Don DeLillo’s White Noise

“Man’s guilt in history and in the tides of his own blood has been complicated by technology, the daily seeping falsehearted death.”

This work of literature gives us an insight into two characters that both fear the concept of death. We’ve spoken a lot in class about artificial intelligence and how using technologies to improve/extend our lifespan might be an attractive offer for some of us. Reading White Noise brings me back to the question of why a person would want to live forever. Honestly it doesn’t seem so appealing if you stop and think about the possibilities. Your family and friends may or may not be able to live for the same duration as you, so do you just replace them along the way? Are you really going to accomplish anything being given more time on this Earth? It is human nature to think about dying and become somewhat mystified by the thought. The idea of not knowing when you are going to die and how you are going to die really leaves us in a state of flux. The novel also brings up a topic from last weeks class discussion about the nuclear plants and how one wrong move could spell doom for towns and cities. A similar situation occurs here, with Jack’s son Heinrich discovering the train car that had been derailed, and how a toxic substance has become released into the air. Being exposed to Nyodene D. has left Jack with the idea that his future has already been decided, so he becomes paranoid and obsessed with his reality.

The Dylar pills and Jack’s pursuit of them reminded me of the characters in Philip Dick’s Ubik, and how they had to find the spray cans in order to survive. That novel also dealt with extending life in the form of a half-life. Jack didn’t necessarily have to find the pills to survive; to the reader it was all in his head and he needed to be reassured that death wouldn’t be inevitable once the chemical caught up with him. What finally breaks Jack’s obsession with death and his health is Wilder’s miraculous feat of riding his tricycle across a highway. This is what finally breaks him down and helps him release all the typical anxieties he is used to having about safety and living in good health.

DeLillo ends the novel in a somewhat obscure way. The supermarket’s aisles have apparently been rearranged and how everyone is in a state of panic. Perhaps he does this to contrast how ridiculous he was in trying to be immortal to the absurdity of the customers panicking over the misplaced items. Similar to the discussion we had on The Road last week, it can be questioned what kind of technologies we are dealing with in this novel and in what ways it fits into the context of our class.

“The system was invisible, which makes it all the more impressive, all the more disquieting to deal with. But we were in accord, at least for now. The networks, the circuits, the streams, the harmonies.”

This quote reveals the scene where Jack goes to an ATM machine and finds that the bank’s computer supports his personal account information. This shows how Jack is able to gain a sense of identity from a medium of technology and it helps him on his journey of getting this sense of validation. He seeks confirmation all throughout the novel and at this point in the text he has finally found some hope, although as readers we can sense that it might indeed be false hope. In a way, there is a foreshadowing taking place that we see transpire later on, with the technology and networks that Jack is having good fortunes with eventually letting him down and turning against him. A hot topic in our classroom this semester has been this very premise: as humans the technology we are embracing now will eventually become our worst nightmares. It’s daunting just to think about machines and technological equipment being able to overturn humans to take control, considering we are the people who built and operated the aforementioned advancements through a technological lens.

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