Driving Reality Through Language
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Grayson WeirENG 224Fall 2016Due Friday, Nov. 4thDriving Reality Through LanguageDon DeLillo’s novel “White Noise” acquaints readers with people bound together by one-dimensional societal commonalities, such as residence and marriage, rooted in modern post-industrial life. These post-modernistic persons, whether through physical presence, television, or word of mouth, encounter frequent disasters striking throughout the novel. With these disasters becoming a constant reminder of the idea that mortality is always lurking, DeLillo, who does not offer methodical theorizations of language per say, suggests simply that language provides a definitive answer to how we as humans interact with an object or situation. Early on in White Noise, DeLillo describes a tourist spot outside of the protagonist Jack Gladney’s hometown of Blacksmith; the most photographed barn in America. Assembled outside of the barn flock crowds with cameras. Much like DeLillo expresses towards malls and supermarkets throughout, the barn affirms this idea of consumerist immanence regarding naming. To Jack’s friend Murray, the barn itself doesn’t actually exist. “No one sees the barn,” he says. “Once you’ve seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn,” (12). According to Murray, the notion of naming causes the tourists to see the barn for what it has been labeled, as opposed to what it truly is. “We can’t get outside the aura,” he says. “We’re part of the aura. We’re here, we’re now,” (13). Rather than the barn itself being the attraction, the claims of the signs become the attraction and reality of the barn, depicting that same notion on society. DeLillo is communicating that the real world and physical traits do not shape our language; language shapes the real world. Time passing after visiting the barn, Jack is going about his day and spots a looming plume of toxic gas on the horizon, which causes the reader to question the idea that reality may be driven by names once more. He is unsure of what to make of the plume and its potential of deadly actions. As everyone looks to the distance, nobody knows what he or she is to call the gas causing cloud in the sky until the radio chimes in. At first, the radio writes it off as simply a feathery plume, with the gas being Nyodene D. As the plume grows bigger and closer, the radio refers to it as a black billowing cloud that could cause “heart palpitations and a sense of déjà vu,” due to the Nyodene (114). Almost immediately, those listening to the radio have fear set in, only to be further frightened by the new terminology on the radio. Calling it “the airborne toxic event,” naming becomes brought to the forefront once more. Not knowing the significance, the cloud is initially written off, at least to some extent. But as the radio begins to place a fear-evoking title to it, the reality of the situation changes and the mood changes.
Coupled with the horrible fear in naming the airborne toxic event, after hearing the symptoms on the radio Denise and Steffie, who are in the car leaving town, unknowingly begin to feel sweaty palms, nausea and a sense of déjà vu. “I saw all this before […] Just like this. The man in the yellow suit and gas mask. The big wreck sitting in the snow. It was totally and exactly like this,” she said (122). Not knowing whether these symptoms are true, DeLillo throws in further questions about language through the narrator’s perspective. “Did Steffie truly imagine she’d seen the wreck before or did she only imagine she’d imagine it? Is it possible to have a false perception of an illusion,” he asks (122). While Jack asks questions toward the situation at hand, the reader begins to question alongside. Is it true? Are Steffie and Denise really experiencing these symptoms naturally or because the radio said so? DeLillo makes his point clear, with the radio eventually retracting the statement that the symptoms can be caused by Nyodene, establishing again the importance of naming, language, and how words can form a false reality.The way DeLillo sees it, naming things comes down to the identity of the person speaking. The individuality of each person on earth comes from different backgrounds, societal status, and often someone’s geographical or situational vocabulary. This diverse differential in dialect can cause confusion of terminology and on occasion a sense of discontent. Jack, who has been in the dark in regard to Babette’s internal struggle, is baffled to hear his wife has been cheating on him on a fairly consistent basis— unable to fathom such an unforeseeable, devastating act. Babette eventually explains her struggle with Dylar. This drug is an escape method to forget death but also makes people neglect the difference between words and reality. “No one was inside anyone. This is stupid usage. I did what I had to do,” said Babette. (185) For Babette, this drug has overtaken her reality, and changed her vocabulary alongside. While her words don’t physically change, the meaning behind them do. She believes that giving herself and her body up all in the name of Dylar was her only escape from the fear of mortality consuming her internally. Thus, when she tells Jack that nobody was inside anyone, those words are her truth. The sex was hollow, irrelevant, and as if it never happened. Foreseeably, the two stand on opposite ends of disagreement towards her truth of the matter, stemming from her word choice.