- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books; 25th Anniversary edition (December 29, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0143105981
- ISBN-13: 978-0143105985
- Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.9 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 543 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #32,381 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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White Noise Paperback – Deckle Edge, December 29, 2009
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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Chairman of the department of Hitler studies at a Midwestern college, Jack Gladney is accidently exposed to a cloud of noxious chemicals, part of a world of the future that is doomed because of misused technology, artifical products and foods, and overpopulation. PW appreciated DeLillo's "bleak, ironic" vision, calling it "not so much a tragic view of history as a macabre one." January
Copyright 1985 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The chapters are mostly short with beautiful form, often beginning simply: “Babette said to me in bed one night, 'Isn’t it great having all these kids around?'” then ending in surprisingly poetic outbursts: “May the days be aimless. Let the seasons drift. Do not advance the action according to a plan.”
TVs and radios interrupt Jack's thoughts with the strangest, incongruous observations.
The characters go grocery shopping a lot, and the supermarket is the stage for many important conversations and observations, like this haunting description of the white noise itself: “I realized the place was awash in noise. The toneless systems, the jangle and skid of carts, the loudspeaker and coffee-making machines, the cries of children. 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.”
Murray is one of the most interesting characters, a Visiting Lecturer who teaches classes on Elvis and car crash scenes in American movies. He is constantly expounding on the ordinary things around him and finding unexpected meaning. Often his ideas seem completely insane, but at other times he is acutely insightful which forces us to give his crazier ideas a chance. He sees car crashes in movies as celebratory, “a yearning for naivete. We want to be artless again. We want to reverse the flow of experience, of worldliness and its responsibilities.”
In the end, the book seems to be saying that white noise is all around us. It is made up of tabloid headlines, bright food packaging, our excessive consumerism, our obsession with tragic stories in the news, the speed and “hurtling consciousness of the highway.” The white noise helps cover up our fear of dying. And maybe this isn't so bad because it frees us from an incapacitating anxiety, and lets us live more comfortably.
That's one argument the book puts forward and then largely subverts. The final answer seems to be that fear of death is unavoidable and painful but also necessary. “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.”
I would note before reading it that this is really an extended tract on the fear of death. It's a lot more than that too, but if you're uncomfortable considering mortality, I would opt for another book. Realizing the efforts taken to obstruct this human condition inform most action, so it's not like one chapter or one section solely deals with the idea.
Anyway, great writing, fantastic critique of the time period and culture, and an oddly warm and inviting sense that we'll all die someday.