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Weißes Rauschen. (1984)

von Don DeLillo

MitgliederRezensionenBeliebtheitDurchschnittliche BewertungDiskussionen / Diskussionen
9,671141582 (3.79)1 / 334
Jack Gladney, a professor of Nazi history at a Middle American liberal arts school, and his family try to handle normal family life as a black cloud of lethal gaseous fumes threatens their town.
  1. 30
    Crash. von J. G. Ballard (ateolf)
  2. 10
    Die Stadt der Blinden von José Saramago (chrisharpe)
  3. 21
    Ubik von Philip K. Dick (ateolf)
  4. 11
    Unterwelt von Don DeLillo (David_Cain)
    David_Cain: Everything good in White Noise is better in Underworld
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Don DeLillo won the National Book Award for White Noise in 1985. Theoretically, as marked as our Great Minds as a Great American Novel, I should be very for this book. I picked it up because I am a fiend for all things David Foster Wallace and I know he had an ongoing professional relationship with Don DeLillo and took some of the craft of his dialogue for Infinite Jest from this novel.
So why didn't I love it?
It's a couple of things. The Kindle edition has a double space between each paragraph which throws off the flow of the dialogue which, I'm sure, was a mitigating factor. Some of the black comedic assessments of our media culture seem dated simply because they were so prescient. (A friend recently pointed out that science fiction that fails to come true is fascinating; science fiction that does is cliche. Think of the 20 page digression on SSH in Cryptonomicon. It was certainly interesting for its time and a pointless digression today.) Partly because the book seems, in the end, like it is trying to be a meaningful meditation on modern existence and it tries too hard.
Jack (J.A.K.) Gladney is a professor at a small midwestern college in Hitler Studies. He and his current wife Babette have numerous children from previous marriages. One day there is an enormous industrial spill -- the Airbourne Toxic Event -- where they all pile in the car and flee. During which, Jack is infected with a small dose of industrial compound and is informed that, some day in the future, it will kill him. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday. Eventually. The last half of the book is consumed with Babette's addiction to a drug Dylar, Jack's obsession with the way Babette acquires the Dylar and the Dylar itself, and Jack's obsession with death.
So we have the big themes: rampant consumerism (lots of scenes in the grocery store), death, more death, media saturation, underground conspiracies, the family, and violence.
Not really for everyone, no. White Noise is a black satire. It is humorous in places, and has some incredible bits of craft in imagery and language. I found myself highlighting some of the better and more interesting passages. But in the end, the story didn't hang together as well as it could. This novel is definitely Your Milage May Vary. ( )
  multiplexer | Jun 20, 2021 |
I picked this up at a charity shop recently based on the fact that I've seen Don DeLillo mentioned many times in the '1001 Books' list. The synopsis on the back sounded interesting to me and I started with loads of enthusiasm for it. Sadly this was short lived.

While I didn't dislike the book I can't say that I get what all the fuss is about really. I found the writing style ok, nothing earth shattering stood out to me. There is also no real plot to speak of and I found the characters very unrealistic. I found myself wondering during some parts of the book where it was going as it seemed to drift here and there at times. I really hope there is more for me in some of DeLillo's other books as he has many more in the '1001 Books' list but this one seems to be widely regarded as his best. ( )
  Brian. | Jun 14, 2021 |
Somehow I expected this book to be much more post-modern and confusing, from what I had heard of the book up until reading it. Sometimes if the details are just right, it's fine with me if the overall book is confusing. Sometimes the details are more important than the whole. I did not expect this to have a plot focused on a family with small children in a suburb in America. But whoa, this is one of my favorite book families. There is more plot here than I thought. It's funny, kooky, bizarro, all over the place, so yeah, the perfect book for mid-80s American suburbia. Very prescient. Every page had a bit of genius so I can't help but love it. I'm glad I finally read this.
Book #121 I have read of the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die ( )
  booklove2 | Jun 11, 2021 |
I've had a deep ambivalence towards DeLillo's goofy writing style in the past; his silly dialogue, wacky characters, and shaggy-dog plots work well when they work, but they come off as boring and frustrating when they don't (I liked Mao II but gave up partway through The Names). Fortunately White Noise makes all of those elements work fairly well, and even DeLillo's inexplicable addiction to bizarrely precocious Woke Toddler child characters can't ruin what turns out to be a fairly thoughtful exploration of mortality, family, and consumerism in an unstable modern world. White Noise was tagged with the infamous "postmodern" label when it came out in 1985, but from nearly 35 years later, it doesn't feel nearly as weighty/experimental/metafictional/revelatory as what I usually think of as postmodern novels. Instead it feels more like a humble comic novel with some serious bits rather than as a serious novel with jokes, and consequently it stays on the safe side of the implausible/insufferable chasm that it turns out DeLillo was working in before most other writers. His offhand jokes about doing things purely to be seen doing them are some of the best writing I've seen from him, and it was truly an unhappy realization to see how accurately DeLillo's parody America resembles what's now the real thing.

The premise is pretty funny: protagonist Jack Gladney is a professor of Hitler Studies in an invented Midwestern college town along the lines of Ames or Champaign-Urbana. He doesn't even speak German at first, instead concealing his utter academic uselessness behind hilarious pyrotechnic pomposity whenever he's forced to do anything that resembles teaching. This sort of light-hearted sendup of professorship was probably done better by Nabokov in Pale Fire but is still funny here, even if the fact that real-life universities have made amusingly specialized liberal arts positions like this essentially extinct renders this premise a parody from another era. Gladney and his family evacuate their town when a chemical accident, the Airborne Toxic Event, temporarily engulfs the town, and upon their return he has to confront his own changed sense of mortality, as well as that of his family, since he discovers that his wife has begun an affair to gain access to a drug that helps her cope with her fear of death. After an extended walk-and-talk with a colleague about whether he's at heart "a killer or dier", Gladney attempts to murder the other man, but changes his mind at the last minute. The novel ends with an examination of the supermarket and its emotional centrality to the population of the town.

My main complaint about Don DeLillo's writing style was that it seemed like he wrote himself out of anything really affecting. Coming into White Noise, I felt that his characters were so artificial, with such relentlessly absurd dialogue and odd worldviews, that whenever he tried to drop in "profound" observations into their speech or as a description of a character action it mostly comes off as annoying. I was concerned at why what's so clearly supposed to be a lighthearted, easygoing style wasn't working for me, until I realized that he was just ahead of his time. He perfectly predicted that awful snappy banter dialogue pattern like in Marvel movies where what's clearly supposed to be a meaningful moment is immediately drained of all gravity by some stupid snarky quip and you're onto the next scene before there's a risk of anything actually mattering to the characters. It's aggravating, but it's supposed to be that way.

That said, I still had to actually read this stuff, and it's inarguable that DeLillo isn't the prose stylist that other comic authors are, and often seems to genuinely be trying too hard to be funny when a more naturalistic approach might have worked out better. Sometimes he will have good lines like "Fear is self-awareness raised to a higher level" or that "The twentieth century is all about people going into hiding even when no one is looking for them", but you have to work through a lot of zany chaff to get there. Luckily not all of White Noise is afflicted in this way, and the meandering puffery that Gladney spouts off is funny when he does it, it's just when it's in the mouth of his son Heinrich that it's not so charming. Thomas Pynchon, who DeLillo is often compared to, had a thoughtful take on this exact thing in the Introduction to Slow Learner, his collection of early short stories:

At the heart of the story, most crucial and worrisome, is the defective way in which my narrator, almost but not quite me, deals with the subject of death. When we speak of "seriousness" in fiction ultimately we are talking about an attitude toward death - how characters may act in its presence, for example, or how they handle it when it isn't so immediate.

I think this is true, and seen in that light, the adamantine goofiness every character has is not so bad, in fact it's almost endearing, as they infodump, dodge, and avoid real matters when speaking to each other in just the way that every character in most mass-market entertainment does these days. Likewise, one thing I will give DeLillo is that his depictions of celebrity/voyeur/parasocial culture are not just vivid but incredibly prescient. "The most photographed barn in America" that people drive out of their way simply to photograph and never actually see is a brilliant representation of the increasingly engineered tendency to perform activities just for the sake of being seen. It wasn't new even in the 80s to ponder how many people (yourself included) have documented something without ever actually looking at or enjoying the ostensible subject, which is not even the "real" subject anyway, but rarely have I seen it captured so pithily as DeLillo does here.

There's a little riff on California and natural disasters that I swear must be exactly how Donald Trump watched their recent wildfires:

"We're suffering from brain fade. We need an occasional catastrophe to break up the incessant bombardment of information."
"It's obvious," Lasher said. A slight man with a taut face and slicked-back hair.
"The flow is constant," Alfonse said. "Words, pictures, numbers, facts, graphics, statistics, specks, waves, particles, motes. Only a catastrophe gets our attention. We want them, we need them, we depend on them. As long as they happen somewhere else. This is where California comes in. Mud slides, brush fires, coastal erosion, earthquakes, mass killings, et cetera. We can relax and enjoy these disasters because in our hearts we feel that California deserves whatever it gets. Californians invented the concept of life-style. This alone warrants their doom."
Cotsakis crushed a can of Diet Pepsi and threw it at a garbage pail.
"Japan is pretty good for disaster footage," Alfonse said. "India remains largely untapped. They have tremendous potential with their famines, monsoons, religious strife, train wrecks, boat sinkings, et cetera. But their disasters tend to go unrecorded. Three lines in the newspaper. No film footage, no satellite hookup. This is why California is so important. We not only enjoy seeing them punished for their relaxed life-style and progressive social ideas but we know we're not missing anything. The cameras are right there. They're standing by. Nothing terrible escapes their scrutiny."

It's really disturbing to recognize the President of the United States in a discussion where one of the characters is a Professor of Hitler Studies, and even more dispiriting to remember that Trump's victory depended on winning the votes of exactly the Midwestern consumerism-addled dimwits that populate this novel, but somehow it seems fitting that reality has only recently caught up to the absurd, too-stupid-to-be-real comedy of the past. Oh boy. ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
DeLillo's super-goofy book concerns the problem of heightened consciousness --in the medium of the junk mass communication, junk consumerism, and junk academics that we're all living in now --leading to existential problems, and at the end, a pretty goofy attempt to reconcile those problems with decisive experience.
But don't let the super-silly characters' absurd story deter you in the beginning. DeLillo's prose is, as always, extremely beautiful, full of information-packed APPOSITIVES, as an English-teacher friend has informed me it's called, that writers like me love to copy off him. Read the book for the prose, stay for the philosophy. I think Babette's dad is the best character, so stick around for him.
The book builds pretty slow so lazy, "post-literate" or admittedly illiterate people need not apply. The last third's payoff is brilliant. ( )
  EugenioNegro | Mar 17, 2021 |
The book is so funny, so mysterious, so right, so disturbing … and yet so enjoyable it has somehow survived being cut open for twenty-five years by critics and post-grads. All of that theoretical poking and prodding, all of that po-mo-simulacra-ambiguity vivisection can’t touch the thrill of reading it
''White Noise,'' his eighth novel, is the story of a college professor and his family whose small Midwestern town is evacuated after an industrial accident. In light of the recent Union Carbide disaster in India that killed over 2,000 and injured thousands more, ''White Noise'' seems all the more timely and frightening - precisely because of its totally American concerns, its rendering of a particularly American numbness.
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To Sue Buck and to Lois Wallace
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The station wagons arrived at noon, a long shining line that coursed through the west campus.
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"The greater the scientific advance, the more primitive the fear". Jack to Babette when talking about genetically engineered micro-organisms that would digest the 'airborne toxic event'.
"The airborne toxic event is a horrifying thing. Our fear is enormous. Even if there hasn't been great loss of life, don't we deserve some attention for our suffering, our human worry, our terror? Isn't fear news?" Television carrying man's speech when the family is stranded in Iron City.
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Jack Gladney, a professor of Nazi history at a Middle American liberal arts school, and his family try to handle normal family life as a black cloud of lethal gaseous fumes threatens their town.

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Durchschnitt: (3.79)
0.5 8
1 61
1.5 16
2 152
2.5 40
3 511
3.5 132
4 808
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