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Published in 1985, DeLillo's White Noise is a meditation on the contradictions inherent in American society, a society experienced by many as a benign consumer paradise, a land that promises “endless well-being” but one which conceals the potentially catastrophic costs of such a fantasy in human ad environmentals terms. The book shows how this fantasy of benevolence is made possible by the unconscious beliefs and meanings given to the superabundance and variety of consumer products and choices. It is an ironic and, at the same time, disturbing novel portraying a society under attack from the “white noise” which surrounds and impregnates everything, and dramatically determines people's way of life. This background noise is first of all a metaphor for the part of American culture composed of nothing more than the meaningless babble of TV or other mass media, consumer products and conversations which are contaminated by information overload. But it is also a real presence in the form of backgroung noises. The other omnipresent force in the novel is the supermarket, which has become a sacred destination for the pilgrims of contemporary consumer society. DeLillo portrays a sterile shopping-mall culture as one of the dominant forces in American life. Everytime Murray goes there, he describes it as an unforgettable spiritual experience, a revelation. As he says at the beginning of the novel: “This place recharges us spiritually, it prepares us, it's a gateway or pathway”. “All the letters and numbers are here, all the colours of the spectrum, all the voices and sounds, all the code words and ceremonial phrases”. The apparent spiritual depth they experience has no real profundity. The mall itself is like a huge hall of mirrors where the consumers see themselves buying and buy the image of themselves they see. It can be also considered a form of pleasure dome, though its pleasures are no longer those of the imagination but of mass consumption. Paradoxically, the idea of “paradise” is no longer equated in the mind with what is free, but with what can be bought, the more expensive the better, confirming one's economic election in being able to afford it.
Stylistic features Stylistically White Noise is in many ways characteristic of recent American postmodern fiction. We often find ourselves overwhelmed by lists of products typical of consumer society. The novel's opening page is almost entirely composed of a list of things that parents carry with them in their station wagons when they take their children to college. But these lists are not merely a catalogue. The author's writing makes poetry out of the products of mass “junk” culture, whose names, often invented words referring to nothing beyond themselves, become the elementary particles of a new sacred language. The words are simultaneously nonsensical and referential. Each word is sounded and placed more for its rhythmic or sound value than for its meaning. They often have the force of religious mantras or litanies, returning over and over again with the same mixture of desolate sacrality and excess which characterises the atmosphere of supermarkets and commercial malls. In this, DeLillo performs an ironic reversal of the mood of T. S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land, which places the banality of modern life in contrast to fragments of meaningful cultural and religious tradition. In the world DeLillo describes, the “waste” of modern life has itself taken on a sacred dimension. In his prose there is something at once sublime, ironic and sinister. Another interesting aspect of the novel is the presence of the language of American television. Fragments of TV programmes are interwoven in the narrative as the characters watch it almost hypnotised. They spend a great deal of their time in front of the TV with which they have a mimetic if not a wholly symbiotic relationship.