Looking for a new book, and just finding all the new books stacked enticingly on the front desks at Barnes and Noble jejeune, jaundiced, and banded together in a bandwagon of greeting, I consulted the NYTIMEs for suggestions. They obligingly suggested WHITE NOISE as a most relevant book. So I bought and began to read. And feel so enthusiastic. Not since 10th grade existentialism, not since I waited for Godot have I felt such excitement and despair. For DeLIllo, who I have never read, is a great writer. Not since blind Homer with his rosy fingered dawn and the wine red sea has enticed me between its covers.
"The station wagons arrived at noon, a long shining line...the roofs of the station wagons were loaded down with carefully secured suitcases full of light and heavy clothing; with boxes of blqankets, boots, and shoes, sttionery and books, sheets, pillows, quilts with rolled-up rugs and sleeping bags, with bicycles, skis, rucksacks....."
In other words, after a quiet and lifeless summer, when a campus lies eerily inert, "like a patient etherized upon a table," the students return. Gadsby (really--are we supposed to think Gatsby--wasn't Gadsby the original name anyway?) is the chair of the Department of Hitler Studies. Gadsby, in fact, invented this department. Now the school is known as the source of everything Hitler. A few chapters later, I realize his name never was Gadsby--but Gladney. But, in fact, he does rearrange his name from Jack Gladney into JAK Gladney. He has to reinvent himself in order to chair the HItler department. He has to become a believable Hitler Chair. So it is a Gatsby-an change anyway. His mentor believes he needs to change his looks to change his title.
And the book is lyrically hilarious, taking the ordinary banalities of life and using them as comic poesy: "The smoke alarm went off in the hallway upstairs, either to let us know the battery had just died or the house was on fire. We finished our lunch in silence." Things invented to alert us to attention and to action are now just quotidian nuisances. And of course, foreshadowing.
And I despair. The humor, the eloquence, the descriptive powers of this man. How I long to be able to describe these things. With life. For he tells us there is a difference between experiencing and existence. Here in the book, he goes to see the "most photographed barn" in America. But it is no longer a barn. You can't even see it. You see people taking pictures with all sorts of devices. Not seeing the barn. Not experiencing the barn. It is like taking a picture is part of their bucket list. They are not experiencing the barn. For the barn hasn't been experienced since it was built and none have seen the barn since. And that is how I feel about selfies and the people taking them. "Look about you," I want to cry. "Look. with your eyes. Understand, think, be." But they won't be. They document. And few look at the photograph graveyard in their gallery.
Which does not have to be joyless. When I was 10, I realized people thought I was more innocent than I was. I kept quiet for years. But since I knew that about myself and how I was experienced, I no longer was innocent but feigned an innocence that was no longer there. It was a source of great joy and great power. I know how you experience me and you will pay.
That is why I cannot read the recent literature at the book stores. What is left to say that hasn't been said by Dickens of Christians, Roth of Jewish men, Jong of Jewish women, Plath of women, Eliot of cats, and Allen of Katz? We are not allowed to experience or talk about experience, lest we be medicated for not feeling the proper feeling or behaving with appropriate stillness. If our bodies try to express themselves, we disturb the sleep of the powerful. Twitchy--try Adderal. Angsty--Prozac. Anxious--Benzodiazepines. Want to scream--Thorazine. Medicate your feelings away. Don't act, dose.
Oh I know you want me to write of a New Year. But I cannot. My mother is dead and a dybbuk and I am so angry as to be speechless. One can talk of the post-mortem sadness. Not the post-mortem anger. Especially females. Angry females are Lilith. (Esther is never angry, and only praised for the beauty of her obedience). The best thing about Carrie was the ending--blood all over the place, like dinner at the House of Atreus. The Greeks did it best, I suppose. So I cannot write of a happy new year. Just a grim continuation of the old.
And while WHITE NOISE is a fun read, it is also an existential read. Death is everywhere. White noise itself is Soylent Green. And the most American of experiences may all be a bardo. Not the Bridget kind.