Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 18.4 (Don DeLillo)

White Noise
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
DeLillo, Don
White Noise

This is the actual copy of White Noise that I read. I probably bought it in 1992 or 1993, probably at St. Mark's Book Shop. Its pages are yellowing nicely.

My undergraduate education was very traditional, meaning that the faculty was skeptical about the 20th Century in general, especially the latter half of it. In between classes on Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton, I managed to sneak in a class on Ulysses, another on Modernist Poetry and Fiction, and I think one on 20th Cent. Irish lit. I think we read Seamus Heaney in the latter, which was the only contemporary writer I studied in college. After college, I set out to read only contemporary poetry and fiction, and I think the first novelist I landed on after Pynchon was DeLillo, followed soon thereafter by Paul Auster.

White Noise was the first book I read by DeLillo and the gateway into four or five others.

I remember the following from the book:

One guy studies Hitler. Another guy studies Elvis and car Crash films. At one point they duel, hurling Elvis and Hitler trivia at one another like so many knives. I think Elvis guy is also constantly hitting on Hitler guy's wife.

Hitler guy's wife teaches classes on posture and manners for the elderly. They take her classes because they want to reaffirm the constancy of the values they were taught as children.

Some kind of train wreck in involving a toxic chemical spill. I think he calls it an "airborne toxic event."

Hitler guy's baby opens its mouth and cries very loudly for a very long time.

A long line of station wagons waits to drop their children at college. (This kind of scene, in which we see herds of Americans acting in unison, automaton-like, opens several of DeLillo's novels -- a mass wedding, a baseball game, etc.)

I think that is all I can remember. Yes, it is.

from White Noise

The station wagons arrived at noon, a long shining line that coursed through the west campus. In single file they eased around the orange I-beam sculpture and moved toward the dormitories. The roofs of the station wagons were loaded down with carefully secured suitcases full of light and heavy clothing; with boxes of blankets, boots and shoes, stationary and books, sheets, pillows, quilts; with rolled up rugs and sleeping bags; with bicycles, skis, rucksacks, English and Western saddles, inflated rafts. As cars slowed to a crawl and stopped, students sprang out and raced to the rear doors to begin removing the objects inside; the stereo sets, radios, personal computers; small refrigerators and table ranges; the cartons of phonograph records and cassettes; the hairdryers and styling irons; the tennis rackets, soccer balls, hockey and lacrosse sticks, bows and arrows; the controlled substances, the birth control pills and devices; the junk food still in shopping bags--onion-and-garlic chips, nacho thins, peanut creme patties, Waffelos and Kabooms, fruit chews and toffee popcorn; the Dum-Dum pops, the Mystic mints.


Chris said...

I am really unclear (from this) why you went on to read five more books by him.

Michael Kelleher, Buffalo, NY said...

I liked DeLillo a lot when I first read him -- he's a great prose stylist, and he's pretty funny, but as I have gotten older, I have begun to find his satirizations of American culture a bit facile, bordering on the snide, hence the ambivalence you sense from these posts.