History and Refusal: Consumer Culture and Postmodern Theory in the Contemporary American Novel

By Stephen N. Docarmo | Go to book overview

4
Subjects, Objects, and the Postmodern
Differend in Don DeLillo’s White Noise

The [sunsets] [take] on content, feeling, an exalted narra-
tive life. The bands of color reach so high, seem at times
to separate into their constituent parts. There are turreted
skies, light storms, softly falling streamers. It is hard to
know how we should feel about this. Some people are
scared by the sunsets, some determined to be elated, but
most of us don’t know how to feel, are ready to go either
way…. The spirit of these warm evenings is hard to de-
scribe. There is anticipation in the air but it is not the ex-
pectant midsummer hum of a shirtsleeve crowd, a sandlot
game, with coherent precedents, a history of secure re-
sponse. … What else do we feel? Certainly there is awe, it
transcends previous categories of awe, but we don’t know
whether we are watching in wonder or dread, we don’t
know what we are watching or what it means, we don’t
know whether it is permanent, a level of experience to
which we will gradually adjust, into which our uncertainty
will eventually be absorbed, or just some atmospheric
weirdness, soon to pass.

—Don DeLillo, White Noise

THAT DON DELILLO’S NOVELS ARE UNCOMMONLY RESISTANT TO the meaning-seeking efforts of traditional criticism has been noted time and again. Thomas di Pietro observes that “in DeLillo’s truly Swiftean satire, we’re never sure what he himself believes or what he thinks of his characters,”1 while Eugene Goodheart believes that DeLillo’s perspective on our latecapitalist environs “‘says’ in effect that [he] will express, bring to the surface the horror and terror we repress in order to … ? It is not clear how this sentence should be completed.”2 For Daniel Aaron, the various “unexplained phenomena” in

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