White Noise and Libra: Comparative Analysis

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The novels taken for analysis are White Noise and Libra. The main protagonist in the novel White Noise is Jack Gladney. The work focuses on the ideas fear of death, creating false identity to survive in the society.

The choice of the supermarket is significant for Jack's ultimate transcendence. It is the trope of existence throughout the novel. Indeed, the supermarket scene in the closing chapter is mystically charged as a sacred space for personal transcendence. The supermarket is the place where the 'White Noise' of the novel's title makes its most significant appearance. “And over it all,” Jack narrates as he stands in the shopping aisle listening to the supermarket’s ambient noise, “or under it all, a dull and unlocatable roar, as of some form of swarming life just outside the range of human apprehension.” (36) This is an almost mystical observation by a highly attuned consciousness, reminiscent of a mystic on the brink of spiritual discovery. Murray, Jacks young colleague and the novel's spokesman of postmodernist ideas, makes the comparison explicit. “This place recharges us spiritually,” (37) he says about the function of the supermarket.

Indeed, the supermarket is the novel's cathedral where Jack finds himself surrounded by incantations as in the enchanting repetition of the commercial phrase 'Kleenex Softique' (39), customs as in Jack's observation of the ceremonial behaviour of the customers in the supermarket: “People wrote checks, tall boys bagged the merchandise … the slowly moving line edged toward the last purchase point”(40), and its own form of asceticism which Jack senses in the “new austerity” of generic foods. It is not church, exactly, but as Murray says, “the difference is less marked than you think.” (38)The same is true to a lesser extent for the Mid-Village Mall, where Jack shops with reckless abandon and feels “an endless well-being.” (84) When he leaves the supermarket with two shopping carts he feels that he had achieved “a fullness of being.” (84)

The supermarket is actually the agency where individuals such as Jack can be liberated from the dread of death through the power of consumption. Earlier in the novel Murray spells the mystical power of death transcendence of the supermarket in his reflections on The Tibetan Book of the Dead:

Tibetans believe there is a transitional state between death and rebirth. Death is a waiting period, basically. Soon a fresh womb will receive the soul. In the meantime the soul restores to itself some of the divinity lost at birth…. That's what I think of whenever I come in here [supermarket]. This place recharges us spiritually, it prepares us, it's a gateway or pathway. Look how bright. It's full of psychic data. (37)

Jack is overwhelmed by the marketing images that barrage him at the mall. He shops out of his desire or need to cultivate a sense of belonging. The products he buys have no practical function beyond their ability to make him feel somehow included in the vast cultural system around him. Part of DeLillo's strategy to achieve this sense is through the representation of the mall as a literal palace designed intentionally and specifically to seduce the consumer. The consumer culture offers the illusion that life exists not in individuality, but rather in constructing an identity based on one’s ability to engage the consumer culture. Such an engagement involves spending money and buying empty products with powerful images.

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Consequently, Jack's involvement in the communal panic caused by the rearrangement of the grocery items on the shelves of the supermarket in the closing chapter of White Noise is really a participation in the rituals and spells collected in The Tibetan Book of the Dead – 'a guide to dying and being reborn.' (73) Furthermore, packages and products displayed in the supermarket are the 'psychic data' which fulfil Jack's spiritual yearning. Commodities fill the psychological emptiness created by the overwhelming death obsession. He is no longer afraid of death because packages and containers can satisfy his spiritual craving to be reborn.

Thus, instead of dealing with the issues of mortality as universal connection among all people, DeLillo provides a thorough investigation of the late twentieth-century cultural and psychological mechanisms that attempt to fashion and obscure the relationship between the self and death.

If the supermarket is the 'pathway' for Jack's transcendence of death obsession, technology, as symbolized by the 'holographic scanners,' is the agency of this pathway. It is the agency for the rebirth of the dead: 'the language of waves and radiation, or how the dead speak to the living.' The critic Peter Boxall suggests that ' the introduction of the bar code turns consumers themselves into products, shuffling automata whose choices and 'lifestyles' are determined by the demands of the supermarket, rather than vice versa.' This is not dehumanization as much as embracing technology as a way of salvation from twisted existence and death obsession. The absence of religion or tradition in the world of White Noise is being compensated by the values of technology and consumerism. This clearly reflected in the strong note of fascination and mysticism in Jack's description of the magical powers of the 'holographic scanners.' DeLillo confers divinity on them as they are capable of decoding the binary secret of life itself. The conversation between Murray and Babette on Supermarket explains the role played by it in attaining self for Gladney.

This place recharges us spiritually, it prepares us, it’s a gateway or pathway. Look how bright. It’s full of psychic data.... Everything is concealed in symbolism, hidden by veils of mystery and layers of cultural material. But it is psychic data, absolutely. The large doors slide open, they close unbidden. Energy waves, incident radiation. All the letters and numbers are here, all the colors of the spectrum, all the voices and sounds, all the code words and ceremonial phrases. It is just a question of deciphering, rearranging, peeling off the layers of unspeakability. Not that we would want to, not that any useful purpose would be served. This is not Tibet. Even Tibet is not Tibet anymore. (38)

For Siskind, the supermarket offers ceremony, mystery, and magic that appeal to his spiritual sensibilities. However, Murray also explains the postmodernist condition here; nothing is real anymore, and we do not want to decipher or peel off the layers. Nevertheless, it is at the supermarket that the waves and radiation speak to him and fulfil him. Critics such as Lentricchia and LeClair see the supermarket as the new place of magic or spirituality in the postmodern environment.

White Noise begins and ends with a ritual. The first is the cavalcade of station wagons arriving for the new school year, which Jack describes as a spectacle which he has not missed in 21 years. It ends with the communal ritual of selfhood transcendence. Jack can only get rid of his dread of death by embracing a collective consumer identity of the post-capitalist society.

Next concept that helps Jack and Babette on survival is the sunset. For Peyser, the sunsets “serve as a screen onto which characters project their own anxieties about the future just over the horizon” (6). The sunsets are ambiguous and they do cause a degree of anxiety. However, it is through his interpretations of the sunsets that Jack Gladney demonstrates his ability to accept the wonder and awe of the postmodern while still maintaining a critical and wary eye to the dangers around him that may have caused them. The sunsets in White Noise grow in significance as the narrative proceeds and they grow in magnificence as additional contaminants are added to the air. The sunset is here a sign of family community, but also a sign of distrust and fear within the family, as Heinrich seems to fear the ‘modern sunset.’ The Gladneys watch the sunset with “wonder and dread.” The sunsets, despite the nervousness they invoke, do also seem to create a communicative atmosphere similar to the one Lentricchia says is created by the shopping malls and especially by the supermarket.

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White Noise and Libra: Comparative Analysis. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 17, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/white-noise-and-libra-comparative-analysis/
“White Noise and Libra: Comparative Analysis.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/white-noise-and-libra-comparative-analysis/
White Noise and Libra: Comparative Analysis. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/white-noise-and-libra-comparative-analysis/> [Accessed 17 Apr. 2024].
White Noise and Libra: Comparative Analysis [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2024 Apr 17]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/white-noise-and-libra-comparative-analysis/
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