Archive | July, 2012

Weak Fought: A Tickle Fight With Girard and Vattimo

27 Jul

A look at Christianity, Truth, and Weakening Faith by Gianni Vattimo and Rene Girard

 

What happens when you have a debate between two devout Catholics who both, more or less, look forward to the dissolution of metaphysics in religious thought? What happens when you have a debate between two men and one of them greatly influenced the other’s system of thought? It would seem, in the case of Christianity, Truth and Weakening Faith—which comprises a series of debates concerning religious thought between Italian philosopher, Gianni Vattimo and French anthropologist, Rene Girard—that you would end up with something very much like a tickle-fight.

Vattimo is popular for the concept of ‘weak thought.’ ‘Weak thought,’ to put it roughly, centers around the idea that, in a world where we can no longer accept the metaphysical explanations of the world through various institutions (Marxism, Atheism, Communism, religion), we must rely on Being, interpretation relative to history, and hermeneutic interaction with culture in order to form a more relevant concept of ‘reality.’ Girard is popular for ‘The Scapegoat Mechanism’ and the ‘Mimetic Rivalry.’

In this series of debates, the two go head to head, or is it butt to lips? The latter would seem to be the case, given how seldom they seem to disagree to any real consequence, and when they do, how sorry and almost apologetic they are for having to do so, and how repeatedly sure they are to pay one another high admiration. Vattimo even says in the beginning, ‘First of all, I ought to state that Rene Girard has helped to inspire my own conversion …’ But he must quickly add, ‘although I’m not sure how pleased he would be to find out what he has converted me into!’ ‘I may have oversimplified Girard’s thought in my opening statement,’ he later says. ‘I certainly didn’t mean to make him more papist than he may appear to be.’ —Because that would be awful, at least for these two. It’s not hard for one to gather, after reading some of their writing, that their Catholicism is hard on its capital C. In an interview, Vattimo once referred to himself as ‘moderately anti-clerical,’ and is often accused of having (or flat out admitting) heterodox views.

If there is a measureable, hard disagreement between the two, it has to do with vocabulary and interpretation, mainly in Vattimo’s more open interpretation of what was originally meant to be a quite rigid, fixed set of phenomena in ‘The Scapegoat Mechanism’ developed by Girard. They spend a lot of their time saying very similar things but arrive at different conclusions. Both agree that the person of Christ was the very first figure in all of history to subvert mankind’s association of the divine with guilty victimhood, since he was quickly recognized as an innocent victim, despite the mob’s (which included his friends) quickness to join in violence against him. Throughout all of history, the sacrificial victim was recognized as guilty even by the writer. Vattimo and Girard both seem to agree that a large function of The Gospel message was to contradict mankind’s need for violence to achieve social order. Where they differ is that Girard seems to think that history is constantly on the verge of forgetting this message and oscillating back toward violence (which could bring about something that would resemble the apocalypse). Vattimo, on the other hand, seems to think that the message made by Christ is a historical event that transcends the kind of exclusivity that one group would claim over another, and that our modern understanding of love is an ever-growing, inescapable product of a constantly reasserting revelation. Vattimo seems to think that Girard is too violent on history and Girard seems to think that Vattimo is too soft on history.

Perhaps one of the harsher things spoken by these, tickling, slapping chums is by Girard, who says of Vattimo’s school of thought and the establishments associated with it, ‘For them, history doesn’t really mean a lot. The key term for defining this school could be “game.” Everything is lucid.’ Vattimo, in response, says, ‘Just as I exaggerated Girard’s traits at the outset, now he’s painting me as a fun-seeking gamester.’ This might sound harsh, but he follows it up with, ‘Indeed it’s true that I don’t take myself as seriously as other Italian philosophers, and perhaps I ought to behave a little more solemnly.’ They take each other’s words with a grain of salt, which almost seems unnecessary given how often they give each other words with a pinch of sugar.

Girard later goes as far as to say, ‘I believe that Vattimo is perfect as he is, and I’m certainly not trying to moralize him or give him advice of any kind.’ Vattimo later says, ‘What Girard has said appears to me significant and surprising. In a certain sense, he seems to have become more optimistic than me.’ (Tickle-tickle).

The book finishes with an essay by each thinker. Vattimo’s essay focuses on the relationship between the thought of Heidegger and Girard in relation to the revelation of Christian interpretation. Girard’s essay is a summary and reassertion of his attachment to ‘The Scapegoat Mechanism,’ though written in direct response to the thought of Vattimo, in which he argues that ‘it is not just interpretation … There are facts too.’

One can’t help but think—after reading the long introduction to what is already a short book—that this is, ultimately, a Vattimo book. For instance, in this introduction written by Pierpaolo Antonello, Vattimo is commended for teaming up with the ‘untimely’ figure, Rene Girard, painting Vattimo up to be, not only the more progressive of the two, but someone willing and careful to pull goodness from what is no longer fashionable.

Walking on eggshells, tickle-fighting, kindly disagreeing, this book is sort of like a slumber party with friends … More accurately, one could say it is like a lunch outside over wine among friends who inquire freely, admonish quickly, contradict carefully and shrug to no conclusion. It is worth one’s time if one wants a refinement of the thought systems of both men and how they weigh against one another. Those interested in religious thought will be challenged by Vattimo’s playfulness with religious vocabulary and symbolism and perhaps intrigued or spooked by Girard’s hyper-anthropological assessment of sacrifice, violence and divinity as history. What you will not find is nastiness or intellectual over-compensation. After all, when one is done tickle-fighting, one has only to catch one’s breath—an effect, at least I believe, similar to that of the reader who gets drunk on thought alone and relishes much stimulating conversation.

 

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/christianity-truth-and-weakening-faith-gianni-vattimo/1102115967

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These Thoughts Were Made For Walking

8 Jul

Walking has done little for humanity outside of providing us with health, exercise, scenery, fresh air, perspective, and the greatest literature the world has ever imagined. Granted, not all novelists and poets were champion walkers. Just the best ones were. As for philosophy, there is no sitting. To discourse on the nature of the sitting philosopher would be the same as writing an essay on dry water.

Jesus most certainly couldn’t have been as fat as the Buddha. He moved around too much. It is for this reason along with his instruction to his disciples ‘to go into all the world,’ that Christianity is a walking religion. In the history of Judaism, I think we can all agree that the art of walking is a pretty much inevitable association. Islam has a great amount of boasting to do about its use of horses but unfortunately, as far as walking goes, they are champions of the circle.

The writer Will Self wrote a book called Psychogeography, in which he recounts his experiences walking thousands of miles across the world. His initial inspiration was the French Situationist, Guy Debord, who first coined the phrase which served as the title of Self’s book. Debord described ‘Psychogeography’ as ‘the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.’ Their aim (so to speak) was to wander aimlessly through the streets of Paris at night, often drunk on lots of red wine, and write down what they saw in relation to their feelings about it. In doing so, they hoped to destroy the conventions of capitalist society—or something.

Self explained in his lectures when touring for the book that some of the streets in Paris are so wide because they were designed in anticipation of being able to control mobs. For him, walking from his home in South London all the way to the Heathrow airport, hopping on the plane and then walking from the JFK airport to his hotel, is all a way of subverting the psycho-political constraints on geography set by those who have most influenced history. His body remembers the walk as the pivotal part of the journey, where as the flight is simply a break between two landscapes joined by his mind. Self’s paranoia has always been a more cheerful one than Guy Debord’s. Self had this to say when interviewed by Russell Brand: ‘I’m trying to destroy the machine-man matrix that has gripped our heads and is destroying us … No it’s just I enjoy a walk.’

There does seem to be a fine line between those who do something for enjoyment and those who do something out of the firm conviction that it is nutritional for them in some way. The former, perhaps, would be categorized as sensualists, the latter, romantics. Rilke, like Rimbuad, spent the better part of his life walking across the world. Because Rilke was more of a romantic, he seems to have been more agreeable in the eyes of his peers. But if we can consider Rilke a romantic, Rimbaud was most certainly an unadulterated sensualist. In between his marathon strolls from country to country, he won his way into the hearts of men and women, fell out with them, almost died several times, and ‘seduced’ Verlaine. Most of this occurred after he retired from poetry at the age of 20, already having revolutionized every form of verse and prose imaginable. The dandified ideal of Baudelaire’s flaneur didn’t even begin to describe this highly irascible, insatiable little bastard, Rimbaud. One imagines him marching rather than strolling, turning his nose up to the robbed and beaten, marching around the criminals and continuing on his way. ‘Impatience’ doesn’t hardly seems fitting to describe him when reading about his character. We see him completely annihilating everything that stands in his way, not a single thought or care for what bridge he will burn, what tie he will sever or what medical problems he’ll acquire. He doesn’t even give himself the opportunity to be impatient, and we sense this in his poetry. We get the feeling while reading him that wherever he wants to go, he has long ago set out that direction.

Henry Miller, who seems to be remembered for sex more than anything else, probably wrote about walking more than he wrote about sex. There was food too. He also needed a job. Sometimes he just wanted one cup of coffee or a cigarette. Sometimes he needed a vision. As he walks through Brooklyn, Paris, the forests and coastline of Big Sur, we’re told just as much about the landscape of his inner world as we are the physical landscape. He was one of the more conscious followers of Nietzsche’s certainty that the greatest thoughts are ‘moving thoughts.’ But what a fortunate position Miller was in compared to Nietzsche. Mr. Miller went most of his life well-loved with lots of friends and lots of women. Nietzsche, having very little of love, friends or women—by what seems like some cosmic joke—still managed to contract syphilis, while little Henry got by with a few manageable cases of the clap. Somehow, Nietzsche managed to walk as much as eight hours at a stretch, often high into the mountains, despite constant nausea, migraines, indigestion and a severe lack of sleep. One has to hand it to a man that miserable for trying to construct ‘the greatest affirmation of life’ in the philosophy of the Eternal Recurrence—a thought that ultimately came to him while walking-which allowed him to ponder on the possibility that life would just repeat itself over and over, exactly the same as he’d lived it.

Opposite those who walked to conduct the lonely business of figuring out the entire universe were those who walked to enmesh themselves in the otherness of people outside their class, like Dickens. Nabokov walked ten miles a day in search of rare species of butterfly, writing an occasional out-of-sequence sentence on a note card, meant ultimately for a novel. Somehow, old Nabokov still managed to become roly-poly on hard candy, which is probably just as much of a feat in light of his walking volume as his actual walking volume. Whitman, in an act of bravery almost unheard of today, tried his hand at selling his own Leaves of Grass door to door. Another champion walker, our Walt wandered the neighborhoods, forests, boulevards and alleyways with immense curiosity and love of life, though we certainly don’t have a problem imagining him stopping every now and then to lay in the grass and sniff his own armpits.

One thing we can gather from The Gospels is that the Devil is impatient with walking. He gave up on Christ after only three temptations in the space of forty days. You’d think he’d be able to squeeze a few more in. Or perhaps our lesson is this: that the Devil has very limited resources when out in nature. The Devil is a city man—a pimp and an alleyway crap shooter, a leader of an underground drug cartel. Emerson and Theroux knew this, and Heidegger most certainly knew it for a time at least … On that note, is it really such a surprise that when Heidegger left nature he became a Nazi?

God has given the gift of wisdom to the bi-pedals. No mollusk, cephalopod or crustacean has yet created a work of any real merit, though it may be a bit premature to rule them out just yet. Just as Henry Miller assured us that some of Joyce’s Ulysses was meant to be read on the toilet, we can be certain that some thoughts can only be thought while walking. And you can tell the difference, can’t you? Doesn’t Camus’s The Stranger reek like a smoked-in, farted-in, sexed-up hotel room? It is not a novel of moving thoughts but festering thoughts. Dostoyevsky’s Notes From the Underground may be written from a room, but one can feel it running, at least. One can feel it cursing as it moves all directions, picking up stones and throwing them out ahead of itself. Sophie’s Choice,  however, is the perfect reflection of a mind preoccupied with masturbation until something else comes and preoccupies it—not to mention the fact that it is also one of the greatest examples of sadism toward the reader written in the past century. The Adventures of Augie March, however, not only walks, but runs, leaps, stops for breath and even soars into the sky with Augie’s eagle.

The Golden Bowl takes a few strolls, but only long enough to run back to stuffy rooms to share gossip. But those strolls seem sufficient enough in supplying us with moving, looping, curling, obsessive thoughts. A Death In Venice doesn’t make the cut. This is the narrative of a man on a rocky boat, unable to walk his obsessive thoughts into coherence. The Picture of Dorian Gray makes the cut. Not only does it reflect the thought of one who has walked much, but one who has walked and then stopped to rest for a while in forbidden places before moving into the light again–could we expect less from Wilde?

Ulysses is most certainly a walking novel, among many other things. But it must be listed among the great walking books for it contains everything that could happen while moving: errands, distraction, idleness, jealousy, anxiety, reflection, conversation, and even the occasional second or two one requires to wipe a glob of snot on a rock.

You can see the difference. It has to do with energy. It just may be that even the walk itself is a product of this energy and the walking thought with it. It hardly seems that all the great walkers were in extraordinary physical shape. Many of them were quite weak and sick. But they were people of great mental health. They assaulted their senses with new perceptions to appropriate, digest and dispense. They quelled the sitting anxieties of stuffy afternoon rooms by sweating a bit in the sunlight. They measured the architecture of their minds against the architecture of nature and found them forming a third nature—or is it the only real nature, the one identified by interdependence between the two?

And though there do exist many other great works that aren’t necessarily moving ones at all, it is the moving works in the end which remind us that satiation, adventure and perhaps peace of mind are only as far away from us as one’s foot is from the ground and one foot from the other.

Friendly Holocaust–A Review of Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis

8 Jul
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“Well, what seems to be the problem?” Tod Friendly’s doctor says to him at the end of the conversation. This is after an entire dialogue that takes place backwards.

And this is the most immediate example of the alternate physics that occur throughout Time’s Arrow. The book follows the observations of a bisected consciousness living inside of the main character, only this other consciousness experiences his entire life in reverse. Like a child, this consciousness is entirely innocent and, for the most part, unaware that physics should operate any other way. The novel often reads like Nabokov meets Vonnegut (or, perhaps, Philip K. Dick, whose novel Counter-Clock World also deals with a world in reverse). However, unlike Dick’s book, this is also a Holocaust novel — something that you wouldn’t know until about two-thirds of the way through if it wasn’t for the jacket synopsis.

This brief novel takes its time acquainting the reader with its reverse-world and all the complexities of the everyday, and Amis is allowed plenty of space to show his creativity with language and imagery. People walk and drive backwards. As mentioned above, they have conversations backwards. They hit their alarm clocks and shoot into bed in the morning and calmly get out of bed to start their day at night. The main character looks for feces in his toilet, sucks it into his body and removes bites of food from his mouth the next day. When he goes to bars, he spends his time dodging women who keep finding him in the crowds. Sex is a necessary foreplay to the main event of tumbling passion that follows. Prostitutes are charitable people who walk you to the end of the street and give you money every time you depart.

If there’s one minor fault in the book, it’s that the technique is doomed to run just a little too thin, even in its brevity, before the idea has time to exercise its full potential. But just when it gets predictable (we can all pretty much guess what the most mundane parts of our day would be like in reverse), we get backwards relationships. Some of them operate like palindromes, fizzling into life and igniting into nonexistence with the same calm flame. But most relationships are terrible in the beginning. As the narrator says, “You get everything on the first date.”

The reversal of conflict that comes with relationships sets us up for the nature of violence. Of violence, he says:

Intellectually I can just about accept that violence is salutary, that violence is good. But I can find nothing in me that assents to its ugliness … A child’s breathless wailing calmed by the firm slap of the father’s hand, a dead ant revived by the careless press of a passing sole, a wounded finger healed and sealed by the knife’s blade …

It’s easy to see where this is going, and because it is delivered so well, we really wish we didn’t know.

Dreams provide foreshadowing, acting as a kind of prophecy for some terrible thing that must happen, but due to the healing power of violence, seems entirely necessary to the narrator. He goes on to describe the crying, displaced Jews, looking for lost people whom they are destined to find again, or those whom they are waiting to return to life.

Once the Holocaust begins with emaciated people being guided into Auschwitz, we learn that the narrator is a guard who will work at the camp. He keeps faith that all of this is necessary, that the feces people collect from the ground will give them sustenance; that they must be beaten to life. As time goes on, we watch prisoners fill out in figure, less despondent as ashes are taken into the incinerators. Bodies are piled into the “sprinkle rooms” bringing loved ones to life so they can meet for the first time. By the time it’s all over, we’re left with a Europe slowly getting better for the Jews. Little by little, they’re awarded more rights, allowed to buy and sell more products. The reverse of genocide would appear to be redemption and salvation.

Ambitious in technique, the novel seems less like a novel of ideas than a novel of a sole idea. And this sole idea, when stripped of the pyrotechnics surrounding it (as brilliant as they are), seems to say little beyond evil reversed makes no evil, which would be good. But it’s hard to suspect that what the book is trying to say is Amis’s main concern. His work has generally been self-reflective in the sense that Nabokov, one of his heroes, said fiction should be—in that it should not enchant you by the personality of the character’s but that it should enchant you by the personality of the writer. In Amis’s book The Information, the reader is told to put the book down and try to guess how each of the four seasons line up with each of the four major literary genres. In Money, a minor character named Martin Amis makes a few appearances. The first-person narrator in London Fields makes no bones about the fact that he’s writing about a love triangle that he is almost directly involved with (that would, I guess, make it a love-square).

In other words, Amis is not a stranger when it comes to addressing the reader, nor is he a stranger to strange techniques and strange subject matter (as in London Fields which features a girl who has a premonition about the man who will someday murder her and decides to make him pay before the deed is even done). He is also not a stranger to dark humor. However, this book has very little humor in it, aside from some observations about the backward nature of reality which offer direct comical contradistinctions to the world we know. But if this is a novel of a sole idea, it could also be said that this is a novel with a sole significant technique. Surely, Amis intended the reader to have this kind of relationship with the book: the narrator, who has experienced none of the story yet knows less than we do about how it will end.

“How many times have I asked myself: when is the world going to start making sense?” the narrator says. “Yet the answer is out there. It is rushing toward me over the uneven ground.”

Though innocent of any alternate reality with an alternate physic, the narrator makes several statements like this. He senses that something is out of joint in the universe even though all the bad things are being corrected. Perhaps this is because he witnesses all good things corrected, as in one early passage:

The kid will be standing there, with flustered mother, with big dad. Tod’ll come on up. The toy, the squeaky duck or whatever, will be offered to him by the smiling child. Tod takes it. And backs away, with what I believe is called a shit-eating grin. The child’s face turns blank, or closes. Both the toy and smile are gone … Can you believe this guy? He’ll take candy from a baby, if there’s fifty cents in it for him.

But if there is any other perspective to gain from this book beside the obvious ones about the nature of good and evil, perhaps it lies in the strange interruption of time that parts of life sometimes offer; things that seem to possess the same nature backwards and forwards. See the following passage that depicts a visit to a museum:

Like writing, paintings seem to hint at a topsy-turvy world in which, so to speak, time’s arrow moves the other way. The invisible speedlines suggest a different nexus of sequence and process.

It would seem that Amis is trying to play directly with the nature of art and reality.

If anything, the novel plays with the nature of fate, since, in reverse, fate has a physical property that is measurable to the reader, at least in the world of this book. Ultimately, one of the big questions that people have to this day is, “Why did the Holocaust happen?” In reverse, even after all the optimism of what the narrator sees as the Holocaust’s healing power has settled, the only thing that seems necessary to ask in that world is, “Why did the Holocaust have to happen?”

I’m reminded of William Gass, who accused people of wanting to view The Holocaust as something a-historical, in other words, something that exists apart from the flow of history–an idea perpetuated in fear that it has happened before and could happen again. Perhaps the novel shows (intentionally or not) that the evil of the Holocaust exists outside of time, this time with the evil occurring before. Whether evil is impending or whether it’s a long gone ghost, it is ultimately unexplainable even in its most extreme.

The book shows that Martin Amis, usually a genius of comedy and jazzing around, is somehow able to jazz around even more while accomplishing something far more serious.

White People With White Problems: Don Dellilo’s White Noise

4 Jul
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BOOK REVIEW

White Noise

by Don Delillo
Reviewed by Shane

One of the things that make it difficult to review an author with an affinity for the post-modern—a category that Delillo always seems to fall into mainly by association—is that an argument can always be made in favor of the author concerning hiccups in the text. The author (or the author’s devotees) will tell you that the rough patches in the books are conscious distortions.
 
Delillo doesn’t provide us with the luxury of studying the book too deeply for ourselves. Within a story structure so tight that the theme is arranged like an opening thesis, we’re guided by the narrator, Jack Gladney, as he makes it clear pretty early on that this book is going to be a study on the fear of death. After he gets done telling his Hitler Studies class that, “all things in history, science and nature are working towards a death of some sort”, he says to himself, “Is this true? Why did I say it? What does it mean?” Peppered all throughout the book are meditations on the horrors of consumerist society. Perhaps meditations isn’t the right word. He merely talks about topical consumerist trappings in a horrified, suspicious tone. Sprinkle that with lots of private thoughts about the fear of dying (toward the beginning) and lots of discussions about the fear of dying (toward the end) and what do we get? Perhaps … just consumerism and a fear of dying.

Much has been said about the dialogue in this book. With that said, most of the characters (with the possible exceptions of Babette and Vernon) sound exactly the same. Not only do they sound like each other, they all sound like the monologue of our first-person narrator. But I’m willing to forgive this particular quirk because the sameness of voice offers a sort of comically skewed version of reality, even if it is hard to say that the length of the book doesn’t compromise its effect.

Like Joseph Heller, Delillo employs repetition as both a plot device and a comic device. He applies anxiety to commonplace situations as in one scene where a character interrogates another in a discussion about James Dean:

“Where the hell were you?” he said, as if the thought had just occurred to him that the actor’s death was not complete without some record of Grappa’s whereabouts.

“I know exactly where I was, Alfonse. Let me think a minute.”

“Where were you, you son of a bitch?”

“I always know these things down to the smallest detail. But I was a dreamy adolescent. I have these gaps in my life.”

“You were busy jerking off. Is that what you mean?”

“Ask me Joan Crawford.”

“September thirty, nineteen fifty-five. James Dean dies. Where is Nicholas Grappa and what is he doing?”

“Ask me Gable, ask me Monroe.”

“The silver Porsche approaches an intersection, going like a streak. No time to brake for the Ford sedan. Glass shatters, metal screams. Jimmy Dean sits in the driver’s seat with a broken neck, multiple lacerations. It is five forty-five in the afternoon, Pacific Coast Time. Where is Nicholas Grappa, the jerk-off king of the Bronx?”

“Ask me Jeff Chandler.”

The dryness is interrupted enough times to have a laugh-out-loud effect.

The book isn’t without  ambiguity and sometimes pseudo-poetic description: a squirrel moves in a “passage so continuous it seemed to be its own physical law.” The January light has a “hardness and confidence.” A black cloud is “more or less shapeless”—does that mean it is kind of and kind of isn’t shapeless or just one or just the other? Despite this, Delillo is a comic genius and brilliant at pacing. While Part One of the book is episodic and anxiety-inducing, Part Two consists of a single novella-like chapter about “the air-born toxic event” that will bring the characters and their fear of death to a more immediate place in their lives. Part Three is almost entirely plot-driven, a product of Part Two which involves a medical conspiracy.

Despite a few awkward places in the text (some intentional and some, I fear, not so intentional) Delillo is capable of perceptions that are almost Proustian in range:

The women laughed, six heads bobbing. It was insider’s laughter, a little overdone, meant to identify them as people bound together in ways not easily appreciated by the rest of us.

Or:

Once I almost asked her to put on legwarmers before we made love. But it seemed a request more deeply rooted in pathos than in aberrant sexuality and I thought it might make her suspect that something was wrong.

It’s easy to point to Delillo’s predecessors. His wit is Helleresque, his obsessions are Kafkaesque (but perhaps all obsessions are), his paranoia is Pynchonian. And after all these esques and ians are clear, what distinguishes Delillo enough to make something Delillian or Delilloesque? Maybe he’s not presenting us with new materials he can claim to his own name, but it would be hard to say that he isn’t a kind of bridge between generations. His strains of influence seem to reach as far as David Foster Wallace, Chuck Palahniuk, Bret Easton Ellis and perhaps Zadie Smith. One thing that seems to distinguish his pace toward the end of the book is his lack of fear in depicting characters who have a real tenderness toward one another (which “pomo” authors so easily and happily fail at), despite the formal experiments that go great lengths to achieve a tone of emotional draught throughout the book.

Despite the formal experiments, White Noise offers an articulate narrative with plenty of memorable chuckle-inducing moments. But be warned, the book will force you to think about death. And I don’t simply warn you about this because death is a weighty subject; I warn you because it will keep making you think about death (and not even that deeply) long after it’s interesting. Perhaps his ultimate joke was–by saying something with many words that he could have said with few–to make us aware that after the book has been put aside, we will look at the clock and realize how much closer we are to his main subject.