In the process of working on my final paper, I came across an aspect of White Noise that can’t exactly be placed in a category or applied to one of our widely discussed themes of death, disaster and media. This is the role of Jack’s children. The first thing that struck me was age; they all seem older than the number DeLilllo give them, and this is obviously not careless characterization. They are independent in their thoughts and actions: Heinrich deciding to play chess with a prisoner and Denise signing up to be a “victim” in the SIMUVAC event. Don’t they need parental permission to do these things was one of the first thoughts that crossed my mind. I mean, in 7th grade, we needed parental permission to dissect frogs. The kids in White Noise definitely function independently, as mini adults, left to develop opinions, take risks, and acquire and develop knowledge.
There are two primary roles of the children that I’ve thought about. One, they exist as foils to Jack’s character by displaying his parenting methods. Two, they exist as main characters themselves a parody of society – exchanging nonsense, giving meaning, and taking action. The first allows for another angle on Jack outside of his academic context and his personal reflections. He is distant – the only interaction we see involves intelligent conversation. He is not authoritative, which is clearly demonstrated when Denise steals the Dylar:
“If somebody wants to tell me what Dylar really is, maybe we’ll get somewhere,” says Denise, and Jack respects that (211). He doesn’t demand she give it back, he instead tries an “assortment of arguments” with a nine year old.
Regarding their second role, throughout the novel, we encounter quite a few directionless conversations (most of which occur in the car). This is intelligent babble, false information, aimless progression, which reflects the main idea of the novel itself.
At the end of an inconclusive book we are presented with a cryptic and brief passage that poses interesting questions in interpretation. The passage begins describing an unknown man that “[progresses] over the plain by means of holes which he is making in the ground…he enkindles the stone in the hole with his steel hole by hole striking the fire out of the rock”. Also there is a group of “wanderers” processing behind him who seem to be just blindly stopping and starting, looking for anything and somehow desiring these holes. Their labor “seems less the pursuit of some continuance than the verification of a principle”. The passage concludes with a precessional, “then they all move on again”.
Similarly to the conclusion of the novel we have another passage that is dense with significance but eludes a single reading. My first impression was this man had to represent the judge. Throughout the entire novel this ignorant and uneducated group of men trudge aimlessly through an endless expanse based primarily at times on their faith in the Judge and his endlessness. Along the way they have other materialistic motivations, but the Judge is who inspires them by “striking the fire out of the rock”.
But this seems to straightforward and simple for McCarthy’s writing. This passage can be taken to mean many things. Another reading I came upon in an essay by Leo Daugherty views it as McCarthy portraying in this vivid image his idea of his role as an author. Expressing his own vision of the function of his practice.
Even so, it still doesn’t seem fair to say that these or any specific readings are correct, because there are still more ideas functioning in the passage that can lend a new perspective.
“What good is knowledge if it just floats in the air? It goes from computer to computer. It changes and grows every second of every day. But nobody actually knows anything?” (White Noise ch. 21)
In the novel White Noise by Don DeLillo, the characters are plagued with over-stimulation. The media constantly bombards them with information, which hurts the character’s actual knowledge. Instead of understanding specific topics, they recognize a huge spectrum of facts with no real comprehension. No place is this more evident than the family’s conversations which constantly revolve around misinformation.
Information is now more accessible than ever. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, DeLillo is surely making a comment on the current state of misinformation in White Noise. For instance, the accessibility to information has become a destructive tool for society. The internet, a tool meant for vast spread of international knowledge, has become a social key to infamy. People waste day to day searching for a way to become a better person through the different sites, links, and opportunities that the internet suddenly holds. In reality, this virtual world is only depleting individuals of the true use of this technological advancement. Now people search for the latest celebrity gossip and newest trend instead of the most recent natural disaster or dilemma in the economy. If we continue to abuse the power that this virtual world holds, we will soon be unable to differentiate from the real and the fake stories that are swarming the codes of internet.
While the internet was not as widely used when White Noise was released, DeLillo successfully and accurately predicted the deterioration of knowledge through media. Knowledge has moved from the minds of individuals, to existing in the network of cables which surrounds mankind. This information is only useful to those who search for it and serves no advantage or improves the intelligence to those who merely gloss over it.
I’m finding the education/humanities vs. science discussion quite compelling, and thought you might want to take a look at this short article from Malcolm Harris, “Bad Eduction,” from the excellent lit. mag, n+1. The main focus of the article is on the economics of the rising cost of education, specifically the drastic increase in student loan debt over the past 20 years. With a little extrapolation, it is quite easy to see that a crisis like the housing market crash from a few years ago is looming over the American university.
This weekend I watched a documentary called Exit Through the Gift Shop that struck me as very pertinent for the conversation we had during our last lecture.
The documentary is ultimately produced by Banksy, easily the most famous street artist around, but most of the footage and “plot” revolves around Thierry, a French enthusiast and his journey through this underground world. In our discussion we focused on art and aesthetics and how they are valued and function in our society and I think street art fits well into this discussion. It has flourished to a point that it has come to be considered “legitimate” in the art world, allowing the creators to exist as true artists.
In the film we are given completely unrestricted access to a very restricted world through its most influential figures. The documentary starts with Thierry following a relative of his that does street art and eventually gives him the proper introductions to meet with and film others, ultimately landing himself as a “professional” street artist, much to the chagrin of Banksy. Without giving too much insight, Thierry essentially recognizes the system of control he is operating within and manipulates that system’s protocol to gain power of his own. He mortgages his home and business to hire artists to produce rip-off postmodern art so he can decal it all over town. He even has his own gallery showing that makes him a fortune, while local art snobs walk out the door with what they think is a priceless original.
Ultimately the documentary shows how frail these systems of value can be (especially postmodern art). It begs the question of how valuable the institutions that promote these systems are themselves, whom do they benefit, or more importantly whom do they harm?
“The dying man sang with great clarity and intention and the riders setting forth upcountry may have ridden more slowly the longer to hear him for they were of just these qualities themselves.” (125)
Cormac McCarthy masterfully paints a picture of the west being a warzone in which no one is capable of avoiding death in his novel Blood Meridian. He creates this picture of the west by masterfully using foreboding. McCarthy uses a gratuitous amount of foreboding in his novel but my personal favorite example is when the company of men trekking through the desert leave behind a man that is fatally wounded. To describe the scene McCarthy writes, “The dying man sang with great clarity and intention and the riders setting forth upcountry may have ridden more slowly the longer to hear him for they were of just these qualities themselves” (125). With this one sentence McCarthy lays the stage for the rest of book. He explains to the reader that all of the characters are approaching death and that it is important for the reader to know this in advance because the characters themselves are aware of it.
Another section of the novel that I read as having a strong feeling of foreboding is the scene in which the juggler and his wife tell the fortunes of the men. During this scene the juggler tells the fortune of the African American Jackson but nobody can understand it because of the language barrier between the juggler who is speaking Spanish and the men who speak English. The feeling of foreboding that I got while reading this section came when Jackson asked the judge what the juggler was saying and the judge smiled and replied “I think she means to say that in your fortune lie our fortunes all” (97). After reading this sentence it seemed to me as if the judge, who was able to converse with everyone that he encountered due to his expansive knowledge of languages, was aware of something that the rest of the men weren’t able to grasp at the moment, and that was the amount of violence and death that awaited them.
In McCarthy’s Blood Meridian death is around every corner and it feels as if no matter what the men do they will perish in the vast desert otherwise known as the west. This feeling is derived from McCarthy’s expert use of foreboding.
When relating the novel White Noise to another text, Protocol, by Alexander Galloway provides a clear connection in the way networks function and how necessary the flow of information throughout a system actually is.
Galloway constructs this by showing how TCP/IP channels work within the Internet. These channels are the main way that information is distributed across a network and are vital to communication. In Galloway’s terms, “TCP hosts should liberally accept as much information as possible from other, foreign sources. But if any of the information is corrupted, the “conservative” host will delete the information and request a fresh copy be re-sent.” (pg 44) TCP’s partner protocol, IP, is mainly responsible for “moving small packets of data called “datagrams” from one place to another.” (pg 44) In other words, the functionality TCP/IP channel is critical for communication to be effective. If one were to break down, the other would not be able to work, and the necessary information would never be conveyed.
This is applicable to many aspects of life, especially within the relationships of humans, specifically in our case, the Gladney family. when one member breaks the cycle of effective communication, the whole family is thrown into confusion. Galloway also discussed the subject of information hopping. If the desired information should reach an incorrect node, it will “hop” into a different direction, hopefully reaching its ultimate destination. However, if the information hops for to long, the system will stop “hopping” information and it will ultimately be deleted. This poses an ultimate problem in regards to the Gladney family. Because of their extreme breakdown in communication, they have the possibility to lose information once it has “hopped” around between to many nodes. Their communication needed to be more direct and flowing or else the system will stop it from ever getting through. A theoretical problem could have occurred in regards to Babette’s use of Dylar. This piece of information (using Dylar) kept bouncing around between nodes, however they were the wrong ones. Jack should have been the intended recipient of this information however, Babette decided to keep it between her and Willie Minks. Eventually the information made its way to Jack otherwise, there could have been catastrophic consequences.