Spirtuality and Simulcra: Understanding the Mundane and Metaphysical in Don DeLillo's White Noise

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2017
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Haverford College. Department of English
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Award
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eng
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Tri-College users only
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Abstract
This essay presents an analysis of Don DeLillo’s 1985 novel White Noise that investigates the metaphysical and psychological ramifications of information saturation within the context of late capitalism. Through an exploration of Walter Benjamin’s The Storyteller, and inquiry into the historicity of communication and the flow of ideas in an informationalized society, this argument systematically problematizes rigidly postmodern, reductionist readings of DeLillo’s novel. In lieu of resignation to the pastiche and irony characteristic of some other postmodern works of literature, DeLillo infuses his text with mysticism, philosophical meditations, and poignant emotional sincerity. The recuperation and revitalization of pre-modern modes of storytelling in a world defined by commodification and consumerism discloses a metaphysical, spiritual, and even sublime dimension of the postmodern condition; this dimension arguably drives much of the plot and character development within White Noise. Through DeLillo’s interpolation of pre-modern spirituality, one can glean a multifaceted understanding of the protagonist-narrator Jack Gladney’s simultaneous yearning for transcendence and his deep anxieties surrounding his imminent death. Jack consequently manufactures a type of public identity, “J.A.K. Gladney,” esteemed professor of Hitler studies, instrumentalizing Hitler’s historical intensity and power to mitigate and repress his own death-fear. Jack, in his recognition of the artifice of his professorial veneer, suffers existential anxieties, and is unable to reconcile the disparate components of his fragmented subjectivity. This essay is a celebration of DeLillo’s unique narrative style--his creative, idiosyncratic use of different rhetorical modes and his defamiliarization and mystification of the mundane interactions and observations of daily life. Ultimately, this essay unpacks the profound spirituality and emotion underlying the dissemination of information.
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