Literary Blog Hop!!!
I am psyched to join in the Literary Blog Hop hosted by The Blue Bookcase.
Here is the prompt:
I read White Noise for the first time in college, in a Satire class. I was hooked from the first sentence: "The station wagons arrived at noon, a long shining line that coursed through the west campus." I love academic novels and I like satire quite a bit, and I knew this book would be for me. I've read it twice since: once in graduate school and once for fun between graduate and undergraduate.
Here is the plot in a nutshell: Jack Gladney is a professor of Hitler studies at a small liberal arts college. He has an "average" American family, although his kids are exaggerations of the overacheiving youngsters that have become so common in my generation. They travel the world, and complete engineering projects, and study German literature. Jack is having some sort of midlife crisis that is compounded by an Airborne Toxic Event that hits the small town where they live. During the 'event' Jack is exposed to radiation and becomes obsessed with his impending death. This is all very funny and sad at the same time.
Babette-Jack's wife- is one of my favorite female characters in all the literature I've read, which is a very strange statement to make coming from someone who has read many of the great female characters.
I suppose I should talk about what makes it literary, and my initial impulse is to say that it is literary because it was on my M.A. exam list, but that is a cop out. However, when books are canonized and taught, that is often when they become Literature (with a capital "L"). This book is Literature. It is commonly taught and considered classic. Now that I'm on the other side, deciding which books to teach, I realize that choosing what to include in a college classroom, on a syllabus is a complex process that has much to do with individual taste, as well as critical reception, and something called literary merit. It is a game of inclusion and exclusion.
I think that DeLillo's book has literary merit. Satire as a form is self-aware, so there is a consideration of the book as Literature, by the author. Since it is a pre-determined form, to some extent, the author is working within a tradition (one of T.S. Eliot's qualifiers for something being Literature). There are literary devices, such as literalization of the figurative and exaggeration, that are common in satire. I would also add that a good sign of something literary is the fact that it is politically and socially aware. Literature is a cultural product, part of the record of our human experiences, and so in a literary work, their should be acknowledgment of social/political/economic circumstances. This book is all that.
It's also a great read.
Here are some resources for examining how books become Literature:
The Wikipedia entry on the Great Books Curriculum
T.S. Eliot, "Tradition and the Individual Talent"