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A blog for my academic ideas, more or less.

White Noise

(Tried to think of a funny title for this post and ended up overwhelmed by the impression of a number of possibilities and decided to just go for an informative one instead. Tried to cut through the ‘White Noise’. This joke would probably have not been obvious without this parenthesis. This is frustrating.)

I just finished reading Don DeLillo’s White Noise. I think this is the second time I have read it. I do not remember finishing it a ‘first’ time. I remember starting it several times. I felt like I had read maybe thirty pages of it and then stopped. I definitely remember telling friends that this is what I did. I told myself that I would go back to it someday.

Last night I read a James Salter story, American Express, in the Granta Collection of the American Short Story, that I thought I had not read before but realised I had read before.

I finished White Noise for the (apparently) second time this morning. I did not really care about the ending. I suspect this may be why I have forgotten finishing it. I remembered the girl running awkwardly around campus. I remembered Wilder never talking. I remembered Murray being pretty much an identical copy of Jack.

The book now resonates with me more than it would have done had I read it and remembered that I had read it. This is an obvious statement. It seems like something the kids in the book would pick on and try to make me question if I had ever originally read it or if there is ever an ‘original’ reading. The central incident in the book is the ‘airborne toxic event’. Some chemical gets released into the local atmosphere. There is a big black cloud in the sky to warn everyone that this is happening. The media and locals furiously circulate and revise interpretations of the cloud. One version of the cloud (later superceded) makes exposed subjects prone to deja vu. Even after this side-effect is disputed, people demonstrate memory issues. This is why my experience with the book feels strange. Did the book itself infect me with deja vu? Is this something it is possible for a writer to intend? Did I fall victim to the frequent discussions of memory problems in the book?

Would I recommend people read this book once, forget it, and then read it again? I might.

I liked the interest in representations. I liked the family’s intellectual bubble. I liked Jack and Murray’s discussions.

The cover of my copy has a kid sitting in front of a white TV screen. It is tinted green as a I think is the appropriate colourway for the early 21st century Picador DeLillos. It looks kind of like an alien in front of a ‘viewing screen’.

I also found this for ‘white noise’ in Google Images. This feels like a predictable thing to do but I think this act of presenting this image illustrates the banal nature of the below image.

The cover seems to miss the point of the book. It is not that the data/representations that suffuse our culture make things impenetrable. That is a lazy response. Interpretation is possible. Interpretation is always possible.

This Michael Cho cover is much better. The signs are multiple but still interprable. The family in the car is great. The family in this book is hostile and biting at times but it is nonetheless always there and unified in the face of multiple departures and parent situations. Comfort in small doses. We get the sense that it is not permanent but it outlasts the book, at least.

(Oh, and this must be one of Grant Morrison’s favourite books, right?)


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