Academic Aspirations

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White Noise is one of those books that you find on college reading lists. Google searches on the text produce plenty of suggestions for teaching the text and bookstore catalogs have more copies of books about the novel then they have of the novel itself. This preponderance of academic interest is why I read the book – and why the story completely perplexes me.

Granted, there is plenty of symbolism, offensive dialog, absurd behavior and imagery simply waiting to be uncovered as hidden commentaries on society. It’s a veritable goldmine of possibilities for anyone writing a college level paper. While it has been some years since I read the novel, I distinctly remember noticing how very easy…noticeably easy….it would be to write an American Literature 101 paper on this book. In fact, the text seemed to be written expressly for the purpose of being discussed among academics, dissected by students and lectured upon by professors.

Don’t get me wrong, the story line was solid, the writing high quality, and the novel kept my interest from beginning to end. Yet, during those moments when I struggled with the suspension of disbelief that is necessary to truly enjoy any fictional work, it was because I had the jarring sense of collegiate preparation. It was as if the author stopped his story telling, pulled out an old wooden pointer and clearly indicated those areas where a student would be best advised to focus when writing a term paper.

This left me wondering if this book were truly a high quality work of fiction, or a convenient way to structure a literature 101 class. If it was written for the purposes of academic discussion and teaching-tool-creation, then the book as a whole seems (to me) to be an example of false quality. It is not good literature, it is a collection of examples of what good literature might look like.

True to this analysis, it presents many opportunities for quotes, which I will post to this blog; but only after I have made my own critical commentary on the academic nature of this book…and that would be this post…so…there it is.

A few quotes illustrating my comments above:

“She said I made virtues of her flaws because it was in my nature to shelter loved ones from the truth. Something lurked inside the truth, she said.”

“In a crisis the true facts are whatever other people say they are. No one’s knowledge is less secure than your own.”

“Was he a Samoan, a Native North American, a Sephardic Jew? It was getting hard to know what you couldn’t say to people.”

White Noise by Don Delillo

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