White Noise: Text and Criticism

White Noise: Text and Criticism


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Winner of the National Book Award in 1985, White Noise is the story of Jack and Babette and their children from their six or so various marriages. They live in a college town where Jack is Professor of Hitler Studies (and conceals the fact that he does not speak a word of German), and Babette teaches posture and volunteers by reading from the tabloids to a group of elderly shut-ins. They are happy enough until a deadly toxic accident and Babette's addiction to an experimental drug make Jake question everything.White Noise is considered a postmodern classic and its unfolding of themes of consumerism, family and divorce, and technology as a deadly threat have attracted the attention of literary scholars since its publication. This Viking Critical Library edition, prepared by scholar Mark Osteen, is the only edition of White Noise that contains the entire text along with an extensive critical apparatus, including a critical introduction, selected essays on the author, the work and its themes, reviews, a chronology of DeLillo's life and work, a list of discussion topics, and a selected bibliography.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780140274981
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/28/1998
Series: Critical Library, Viking Series
Pages: 560
Sales rank: 504,218
Product dimensions: 5.06(w) x 7.73(h) x 0.97(d)

About the Author

Don DeLillo published his first short story when he was twenty-three years old. He has since written twelve novels, including White Noise (1985) which won the National Book Award. It was followed by Libra (1988), his novel about the assassination of President Kennedy, and by Mao II, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.

In 1997, he published the bestselling Underworld, and in 1999 he was awarded the Jerusalem Prize, given to a writer whose work expresses the theme of the freedom of the individual in society; he was the first American author to receive it. He is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.


Westchester County, New York

Date of Birth:

November 20, 1936

Place of Birth:

New York City


Fordham University, 1958

Read an Excerpt

White Noise Critical Library Edition

Text and Criticism
By Don DeLillo

Penguin Books

Copyright © 1998 Don DeLillo
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0140274987

Chapter One

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, stationery 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 jurik 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.

    I've witnessed this spectacle every September for twenty-one years. It is a brilliant event, invariably. The students greet each other with comic cries and gestures of sodden collapse. Their summer has been bloated with criminal pleasures, as always. The parents stand sun-dazed near their automobiles, seeing images of themselves in every direction. The conscientious suntans. The well-made faces and wry looks. They feel a sense of renewal, of communal recognition. The women crisp and alert, in diet trim, knowing people's names. Their husbands content to measure out the time, distant but ungrudging, accomplished in parenthood, something about them suggesting massive insurance coverage. This assembly of station wagons, as much as anything they might do in the course of the year, more than formal liturgies or laws, tells the parents they are a collection of the like-minded and the spiritually akin, a people, a nation.

    I left my office and walked down the hill and into town. There are houses in town with turrets and two-story porches where people sit in the shade of ancient maples. There are Greek revival and Gothic churches. There is an insane asylum with an elongated portico, ornamented dormers and a steeply pitched roof topped by a pineapple finial. Babette and I and our children by previous marriages live at the end of a quiet street in what was once a wooded area with deep ravines. There is an expressway beyond the backyard now, well below us, and at night as we settle into our brass bed the sparse traffic washes past, a remote and steady murmur around our sleep, as of dead souls babbling at the edge of a dream.

    I am chairman of the department of Hitler studies at the College-on-the-Hill. I invented Hitler studies in North America in March of 1968. It was a cold bright day with intermittent winds out of the east. When I suggested to the chancellor that we might build a whole department around Hitler's life and work, he was quick to see the possibilities. It was an immediate and electrifying success. The chancellor went on to serve as adviser to Nixon, Ford and Carter before his death on a ski lift in Austria.

    At Fourth and Elm, cars turn left for the supermarket. A policewoman crouched inside a boxlike vehicle patrols the area looking for cars parked illegally, for meter violations, lapsed inspection stickers. On telephone poles all over town there are homemade signs concerning lost dogs and cats, sometimes in the handwriting of a child.


Excerpted from White Noise Critical Library Edition by Don DeLillo Copyright © 1998 by Don DeLillo. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

White NoiseIntroduction
I. White Noise: The Text

II. Contexts
ANTHONY DECURTIS, from Matters of Fact and Fiction
ADAM BEGLEY, from Don DeLillo: The Art of Fiction
CARYN JAMES, "'I Never Set Out to Write an Apocalyptic Novel'"
DON DELILLO, from Americana
DON DELILLO, from End Zone
DON DELILLO, from Players
DON DELILLO, Silhouette City: Hitler, Manson and the Millennium
Newsweek, Stories on the toxic leak at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India

III. Reviews
SOL YURICK, Fleeing Death in a World of Hyper-Babble
ALBERT MOBILIO, Death by Inches
DIANE JOHNSON, Conspirators
PICO IYER, A Connoisseur of Fear

IV. Critical Essays
TOM LECLAIR, Closing the Loop: White Noise
FRANK LENTRICCHIA, Don DeLillo's Primal Scenes
JOHN FROW, The Last Things Before the Last: Notes on White Noise
JOHN N. DUVALL, The (Super)Marketplace of Images: Television as Unmediated Meditation in DeLillo's White Noise
CORNEL BONCA, Don DeLillo's White Noise: The Natural Language of the Species
ARTHUR M. SALTZMAN, The Figure in the Static: White Noise
PAUL MALTBY, The Romantic Metaphysics of Don DeLillo

Topics for Discussion and Papers
Selected Bibliography

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White Noise: Text and Criticism 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of the top five books of the last 25 years. And this particular edition of this novel is even nicer because of the criticism and insight. I used this book to write a paper in college, each of the accompanying essays are useful for research to cite. The novel itself is amazing. You can actually read high-brow literature and feel like you're reading straight plot-based fiction. Touching on our fear of death, examining our hysteria-driven culture, and our consumerism, this book covers many aspects of american life, though written 20 years ago, which are more true in this day and age, as compared to the 1980's it was published into--with toxic events and pill-cures, this book has DeLillo looking like a prophet.
g0ldenboy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the fourth of six large works assigned to my college's Postmodern American Literature course. If you are new to postmodernism, White Noise will be a novel but elucidative experience, capturing the absurdism in our current world with descriptive accuracy. These ideas will, however, become repetitive, especially due to the lack of plot.
GiacomoL on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Either DeLillo played me perfectly, or this book should have been shorter. I understand the main point of the book (society is just "white noise" designed to hide our fear of death), and I understand that this has to be reflected in the language, but it seems to push the reader down too many rivers of thought, too many pointless diatribes, dragging on for a good hundred-pages more than strictly required. This said, I'll have to re-read it sooner or later, because it's a powerful and deep work, one to thoroughly mine for ideas and to carefully analyse for its style... maybe not THE Great American Novel, but probably in the top league.
RebeccaAnn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I actually finished this about a week ago and I'm still not quite sure if I liked it or not. Yes, the book was funny as hell in a lot of places. DeLillo's nothing if not a master of very dark humor. But still, at the end, all I found myself wondering was "What was the point?"White Noise doesn't seem to even have a plot until the last of three sections. Surprisingly, it was the plotless sections I enjoyed the most. They were funnier and had some fantastic one liners. The third section, honestly, I'm not quite sure about. It had a plot, but it was kind of a stupid, over the top one that didn't make sense (to me) when taking the first two sections into consideration. The end of the book I read quickly just because I wanted to be done with it, and that's the worst reason to finish a book.I'm giving the book a three for now. It's a neutral rating. In a couple years I plan to reread this book and hopefully, I'll have a better take on the book then.
Alera on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have a love/hate relationship with post-modern literature. Largely because I'm never entirely certain if I like it or not. White Noise manages to almost transcend that for me. It's funny. It's witty. The characters are quirky, but not entirely unbelievable. And it's an almost easy to see commentary on modern life, with mentions of our dependency on television and radio. As well as the human need to out run or defeat death, no matter how inevitable it really is. Definitely a book whose popularity makes sense. It speaks to something still incredibly relevant for all of us.
bardsfingertips on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have recently finished White Noise by Don Delillo. I was enthralled by this book; living it word by exact word. And yet, it flowed nicely. It was a comparatively easy read (as opposed to V.) that never bored me. In spite of this book being written before the World Wide Web, which has only added to the swarm, the book's main focus is the topic of the information that we are bombarded with as we live our modern lives. From the narrator to his current wife and the children (his own and those brought in by marriage), we see the constant absorption of needless information; information that is derived from other people's panic, fears, superstition that when received is processed as matter-of-fact, almost apathetically. As it is shared it is passed along like gossip only to be argued against, mutated, and disenfranchised. This happens day-to-day within the narrator's family. And then the Airborne Toxic Event (a very specific name for a very specific disasters whose cause and effects are very unspecific) occurs and the molestation and noise of information (founded and unfounded, though it is nearly impossible to decipher which is which) grows considerably as evacuation procedures are made. It is not exactly chaotic. Much more this is a group of people who live in a small college town who are addicted to the events seen and heard through television and radios: they have seen all the disasters of the world, thus the only new thing is that it is happening to them. After the Airborne Toxic Event, the exploration of death takes place and is pondered on immensely by the lead character. In the end, a singular philosophy takes place: Are you the dier or the killer? (And yes, that is how "dier" is spelled in the novel.) And in spite of this singularity of thought, this "theory" of how we live as humans in this society, the narrator defeats it. He is neither dier nor killer: he just is. I think the one aspect that I can draw from reading this is how prone we are to misinformation; and how we create our own tabloid within all that we witness and hear.
booksmitten on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When I first read "White Noise" in college, I knew that I had neverbefore encountered such a remarkably astute portrayal (and critique)of American Culture. Upon rereading it, I realized that it is alsohysterical. Jack Gladney lives in a college town with hishyperbolically postmodern family, of whom only the youngest, aptlynamed Wilder, has any sense of the primal or the non-cultural. Foreveryone else, DeLillo creates a world where consumerism andtechnology are revered as spiritual guides; a world of highways andsupermarkets, airports, ATMs, brand names, pop icons, and newscoverage; a world that is "routinely panic-stricken" and "casuallyamuck." Even 20 years since its publication in 1985, "White Noise"undoubtedly occupies its era while retaining a certain timelessquality - the mark of a true classic.
Vanlh More than 1 year ago
Wonderful addition. If you are serious about reading this book, this is the addition to get. It was assigned in a master's course I am pursuing at Harvard and the novel is wonderful and the other articles helpful.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Guest More than 1 year ago
That's right; this is a funny, smart, readable, New York book that best captured a time when there was something to laugh about. Extraordinary insight into, and understanding of American life. There is a reason it has gotten so much attention. See for yourself.