Writing as catharsis

Book review: White Noise by Don DeLillo

Posted in Book review by Lachlan R. Dale on April 22, 2013
White Noise by Don Delillo

White Noise by Don DeLillo

White Noise is my first experience with Don DeLillo’s work. Over the past 12 months I’d heard his name uttered many times – usually coupled with some recognition that he is one of the most important fiction authors in recent decades.

From the moment I began reading White Noise it was apparent that DeLillo is a supremely gifted author; his metaphors are sublime, his prose smooth and easy to read. His most commendable skill seems to be his ability to perfectly capture human frailty in simple, everyday scenes. In White Noise the narrator supplies a seemingly endless supply of observations on human behaviour; how shallow appearances and subtle symbols instill confidence in social institutions; how a family looks to each other for emotional reassurance in a million trivial games of power and dominance; how cultural identity and meaning are maintained every day through our most insignificant gestures.

As an illustration I’ll outline on passage I found particularly memorable. In this scene the narrator Jack and fellow lecturer Murray take a tourist trip to see ‘the most photographed barn in America’. The significance of this barn appears to be entirely circular; it is famous because it is so often photographed, and it is photographed because it is famous. This absurd passage follows:

“No one sees the barn,” he said finally.

A long silence followed.

“Once you’ve seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn.”

He fell silent once more. People with camera left the elevated site, replaced at once by others.

“We’re not here to capture an image, we’re here to maintain one. Every photograph reinforces the aura. Can you feel it, Jack? An accumulation of nameless energies.”

There was an extended silence. The man in the booth sold postcards and slides.

“Being here is a kind of spiritual surrender. We see only what the others see. The thousands who were here in the past, those who will come in the future. We’ve agreed to be part of a collective perception. This literally colors our vision. A religious experience in a way, like all tourism.”

Another silence ensued.

“They’re taking pictures of taking pictures,” he said.

There are dozens of moments like this in White Noise, where post-modern / Foucauldian concepts are bound with anthropological observation and presented in a humorous deadpan style that often reminds me of Bret Easton Ellis (it would appear as though Ellis is indebted to DeLillo’s style). Unfortunately a novel is not built on keen observation and creative metaphor alone. White Noise is divided into three parts; I almost abandoned the book towards the end of the first part, simply because nothing seemed to happen. In fact nothing of consequence seems to happen in the first 150 or so pages; we are merely subjected to a continuous stream of miniscule observations; of beautiful insights into human intimacy; of the slow and steady development of characters (DeLillo’s ability to give life to his characters is also excellent) — but there is seemingly no overarching “plot” at such.

Things certainly “happen” in the second and third parts, but at the book’s conclusion I still did not feel I had completed a novel. DeLillo’s writing stalks along at the same steady pace for over 300 pages, drawing a smile or a chuckle with regularity, but seemingly refusing to deliver a major story arc or significant plot development. The cute-ness of his style seemingly prevents any moments of heightened drama. I finished White Noise lacking a sense of closure, and with mixed feelings.

As a commentary on human frailty – particularly fear of death – this was a pleasure to read – but as a fiction novel I felt a little deflated and left wanting more. Perhaps this was DeLillo’s intention (skimming summaries of his other work certainly seems to indicate he is a man who throws off the standard convention of a linear novel), but I am left undecided and lukewarm.

DeLillo possesses piercing insight but I am still undecided as to his status as a novelist. There is a reasonable chance that I will return to more of his work in the future; perhaps that will put me in a position to better comment on his intentions and approach.

The joyless and the defeated

Posted in Prose, Ranting and rambling by Lachlan R. Dale on April 21, 2013
By Ralph Steadman

By Ralph Steadman

I can comfortably conceive of my life as battle against The Joyless. I see them in droves; faces bloated, posture weak and hanging, constantly braying and complaining. They formulate the view that life is just one continuous plot against them; they believe they are denied what is rightfully theirs, but, lacking the energy and power to change their paths, they resign themselves to wallowing in despair.

They are The Defeated; humans who sing a warbling eulogy to their lives at every waking moment; their eyes glazed and hollow, colour and light drawn from them. These beings drain the lives of those around them. They stumble around without direction, a vacant look on their faces. Show them images from the birth of a star; the most beautiful galaxies in the universe and they would merely shrug their shoulders and resume shovelling greasy food into their faces.

They are the grazers; a mass of misery who are bent on inflicting their state on others through their social discourse. They are trapped in the well-worn lines of their thought; unthinkable they ever might displace their point of view with empathy of understanding – even momentarily. They can only dwell in their own apathetic sense of dissatisfaction, lacking the awareness to resolve the issues from which these feelings stem.

Given enough time their misery becomes all they know; their sadness becomes so banal, so commonplace that it begins to bore and sicken them – yet still they cannot escape! These are the people who pray for disaster; for car crashes; for tsunamis; for a demonstration of nature’s raw power; for war – if for nothing more than entertainment and as some absurd justification for their own melancholy mood.

I would give anything to ensure that I do not end up a passionless husk of a human secretly hoping for death but lacking the courage or conviction to end things. I see them in shopping centres and airports and pubs; these bloated and swollen men, looking hopefully and dejectedly about for someone to talk at. They want you to listen as they recall their past glories, then pull you down into their misery as they explain their fall from grace. They want you down in the gutter with them; to comprehend the sneers and conspiracies set against them. They had no choice; they surely could not have lived any other way. They are victims of circumstance; the game was rigged from the outset; they were played a bad hand.

My deepest sadness would be to become one of them; lonely, sad, deflated, completely dehydrated of any passion for life. I refuse to become one of them. My secret fear propels my onward to embrace life and love; to poetry and music; to friends and family. I pack my life to the brim in a ravenous search for meaning and contentment. Even if this state is ultimately unattainable and this search becomes the steady undercurrent of my time on this earth, then I feel those years will certainly not be wasted — but to resign yourself, to give in, to too soon anticipate a return to dust? That is surely the deepest loss for one still living.

A midnight musing

Posted in Poetry, Prose, psychology, Ranting and rambling by Lachlan R. Dale on April 4, 2013
Mia Taniaka

By Mia Taniaka

Some days I am blessed with warmth; my soul radiates hues of magenta and burnt orange. I walk along rows of jasmine with the sun on my skin. My heart might flutter across sweet peaks or soar upon gusts of cool, crisp air. These are moments in which all the universe resolves itself; in which I am elated by the pure contentment of being.

If these days could only be captured, I would be forever enraptured.

But other days the expanse of the sky overhead seems to close in; my skin feels no warmth, and no scent can wake me from my misery. Inside I feel a dull ache, tormented by unattainable joy. This absence becomes all-consuming; my vision turns to grey. Life is now discord; an aberration. My misery becomes a mire, and if I am not mindful I can slip deeper still into the dark fire.

I watch my breath and still my mind. Inwardly I speak; let these days pass. Let another dawn come.