In ninth grade I had one of the most profound experiences of my life–or maybe it wasn’t an experience at all. Maybe more of a feeling…Because it was a dream, and who knows what that is? I have decided that describing what happened in this dream is where I will draw the line for what is too personal to share on this blog, so suffice it to say that it was this dream that made me realize that one day I would die. And this dream came as a direct result of Don DeLillo’s White Noise.
I started reading White Noise because my ultimate unrequited love, a musician who though double my age, remained the high school sadboy of my 15 year-old dreams, described a relationship as “Don DeLillo, whiskey neat, And a blinking midnight clock.” Yet, years after my infatuation faded, the impact of this book lingers on.
Death, and the fear of it, overshadows the entirety of White Noise. If anything, it might be a novel about the failed project of trying to find a means to overcome the fear of mortality. Personally, though, it was not until the book’s climatic ending that DeLillo’s assertion about the inescapability of death really hit. Jack, the novel’s protagonist has discovered his wife has been performing sexual favors in exchange for a drug that assuages the fear of death, and in order to overcome his own mortal terror has decided to murder the drug’s distributor. What Jack finds is a terrifyingly pathetic picture; the distributor, Willie Mink, is holed up in a motel room, Jack tells the reader, “He wore a Hawaiian shirt and Budweiser shorts. Plastic sandals dangled from his feet. The dumpy chair, the rumpled bed, the industrial carpet, the shabby dresser, the sad green walls and ceiling cracks…” and he is grossly addicted to his own drug. It is what this pitiful man says, though, that depresses me most–he tells Jack that his drug doesn’t work because if a pill could stop the fear of death, there would only be “a grater death.” Or as Jack puts it, “Death adapts? It eludes our attempts to reason with it?”
And if this is true, what’s the point in it all? That question used to mean what is the point of living only to die, but that only lead us to this failed project of trying to ignore the fear of death. Hence, DeLillo leaves us with a new level of inescapability: Ridding ourselves of the fear of death would only make death more impactful. And, so if trying to come to terms with death is a failed project, then so has been the writing I have done here.
(DeLillo, Don. White Noise. New York: Penguin Books, 1984; Image: Klimt, Gustav. Death and Life. 1910. Leopold Museum,Vienna.)