate a better understanding of what DeLillo is saying. I like this approach, a lot. Beej
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (29 of 50), Read 53 times Conf: Reading List From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Saturday, July 27, 2002 11:31 AM I finished White Noise this morning ( my "real life" intervened and left me without reading time for a while there) and read through this incredible thread. I've certainly become a DeLillio fan, an effect I didn't expect going into this. I am incredibly impressed with his subtlety for the reasons that Beej gives in her last note. Sherry also talked about "...the elements of truth in all the craziness" and that hit me strongly as well. His prose is deceiving. I don't usually think of pairing seeming craziness and subtlety and yet here it is. I loved the device of using Wilder as the contrast, the alternative to all of the other characters' fear of death. He has the living oblivion (I just read the notes on that poem in the poetry thread) that we think we long for. I was sure that Wilder was mentally retarded and yet his existence is so attractive to all of the others that they don't see it as retardation. Even the other children, even Heinrich who seems to be desperate to confront truth, doesn't comment on it. The repetitions and the routine as a comforting ingredient also stood out to me. There is so much repetition in dialogue throughout the book particularly as Jack repeats his plan, each time adding small details, for murdering Mink. It does become a mantra. And, wasn't Mink almost surreal? Was he the symbol of the ultimate effort to hide from our end? Incredible book...now I understand what all the fuss has been about. Barb
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (30 of 50), Read 62 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Saturday, July 27, 2002 11:45 AM In a way, Wilder is used as a literary tool of comparison much the same way Benjy is used in Faulkner's 'The Sound and the Fury,' in that they are both tools of comparison between a cognitive awareness of dismal and stark realities, and a more oblivious, innocent view of life that has few, if any, components of 'what if.' (consequences are something of which neither Wilder nor Benjy have the least idea.) Both in TSATF and WN, the more innocent outlook accentuates the deeper and darker realities in both books. And Barb, I didn't see the similarities between Benjy and Wilder until I read your post! Thanks! I love it when someone posts an insight that just spurs me on to understanding a book better! Beej
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (31 of 50), Read 54 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Saturday, July 27, 2002 12:30 PM Loved the comparison of Wilder and Benjy. Very good. But I'm going to disagree with "subtle" and "no clobbering." Unless I missed the point of those points. I found the book to be awfully repetitive. Every time whathisface started complaining about his fear of death, I'd think, "Not again! I've got it, already. I've got it, dammit." Delillo is too good a writer to not have been aware he was doing this. Anybody have any thoughts on why he chose to hammer this idea in ad infinitum? Ruth
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (32 of 50), Read 58 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Saturday, July 27, 2002 12:54 PM Ruth, I have to agree that Whatshisface and Mrs. Whatshisface, did go on and on a bit too much about their fear of death, but the subtlety was more about the 'why' of that. I mean, i know death is inescapable, but I just don't center on it at all, the way these people did. The subtlety was more of a seed of the notion that perhaps we do bury a fear of death more than we would think on the surface, and that most of the choices people make, beginning from a rather young age...maybe even as young as 11 or 12 (and I'm thinking of my own son with that, because this book has made me wonder about some of the stuff he has said in regard to various things he fears)..are directly a result of an inherent, pushed-down-deep, all encompassing fear of death. Beej
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (33 of 50), Read 54 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Saturday, July 27, 2002 01:04 PM I've often thought that lots of creative activity (music, art, writing, etc.) is in reaction to our inherent fear of death. What you leave behind lives beyond death. Ruth
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (34 of 50), Read 54 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Saturday, July 27, 2002 01:07 PM The mind is brilliant at trying to fool itself into thinking we can somehow escape death, isn't it? Beej
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (35 of 50), Read 47 times Conf: Reading List From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Saturday, July 27, 2002 04:17 PM Ruth, I thought that the repetitiveness was deliberate on DeLillio's part and that it was part of the way they soothed themselves, much like the routines that gave them a sense of control. Remember what Jack said about their need to ask each other how they were, repeatedly, after they confessed their fears of death to each other. I can't find it just now but it somehow made them feel better. And, when Jack told Babette that they just weren't as good at repressing it as others, she talked about how it was supposed to be good to get this all out. It seemed that they thought that if they could just talk about it enough, even repetitively, they could solve it. I can certainly relate to that approach and it seems like it would be a university couple's natural response. My favorite character in the book may have been Vernon. There he was, much closer to facing death than either of them and he brings a whole different approach to it. Had he somehow adjusted to it or was he just too ignorant to fully understand? The "Don't worry about me" speech just before he left had me laughing out loud. But, this seemingly uncomplicated man brings the most dangerous thing of all in this situation, the gun. Or, maybe Murray was the most dangerous element? What do you all make of him? It occurred to me during his whole long talk with Jack at the end that he wanted what was Jack's. He wanted his wife, his family and his spot at the university. Could that have been his reason for encouraging Jack toward murder? Or, is he symbolic of some other force? He seemed almost satanic-like at that point. Thanks, Beej, for the connection with Benjie. I like that. Barb
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (36 of 50), Read 48 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Saturday, July 27, 2002 04:40 PM Murray was a creep all right. Ruth
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (37 of 50), Read 45 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Saturday, July 27, 2002 08:17 PM Whew! I finally finished this book and have just caught up on the notes. As the daughter of a woman who repeatedly asked me if I thought she would die "today" for years on end, I can assure you that for some people that self-defense denial of death just isn't operative. Granted, my mother suffered from Alzheimer's for many years, but I think she had this lingering dread that DeLillo is talking about long, long before that. More later. Basically, I thought that parts of this book were hysterically funny, but I also thought it rambled too much. I wanted to bonk Murray on the head after awhile. The idea of Hitler studies, especially by an "expert" who had never mastered even basic German, struck me as wonderfully absurd. Ann
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (38 of 50), Read 47 times Conf: Reading List From: Marcy Vaughan vaughan@yahoo.com Date: Monday, July 29, 2002 01:24 AM Barb, I liked your thoughts on the point of the repetitiveness in the novel. In particular, when you said, “It seemed that they thought that if they could just talk about [their fears of death] enough, even repetitively, they could solve it.” That made me think of Babette’s classes (in sitting and breathing or something like that) – DeLillo clearly intended for us to view these classes as absurd, but I couldn’t really figure out the point. Maybe it goes to Babette’s belief that “everything is correctible.” If everything is broken down and examined, death can become as understandable as sitting and breathing, thereby extinguishing (or at least diminishing) our fear. As for Murray, I think that many of the ideas he expresses are ones that DeLillo would agree with, the major exception of course being: “Kill to live” (291). But notice that in this case, Murray keeps using the phrase “in theory,” and that Murray was pretty nonchalant during their entire “looping Socratic walk” – Jack tells us “again [Murray] seemed to shrug” (286). It seems as though Murray was removed from Jack’s fear, behind a theoretical screen where suggesting murder was no different from suggesting that Jack put his faith in technology or pick a religion. Perhaps DeLillo’s point is that theory may pose horrible dangers when put into practice; that theoreticians need to have antitheoretical prudence – they need to step back from theory and see the actual people involved. -Marcy
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (39 of 50), Read 43 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Monday, July 29, 2002 08:53 AM Marcy, I had a hard time seeing the point of Murray because his interminable conversations got on my nerves. I think it might be important to remember that he studied the most inane aspects of popular culture. I don't think we are meant to take him seriously. One thing that DeLillo says near the end really struck me. He said that we spend our whole lives saying good bye to others and in the end we need to say good bye to ourselves. He seems to say that no one can really help us with thus. Babette seemed to have been chosen as a wife because she was a comforting. mother earth figure. However, she was so paralyzed by her own fear of mortality that she couldn't really help her husband. Ann
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (40 of 50), Read 46 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Monday, July 29, 2002 09:48 AM 'we spend our whole lives saying good bye to others and in the end we need to say good bye to ourselves.' Ann, that's a great insight and I think it's the crux of the entire book. Isn't Babette interesting? Or rather, the choice of marrying her interesting? She's just so different from his other wives. She is more maternal than the others, and I think he was ready for a spouse who made him the center of her life rather than a wife who centered on her career. But, somehow, I got the impression that he really wasn't in love with her. Beej
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (41 of 50), Read 40 times Conf: Reading List From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Monday, July 29, 2002 10:53 AM Marcy, I sort of like the idea that Murray represents the theoretical approach. That might be why he seems so irritating, Ann. So many of the characters seem to represent various approaches to the central question and that may be Murray's. The scientist's is the one I want to accept: ...I think it's a mistake to lose one's sense of death, even one's fear of death. Isn't death the boundary we need? Doesn't it give a precious texture to life, a sense of definition? You have to ask yourself whether anything you do in this life would have beauty and meaning without the knowledge you carry of a final line, a border or limit." Perfectly rational approach, isn't it? However, we still don't want to die. I definitely think that the character Jack gravitated to Babette because he thought that she was the earth mother, accepting of all that life gives and takes. My thought here was that if we are depending on anyone to represent any attitude unswervingly, we are probably going to be disappointed. When Jack kept saying, "That is not the point of Babette" to her, he was telling her what she was despite the obvious evidence to the contrary. That is what he needed her to be, not what the real person was. Barb
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (42 of 50), Read 41 times Conf: Reading List From: Marcy Vaughan vaughan@yahoo.com Date: Monday, July 29, 2002 11:58 AM Ann, I really do think we are meant to take Murray seriously. The title of Part I, “Waves and Radiation,” is Murray’s phrase, and the episode that closes Part I suggests that Jack is beginning to learn to see as Murray does. When Jack views Babette on TV, he thinks, “Was she dead, missing, disembodied? Was this her spirit, her secret self, some two-dimensional facsimile released by the power of technology […] If she was not dead, was I? […] It was but wasn’t her. Once again I began to think Murray might be on to something. Waves and radiation” (104). That Jack has learned to see as Murray does is also evident in the last episode of the novel, where there is “agitation and panic” because the supermarket shelves have been rearranged. Jack thinks, “But in the end it doesn’t matter what they see or think they see. The terminals are equipped with holographic scanners, which decode the binary secret of every item, infallibly. This is the language of waves and radiation, or how the dead speak to the living” (326). Of course Murray has his oddities and is not a very likable character, but Jack, as well as the reader, learns from him. The idea that struck you at the end, that “we spend our whole lives saying good bye to others and in the end we need to say good bye to ourselves” was said by Murray (on p 294). -Marcy
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (43 of 50), Read 35 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Monday, July 29, 2002 03:05 PM Marcy, Good point about Murray saying that we need to learn to say good-bye to ourselves. I had thought it was Jack. So, I will grant you that Murray is capable of insight, but he also spouts a lot of absurd nonsense. For example, he buys plain label packages of food not because he wants to save money, but because they appeal to him aesthetically. His career goal is to establish himself as a world renowned expert on Elvis, analogous to Jack's role as one of the foremost Hitler analysts. He wants to sleep with Babette because he wrongly perceives her as a tower of strength. (Actually, everyone misunderstands Babette, so we shouldn't hold that against him). This novel is largely a novel of ideas - certainly not plot, because the story meanders very slowly indeed. I think the character Murray is necessary because he spouts so many of the intellectual ideas of our times, and that is what DeLillo wants to explore - particularly as they relate to our coming to terms with our mortality. Sometimes Murray is ridiculous, but other times his observations are very perceptive. My only complaint is that DeLillo needed to reign this character in a little. He rambles on too much for my taste. This book would have been stronger if it had been about a third shorter. Barb, I don't really buy the argument that death gives meaning to life. I think we could all learn to recognize the value of what we had even if death didn't enter into the picture.
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (44 of 50), Read 35 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Monday, July 29, 2002 03:15 PM Beej, I too found Jack's choice of wives very interesting. I don't know how deeply he was in love with Babette, but she was definitely an improvement on the other three wives. In her favor, she was good in bed and she was a good mother all those kids. While Babette is very maternal, it struck me that Jack is also a very loving and good parent. Maybe that just seemed a bit incongruous in light of his confused domestic arrangements and multiple children by 4 different mothers. I think that the children are so important to both Jack and Babette because children help give meaning to life. Ann
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (45 of 50), Read 20 times Conf: Reading List From: Dean Denis dddenis@telus.net Date: Wednesday, July 31, 2002 11:27 AM Marcy #38: "Perhaps DeLillo’s point is that theory may pose horrible dangers when put into practice; that theoreticians need to have antitheoretical prudence – they need to step back from theory and see the actual people involved." This is very good but we need to make a distinction. A theory is nothing more than a proposed explanation based on current knowledge. It exists to be questioned. It's purpose is to provide hypotheses to be tested. A theory needs to be validated. We gain knowledge by showing the theory to be true or false. When a theory is accepted before it is verified it becomes a belief. Belief is accepting to be true things which have not been proven to be true. We can only put into practice things which have been proven true, knowledge, or things which we accept to be true without proof, belief. So it makes more sense to say that Belief may pose horrible dangers when put into practice; believers need to have anti-belief prudence – they need to step back from belief and see the actual people involved. All human tragedy comes from the practical application of belief. Dean All roads lead to roam.
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (46 of 50), Read 19 times Conf: Reading List From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Wednesday, July 31, 2002 11:53 AM Excellent points, Denis. But, sometimes, I had the sense, in this instance, that Murray was in constantly roving theory touching on one than another without much interest in proofs. Barb
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (47 of 50), Read 20 times Conf: Reading List From: Dean Denis dddenis@telus.net Date: Wednesday, July 31, 2002 12:42 PM I agree, Barbara, Murray generated a lot of ideas but never followed through. I was struck by Jack's isolation. He doesn't belong to any group. He is aloof even from his wife and family. This was made very clear to me when he wishes that there were someone who could tell him how to behave given the circumstances. I saw only two occassions when he knows what's expected of him: - he needs to know German for the Convention on Hitler studies. - when he behaves as the jealous husband and seeks out Mink. All the other times he seems so totally isolated. Now, the act of observation has the effect of isolating the observer. As when Jack observed his son crying in the car. he wasn't concerned with what his son was trying to communicate with his crying. Jack just observed. Jack and Murray are both observers but Jack never stops being an observer even though his family gives him reason to stop. This gave me a very creepy feeling about Jack. The fear of death is universal to all living things. The awareness of an impending and inevitable death is typically human. If we lose our fear of death to the point where we lose our awareness of it then we lose some of our humanity. Dean All roads lead to roam.
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (48 of 50), Read 18 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Wednesday, July 31, 2002 01:10 PM I didn't see Jack as particularly isolated from his family, but I did think that DeLillo was showing how we all have to face death alone - it's not something anyone else can do for us. Ann
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (49 of 50), Read 13 times Conf: Reading List From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Wednesday, July 31, 2002 07:02 PM Dean: Excellent points. How would you feel, though, about this caveat to your closing dictum..."All human tragedy comes from the practical application of belief."...? All human tragedy comes from the practical application of fixed and unyielding belief. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (50 of 50), Read 14 times Conf: Reading List From: Dean Denis dddenis@telus.net Date: Wednesday, July 31, 2002 10:05 PM Dale, can belief be other than fixed and unyielding? If it is movable and yielding it would be a theory. The proponent would be proceeding with a desire to have er thoughts challenged in order to see the limitations of the theory. E would be ready to increase er awareness and change er theory accordingly. Belief has decided fact where there is no proof on the basis of emotion. Once this is done, belief maintains itself by ignoring evidence. Belief limits awareness and propogates itself by emotion. I think that your qualifier is in agreement with my initial dictum. Dean All roads lead to roam.
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (51 of 58), Read 57 times Conf: Reading List From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Saturday, August 03, 2002 03:34 PM Dean: Hmmm. I'm having trouble finding in dictionaries the rigid differences you propose between "belief" and "theory". (See below.) In the American Heritage, for instance, "belief" is even used to define "theory," as in: "A belief that guides action or assists comprehension or judgment." My beliefs have changed continually over the years, based on my reading and my life experience. Sometimes I test out the beliefs of others to see how they would feel as mine, and then add or discard as necessary. But I don't put life-or-death stock in any of these beliefs...i.e., I wouldn't risk my life for them, or hurt somebody who believed differently. It just doesn't seem to me that "belief" is a pejorative word, or that it automatically equates with fanatical belief. *** be·lief (b¹-lf“) n. 1. The mental act, condition, or habit of placing trust or confidence in another. 2. Mental acceptance of and conviction in the truth, actuality, or validity of something. 3. Something believed or accepted as true, especially a particular tenet or a body of tenets accepted by a group of persons. [Middle English bileve, alteration (influenced by belþfan, belfan, to believe;; see BELIEVE) of Old English gelafa. ———————————————————— SYNONYMS: belief, credence, credit, faith. The central meaning shared by these nouns is “mental acceptance of the truth, actuality, or validity of something”: a statement unworthy of belief; an idea steadily gaining credence; testimony meriting credit; put no faith in a liar's assertions. See also Synonyms at opinion. ANTONYMS: disbelief. the·o·ry (th“…-r, thîr“) n., pl. the·o·ries. 1.a. Systematically organized knowledge applicable in a relatively wide variety of circumstances, especially a system of assumptions, accepted principles, and rules of procedure devised to analyze, predict, or otherwise explain the nature or behavior of a specified set of phenomena. b. Such knowledge or such a system. 2. Abstract reasoning; speculation. 3. A belief that guides action or assists comprehension or judgment: rose early, on the theory that morning efforts are best; the modern architectural theory that less is more. 4. An assumption based on limited information or knowledge; a conjecture. [Late Latin theoria, from Greek, from theoros, spectator : probably thea, a viewing + -oros, seeing.] >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (52 of 58), Read 52 times Conf: Reading List From: Dean Denis dddenis@telus.net Date: Sunday, August 04, 2002 03:18 AM Dale, the word "belief" is used to mean many things in common speech. For example, in the American Heritage definition of "theory" the word "belief" could be replaced by "thought," "notion," or "idea." Nevertheless, my definition of "belief" coincides with the AH definition: Mental acceptance of and conviction in the truth, actuality, or validity of something. The moment one questions it, there can no longer be mental acceptance or conviction in its truth and it is no longer a belief. Once one questions a belief one embarks on a progression of knowing. This distinction between "knowing" and "believing" describes the relationship which a person has with any particular idea. It doesn't deny that that relationship can't change as you have indicated by your own example. This distinction, however, is an important one to make especially when it comes time for us to make practical applications. Here is what I have come to see as the differences between belief and knowledge: Belief is absolute. Knowledge is aware of its limitations. Belief has certainty. Knowledge has error. Belief is fixed. Knowledge moves to minimize its error. Belief cannot exist if it is questioned. Knowledge seeks to be questioned. Belief maintains itself by limiting awareness. Knowledge maintains itself by expanding awareness. Belief ignores the attenuating effects of space and time. Knowledge includes these effects. Belief is transmitted by emotion. Knowledge is transmitted by reasoning. Belief is easier to transmit than knowledge. Knowledge is more difficult to transmit than belief. Belief is communal. Knowledge is individual. Dean All roads lead to roam.
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (53 of 58), Read 47 times Conf: Reading List From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Monday, August 05, 2002 08:17 AM A few more thoughts on White Noise this morning...As I was leafing through it, I came across Jack's lines in a conversation with Babette that I highlighted and which seem to come close to being the crux of the book: "How strange it is. We have these deep terrible lingering fears about ourselves and the people we love. Yet we walk around, talk to people, eat and drink. We manage to function. The feelings are deep and real. Shouldn't they paralyze us? How is it that we survive them, at least for a while? We drive a car, we teach a class. How is it no one sees how deeply afraid we were, last night, this morning? Is it something we all hide from each other, by mutual consent? Or do we share the same secret without knowing it? Wear the same disguise." This is pretty profound, I would say. It's a thought that has occurred to me at intervals for years and I think it's motivated philosophy, religion and writing for centuries. But, DeLillio states it in simple language that has to ring an internal bell with any human being. However, the quote on my Penguin Great Books of the 20th century edition, from Jonathan Yardley at the Washington Post, focuses on its setting in the academic world: Splendid stuff: not merely are its wit and glitter distinctive, but it's true -- it describes, with sympathetic but devastating finality, an academic subspecies than any habitue of the campuses will immediately recognize." The setting of the book seems so incidental to me, perfect to give the characters the time for the mental exploration of our ultimate demise and its meaning. However, academic life merely gives rise to the humor that came as a relief to the consideration of the more central question. In some of my research about the book, I find that Yardley is not the only one who focuses on the academic setting as a more central theme. What do you all think? Barb
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (54 of 58), Read 36 times Conf: Reading List From: Candy Minx candyminx@hotmail.com Date: Tuesday, August 06, 2002 01:58 PM Dale and Dean, Interesting discussion. There are some scientists that don't believe in the concept of "human nature". I sort of don't either...I think I am a bit more in agreement with Plato. He said we are all in life in "the realm of becoming". He believed that our lives and the world are an illusion. I take this to mean even our definitions of belief and knowledge are dependant on our suspension of disbelief or our communal agreement to accept roles and economies in our various cultures( as a brief example of what I am thinking as I read your posts.) Plato believed that the world was an illusion and most ideas and objects were "examples" of real things. Examples because the real things, the important things are invisible. Like beauty, truth, love, justice...we can only give examples of these real things because they are invisible. In someways, belief and knowledge are invisible too. Our dictionary definitions or personal explanations might only be examples to Plato... But I babble, enjoyed the ideas here...
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (55 of 58), Read 33 times Conf: Reading List From: Dean Denis dddenis@telus.net Date: Tuesday, August 06, 2002 05:49 PM I think that Plato said that the world can't be percieved directly, not that it was an illusion. Thus, we can have only approximations of the world and this leads to error in knowledge which can, with effort, be mitigated but never eliminated. To say that the world is an illusion makes the world a construct of human perception when it is actually the other way around. Our perception is a construct of the world. The illusion lies in the subjective impression which the world makes on us. For example, there is no chaos in nature. "Chaos" refers exclusively to our inability to describe nature. Dean All roads lead to roam.
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (56 of 58), Read 32 times Conf: Reading List From: Jane Niemeier jniemeie@hotmail.com Date: Tuesday, August 06, 2002 09:50 PM Barb, You bring up an excellent point with your first quote. I don't know how many times, when something is going wrong in my life, I have been able to go to work and function normally. It is almost a relief to be able to do so. I read once that a person can spend only a couple of days in a crisis mode. The body and mind just can't take being hammered over the head constantly with bad news, so we look for escape in everyday routines. I thought the academic setting was very important in the first section, and that section seemed to be more light-hearted to me. After the spill, the book seemed much more serious, and I sometimes wondered if Jack was still teaching his classes. Jane
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (57 of 58), Read 24 times Conf: Reading List From: Candy Minx candyminx@hotmail.com Date: Thursday, August 08, 2002 01:12 PM Hey Dean, yes, you described Plato's ideas about illusion and examples very well. I totally suck at paraphrasing....
Topic: White Noise by Don DeLillo (58 of 58), Read 24 times Conf: Reading List From: Dean Denis dddenis@telus.net Date: Thursday, August 08, 2002 06:29 PM Nevertheless, you bring up interesting points, Candy. Dean All roads lead to roam.

 

 
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