Waves and Radiation by Don DeLillo

Background:  DeLillo was born in 1936 in the Bronx, of Italian immigrant parents.  He claims his Catholic background, particularly Catholic liturgy, has played a significant role in his artistic sensibility, even though he is today no longer a practicing Catholic.  He attended Fordham where, he says, “I didn’t study much of anything.  I majored in something called communication arts.”  He appreciated the work of the Jesuits who, he said, “taught me to be a failed ascetic.”  After working for five years as a copy editor for an advertising agency, he says “I quit my job just to quit.  I didn’t quit my job to write fiction.  I just didn’t want to work anymore.”  After living abroad for three years DeLillo returned to the U.S. in 1982, and reports that “I began to notice something on television which I hadn’t noticed before.  This was the daily toxic spill—there was the news, the weather, and the toxic spill.  This was a phenomenon no one even mentioned.  It was simply a television realty.  It’s only the people who were themselves involved who seemed to be affected by them.  No one even talked about them.  This was one of the motivating forces of White Noise.”  DeLillo is considered one of the greatest American novelist of the latter part of the 20th century; his latest novel is Underground (1997).

Part I of the novel, White Noise, is called Waves and Radiation.  To what do these terms normally refer?  How is DeLillo using them in his novel?

DeLillo is noted for his “dark humor.”  Did you discover any “funny” sections in the novel?  What were there?  Can a novelist be “funny” about “serious” matters?

What do you make of the hero’s career in “Hitler Studies”?  What do you think of the first time it is brought up in the novel? (338)  What do you think DeLillo is doing when he portrays a program in “American environments”? (338-9)  What is the significance of the incident about “the most photographed barn in America”? (342)  Why does he bring this into the novel?

What is significant about his description of Babette? (343)  What is the point of bringing up the matter of “who will die first”?

How did Gladney get his “public” name of J.A.K. Gladney? (344)  What is the point of such a story?

What sense do you find in the dialogue with Heinrich? (347-8)  What does this incident contribute to the emerging sensibility being depicted in the novel?

Notice DeLillo’s description of Gladney’s class (349-50).  What is DeLillo trying to do here?  Point to features of the text to support your view.

What is going on in the domestic scene (350-1) in chapter 10?  What is the meaning of the ensuing dialogue with Heinrich? (351-3)  Read carefully the final paragraph of the selection (353).  What does it suggest about the meaning of and value of reality?  What features of the text lead you to think that?