Don deLillo’s White Noise: Postmodern elements
Most postmodern books have been published after World War II. First published in 1984, White Noise by Don deLillo explores the emergence of technology, popular culture, and media in the eyes of Jack Gladney, a professor and the chairman of Hitler studies in the College-on-the Hill. “All plots tend to move deathward,” Jack surprisingly remarks in one of his lectures. Considering his pervading fear of death and dying, this remark was totally unexpected. A “plot,” as defined in literature, is a series of events that propel the character forward toward a resolution, an end. However, Jack has a morbid notion of plots, and he believes that in the end, it will lead him toward death–the ultimate end. This might explain why the earlier parts of White Noise lack the sense of a plot. Instead of moving the character forward, Jack often wonders about death, when he will die, and, “Who will die first?” between him and his wife, Babette. The lack of a plot can be considered as one of the hallmarks or characteristics of postmodernism. The lack of plot or direction can already be discerned from the first few chapters of the book. At least, not the conventional plot where there is a beginning, a climax, and a resolution. The novel seems to be circling and meandering, without a straight path. Perhaps Jack’s fear toward death as the end of all plots is consciously trying to keep the novel away from the conventional sense of a plot, which seems, to Jack as a narrator, the reasonable thing to do. However, in the third part of the novel, a plot is already starting to take shape, starting from Jack’s exposure to the toxic airborne chemical called Nyolene D., making him more vulnerable to his fear of death. Suspense builds, punctuated by the gun Jack receives from the father of his present wife. This gun can be considered as an omen of death toward the culmination of the plot, wherein Jack shoots Willie Mink and faces a close encounter with death.
Irony, another element in postmodernism, is also employed in White Noise. For example, comical events precede the shooting of Willie Mink, like Jack repeating the name of Hitler’s dog three times during the Hitler conference, when in fact the atmosphere should have been dark and sinister. This creates an illusion that the plot did not look like it was going to move toward a dark ending.
Also, the novel seems to be a parody of the quest for meaning. This can be seen in the character of Murray Jay Siskind, who tries to find meaning in every quotidian thing, especially the wide array of technology around him. For example, the supermarket, for him, seems like the “Tibetan holding place for dead souls.” He also thinks of the television as a powerful spiritual and psychic tool.
The sense of paranoia, another postmodern element, is also palpable in White Noise, as the question “Who will die first?” or “When will we die?” haunts almost every chapter of the novel.
Finally, one of the most obvious indicators of postmodernism in this novel is the “technoculture” and “hyperreality” present in the consumer and advertising culture not just of Jack, but of the people surrounding him. Because of the latest technology, the line dividing reality and artifice has become a blur, which can be seen in the SIMUVAC (Simulated Evacuation), wherein a real emergency event served as a preparation for a simulation. The artificial has replaced the real; the representation has become more important than the thing it represents. Consumerism and technology also give a false sense of security to the characters, like in one scene where Jack feels some sense of “comfort and reassurance”...