Don Delillo: White Noise

I was attracted to read White Noise because of the central protagonist Jack Gladney’s academic profession. I am writing my next chapter on academic fiction and representations of humanities scholarship in media and therefore found “Hitler Studies” a most entertaining addition to my repertoire of English Professors (Morris Zapp included), Medieval Historians (Jim Dixon, of course) and Rembrant specialists (Howard Belsey, perfectly so). 

The novel however, achieves more than the status of most “campus novels” – it is a far wider net of critique that Delillo casts. The university is not the subject or central focus of the novel at all (frustratingly for my personal interest) but is a chilling and hilarious satire of american culture. Paranoia and consumption are the orders of the day in this book, and the university is seen as a place of escape and security away from the madness of modern life. 

Jack Gladney: ”Everything seemed to be in season, sprayed, burnished, bright. . . the jangle and skid of carts, the loudspeaker and the coffee-making machines, the cries of children. And over it all . . . a dull and unlocatable roar, as of some form of swarming life just outside the range of human apprehension.”

The New York Times are right in their assertion that Gladney’s voice is

one of the most ironic, intelligent, grimly funny voices yet to comment on life in present-day America”

In a “campus novel” reading list that has consisted mainly of two types of narrator, it is refreshing to spend time in Gladney’s world. He is not an observer of an insular departmental scandal, he is a participant in a national disaster. He is not a young, disillusioned young man – he does not doubt his professional choices and suffers from relatable mid-life crises. Gladney is an everyman. But he is clever. It is rare to find a representation of a scholar in the humanities who is not at a remove from life. Perhaps it is the context of Delillo’s story, of a society of alienation that allows Gladney to appeal to the reader. Perhaps scholars aren’t so unlike everyone else after all. 

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