White Noise Is Rather Tough To Take…


White Noise by Don DeLillo was a novel I was expecting to dislike. For some reason, the front cover was repelling me, and I thought it was going to something similar to a postmodern ghost story. I was right, to a certain extent, because Don DeLillo does write a prelude to a ghost story. He maps the mentality of death, and an abject fear of what is to come, and what comes afterwards. His protagonists, Jack Gladney, and his wife, Babette, represent a kind of paralysis of mentality; their fear of death overrides their sense of everything else.

This, I think, can be considered both an advantage and a disadvantage. A disadvantage, because they live, believing that they can and will be dead at any moment; their marriage is overshadowed by a fear of the other dying, and so their petty rows, and Babette’s ‘arrangement’ with Mr Gray is insignificant, in comparison to her fear of losing the physical and emotional entity that is Jack. Therefore in many ways, the sanctity of marriage and union itself is questioned.

The cover that so unnerved me… (1)

Their sense of death however is an advantage because it allows them to explore the parameters of marriage in terms of a whole existence. Instead of a focus on small events, the couple manage to look at everything as a whole. The ‘airborne toxic event’ is not an individual disaster, and instead, the protagonist seems to focus on the impact it has on his entire life; the fact that it is shortened by this unknown threat. In some ways then, the fear of death provides a mechanism so that both protagonists can stay united by the unresolved fear.

The novel places a very heavy emphasis on the importance of technology to modern-day life. Throughout the text, phrases such as “the radio said” are used. This reminds the reader of George Orwell’s 1984, because there is an outside force that influences the character’s movement. The instantaneous information that is available through the television and radio influences the fear of death that Jack and Babette experience; unreliable information seems to only emphasize the unreliable nature of life, and the unpredictability of death. The relative power of the medical industry is also highlighted by Jack’s “brackets and stars” status. His doctor represents an omen, and therefore towards the end of the novel, Jack refuses to visit him, to find out more details of his impending death. This refusal shows a monumental step in his life, because he refuses to indulge the fear itself.

By far my favourite scene however, is when Jack shoots Mr. Gray, the man who has allegedly created the drug that removes a person’s fear of death. The shooting can be seen as an irony, because Mr. Gray represents being fearless. Therefore by causing him serious injury and plotting to kill him, he metaphorically attacks the idea of being unafraid of death. Gunshot wounds are an unnatural way to die, in the same way that it is unnatural to be unafraid of one’s own passing.

The novel itself is an interesting comment on 1980s society, especially because of the novelty value of technology at the time. I enjoyed it far more than I thought I should.


(1) http://theasylum.files.wordpress.com/2009/05/whitenoise.jpg?w=470




A Proposal From Mr. J. Swift

Eighteenth century English satire is perhaps one of the most sophisticated of the literary periods. It subtlety satirizes, or makes ridiculous, the institutions that existed at the time, including the government, the treatment of children, and indeed social structures themselves. Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope were both famed satirists in their way, respectively Juvenalian and Horatian in style. Jane Austen was also a satirical writer, writing a critique of the restraints of the upper and lower classes, in an often amusing fashion.

A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland From Being a Burden on Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick, commonly referred to as A Modest Proposal, was written by Jonathon Swift in 1729, at the height of satirical importance in English literature. Swift was a famed satirist, however his complete body of works does not sit comfortable in either a Juvenalian or Horatian category of satirical writing specifically. This particular work however is broadly considered to be a Juvenalian text, combating issues of morality, such as the man’s treatment of his wife with ridiculous sentiments such as her usefulness as a “breeder”. It is this incredibly powerful juxtaposition that provokes the mind to consider these sentiments in all seriousness.

Mr. Swift (1)

Juvenalian satire is an angry, biting form of satire, using morality to create a situation in which contempt can be provoked. In A Modest Proposal there are certainly a number of these elements, such as his extreme derision towards himself as a narrator, and the continued references to human children as delicious meats for the wealthy, products of a “breeder”. Whilst it is strikingly obvious that this is a satirical condemnation of the poverty and lack of government awareness in Ireland at the time, Swift himself may have to a certain extent supported these ideas. There are however, also elements of Horatian satire in the pamphlet; Horatian satire is a gentler form of derision that is motivated more towards amusing the audience, as opposed to repulsing them. There are very few elements of his kind of satire in this text; for instance, the suggestion that the cannibalistic behaviour would lead to a more loving marital situation is astounding, especially since it suggests that men would view their wives in the same way as they view their livestock.

Swift himself attempted to protect the oppressed in Ireland, specifically those who lived under the control of the English (often absentee) landowners, and the Irish Parliament, which was dominated by English influences. Despite being an Anglo-Protestant himself, and being elected Dean of St. Patrick’s Church very reluctantly, he sought to protect the Irish against the Anglo-Protestant classes, using very serious sermons to spread a message. Most significantly however, Swift went to the power of the pen, and wrote pamphlets such as A Modest Proposal that highlighted the issues of poverty in such a severe way that it was impossible to ignore such an extreme mode of communication. Swift had huge psychological problems with being connected by blood to Ireland, and appears to have had a very complex psychological stance on identity and society as a whole. Nevertheless, he sought to speak out against the huge issues of poverty that he saw in the streets on a daily basis. These problems included infanticide, begging, and prostitution. Due to his position as a senior member of the church, Swift often experienced these issues first hand.

For those who haven’t yet started to look at satire, then I’d say that you should if only for the entertainment value; without considering the social implications, the satirical texts tend to be amusing on a superficial level. That surely is the point of satire; to amuse, whilst causing somewhere, in the subconscious, a consideration of the meaning of the text. We never have been able to fully understand the subconscious; and in the same way that we don’t understand fully how dreams are formed, we don’t understand what makes us think of ideas in the way that we do. A testament to the power of satire is how it has continued to be a significant genre even today, especially in television. Satire is fundamentally amusing, and often hides the more serious implications of satire for society within its fabric.


(1) http://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/images/jonathan-swift.jpg


Mary Wollstonecraft: The First Feminist Writer

This week, I began studying feminism as part of my course at university. Therefore I decided that some research into feminist writers would be a good place to start, and because of my recent love affair with In Our Time, decided that these programs would be particularly useful. Therefore I treated them as lectures, taking notes as I listened. It was thoroughly enjoyable experience!

Courtesy of http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/b00pg5dr.

By the time of writing, the Vindication of the Rights of Woman represents a very sophisticated level of her abilities. It is not however a straightforward proposal for women’s rights, especially in terms of property and politics, however they are implicit in that if women were re-educated and society reshaped, then these rights would become a part of the ‘new woman’. She writes primarily about middle class women. Women tended to accept the ascribed social position; Wollstonecraft tries to think her way out of this, to find a way that a woman can perform a civic role in society and be more educated.

As the political climate changed, the book’s understanding changed. Much of the book however was not ‘anti-man’. Women are actually attacked; they are put in gilded cages, and value beauty over intellectualism, and Wollstonecraft believes that these women should refrain from modelling their aspirations on flimsy novels and instead, embrace their minds.

Wollstonecraft often struggled with her own sexuality and sensuality. She believed that there was a right and wrong kind of femininity; women should be human first, and feminine afterwards. The power that comes from beauty is a false kind of power and should only really be used within the context of a relationship; not within the public arena. She perceived love as an obstacle for rational thinking. Wollstonecraft was probably a virgin at the time of writing of the vindication.

There is however a very powerful theme of love in the book; the love of God. Sexual passion in any relationship should not last long; friendship is the basis of a long-term and successful relationship. When Wollstonecraft arrived in Paris, the revolution was in full swing, and she places herself in a perilous position by writing an early history of the revolution. The Vindication does not dwell on political rights of women, however Wollstonecraft does attack political rights in her piece on the French revolution, and so she can be viewed as a political activist in a certain sense. Eventually however she became alienated by the ideology of the revolution.

Mary Wollstonecraft theorised motherhood as a fundamental element of the role of women. Godwin reveals much about Wollstonecraft after her death, detailing everything from her suicide attempts to her illegitimate child; people were alienated by this revelation. Her unfinished book also was far more radical than her previous works, and alienated her erstwhile followers. She became more important in the post Woolf era, becoming a foundational figure in the underground feminist movement, and was influenced by her husband in terms of his left-wing communist beliefs; this certainly would have broadened her mind politically.

Thank you to Radio Four for the programme and all its associated content.