White Noise

There’s no official poster for White Noise, so I thought I’d simply open the floor for discussion.   The novel’s very conscious (not to mention critical) of many of the movements in literary theory we’ve studied this semester, and I’m curious what kinds of interesting connections you’re finding as you read…

7 responses to “White Noise

  1. I’ve been re-reading “Freud’s Masterplots,” which is all about the relationship between narrative and death. Preoccupation with mortality (and the repression/denial of preoccupation with mortality) is one of the major themes in White Noise. It’s actually kind of ridiculous (and fascinating) how often death comes up (“Who will die first?” etc.) Jack announces in front of his students, “All plots tend to move deathward.”

    “Freud’s Masterplots” raises a really interesting point: That as readers, the thought of an endless narrative terrifies us–all we really want out of a story is an ending. Not just an ending, though–it has to be the right ending. One can’t just go straight from beginning to end, all the “deferrals” of the middle are necessary to bring the story to a sensical and totalizing conclusion. The end is what makes the story meaningful.

    So we have Jack, who is totally obsessed with laying out and negotiating the terms of his human ending. When he’s exposed to the “airborne toxic event,” he latches on (despite evidence to the contrary) to the idea that yes, he really is going to die! He seems to take comfort in having a cause of death. But it still doesn’t make for a particularly satisfying story–he has no idea when, or how, he might die from his supposed condition.
    Is death really what scares us? Or uncertainty?

    I’m really just scratching the surface here–I think there’s a lot more to be said about this. (particularly when i, you know, finish the book)

  2. In addition to the obsession with death that mercurylanes saw, I was also struck by the emphasis on classic gender roles. For example, the reason that Jack loved Babbette so much was because of the way that she cares so much for all of the children of different marriages that they had. He loved her in the role of mother and house wife. From a feminist perspective this is a bit opressive.

    Also, especially towards the beginning of the book, there is a lot of importance placed upon the physical characteristics ofindividuals. The particular emphasis is on individuals being over or underweight. There is even a section where there is a discussion over the amount that people eat. I wonder what this reflects.

    Lastly, I found it curious that Murray told Jack that the best way to alleviate his fear of death was to kill someone else. Its curious that anyone could justify killing someone because is was relieving a fear. Murder is so minimized here that its on the same level as solving hunger by eating or solving fatigue by sleeping.

  3. It’s pretty funny how sex between Jack and Babette becomes entirely discursive in a manner reminiscent of Foucault (pages 28-29). Jack only feels an “erection stirring” after he and Babbette have established that the phrase “I entered her” is “silly usage, absolutely” and then Babette says it anyway. I’m not sure if this is an exaggeration to show how silly Foucault’s theory is, that there is only talk and never the actual act (which is omitted in this passage), or an affirmation of the theory. “I have told everything,” Jack says “such as it was at the time, to each of my wives… It is a form of self-renewal and a gesture of custodial trust.”

    I also think Jack’s conversations with Heinrich are in a way a swipe at the uselessness of theory. When he asks Heinrich if a man were to ask him if it is raining at the moment (it is raining), Heinrich responds “What good is my truth? My truth means nothing. What if this guy with the gun comes from a planet in a whole different solar system? What we call rain he calls soap. What we call apples he calls rain… Is there such a thing as now? Now comes and goes as soon as you say it. How can I say it’s raining now if your so-called ‘now’ becomes ‘then’ as soon as I say it? (23)” This reminds me of the Yale school of poststructuralism, which Eagleton described as “useless” because they prove that anything can mean anything, which essentially brings about the end of any possible communication. As Jack says, in this loss of communication, “the sophists and the hairsplitters enjoy their finest hour” (24).

  4. sparkling_bears47

    I think the most interesting part of the book for me was, as sprinkles pointed out, when Murray tells Jack that the best way to escape his fear of death is to kill someone. Everything he says here ties into Freud. It’s kind of ridiculous and I have to think that the author knew this.

    “Your whole life is a plot, a scheme, a diagram. It’s a failed scheme, but that’s not the point.” That’s Freud in a nutshell. 282 to 293 is so interesting to me because it’s a real life application of theories. Whether it’s correct or not is something else to argue, but the application itself is amazingly impressive.

  5. Since I’ve been taking a close look at gender roles in White Noise for my paper, I want to discuss some of the key things I’ve noticed.

    This was already said, but Jack’s extreme focus on the body–his wife’s in particular. He describes her as powerful and strong physically, yet he seems to downplay her strength mentally and emotionally. There are times when it seems that Babette is somehow breaking out of the shell that Jack has seemed to place around her, but in the end he ends up bringing her back to his own idea of her. In addition, this constant relationship between Babette’s real identity and the gender identity that Jack creates for her is constantly challenged, oscillating back and forth from physical, to emotional, to mental perceptions and back to reality.

  6. The part of the book that I’ve found most interesting so far is the family dynamic. In most blended families with children from previous marriages, both parents take all the children in as their own. However, there is still a strong differentiation in the book between Jack’s kids and Babette’s kids. I’m not exactly sure what this is saying, but I keep noticing throughout the reading the strange relationships. Also, the way they speak about ex-spouses so matter of factly. It all strikes me as very odd, and I’m wondering if anyone can clear up what it might mean…

  7. I know it’s late, but for the few who recycle through old posts (if there are such a people who even exist), enjoy.

    I’ve been reading White Noise through the lens of Benjamin (since starting my paper, I haven’t been able to look through any lens other than this). What sticks out most, and what we’ve partially discussed in class, is the foggy mist of an aura, both the aura of the media (e.g. the radio announcements) and the aura of the masses (e.g. the awe of that giant crowd watching the ominous, man-made sunset), that drives both the plot of the book (forward?) and underlies all action and thought. In light of the Benjamin we’ve read, which envisions the destruction of such an aura with the advent of mass reproduction, what do we make of this?