Newest Review: ... 'Americana' (the title of another of DeLillo's novels). White Noise is an intellectual offering though far from being impenetr... more
The epitome of satire and irony
White Noise - Don Delillo
Member Name: MartynColebrook
White Noise - Don Delillo
Date: 29/07/02, updated on 01/04/05 (1704 review reads)
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Often branding an author as ‘post-modern’ will risk driving readers away since the perception is that of some erudite, esoteric academia that is both dry-as-dust and impenetrable for those who aren’t in on the topics but this is one charge that cannot be levelled at White Noise. Whilst the main subject is satirising consumerism and the contemporary obsession with prolonging life through various medical practices, DeLillo infuses an unrelenting comic streak that strikes deep at the heartland of middle America. Although his bravery regarding risque topics has not gone unnoticed, he has also acquired a number of critical opponents who seek to denounce his work – surely these debates alone ought to install this as a modern classic!
Jack Gladney is Professor of Hitler Studies at College-on-the-Hill and lives with the various progeny he has gained from his and h
is wife’s past relationships. The fascination with Fascism and Hitler is a favourite of DeLillo’s and Gladney’s course is focused on examining the importance of Hitler in our present society. Aside from deprecating an academic system that seeks to quantify everything, there is concern in the form of Dylar, a drug that is able to banish the fear of dying, which Babette (Jack’s wife) has begun taking. One of the key points in Jack and Babette’s relationship is the indomitable spectre that hangs over them ; who will die first? Given that this was written in 1985 there is certainly something prophetic about DeLillo’s perspective since the almost Faustian temptation for defying death and physical decay came into its own during the 90s plastic surgery boom.
This obsession with refuting mortality is intensified when an ‘airborne toxic event’ (now probably known as biochemical terror) occurs in a nearby neighbourhood and when Jack is diagnosed the suggestion seems to be that he will have to wait until he is eighty in order to determine full damage that this poisoning may have caused (he is in his 40s at this point). Add to the pot another academic whose focus is the ‘popular culture – anything from music to cereal packets’ and what comes about is a diverse, viciously scathing attack on the society that DeLillo draws on so richly for such priceless material. It is by no means a coincidence that his first novel was titled ‘Americana’ since he seems determined that no facet of US life will escape his prodigious pen and ingenious eye.
As odd as this novel and brief synopsis may sound, White Noise really is worth giving a go since the essence is, as DeLillo himself reveals ‘"It's about fear, death, and technology. A comedy, of course." The white noise can be seen as signifying a multitude of sins that we are all guilty of employing to block out our own fears and
worries which is why this novel is so successful; there is no one I’ve encountered who can stimulate and represent a nation’s psychosis, stirring the darkest concerns from their hiding places before mercilessly satirising them for a eager audience. After already gaining recognition from the US judges it would be scandalous for White Noise to disappear unread into the graveyards of American writers who have failed to gain an equivalent measure of success outside of their own shores. This final quotation from the novel itself is a good indicator of the themes and issues that recur throughout White Noise: ‘Before pop art, there was such a thing as bad taste. Now there's kitsch, schlock, camp and porn.’ Here is a novel that epitomises style, oozes ability and is simply superb; certainly one of the finest American writers I’ve had the pleasure of reading.