White Noise’s Warning of Technology

In White Noise by Don DeLillo, a toxic cloud of an insecticide byproduct called Nyodene D. is created when a train transporting the chemical is derailed. Jack Gladney and his family evacuate to Iron City and are inside a building when:

At noon a rumor swept the city. Technicians were being lowered in slings from army helicopters in order to plant microorganisms in the core of the toxic cloud. These organisms were genetic recombinations that had a built-in appetite for the particular toxic agents in Nyodene D. They would literally consume the billowing cloud, eat it up, break it down, decompose it (DeLillo 160).

White Noise warns against the use of technology to create chemicals and microorganisms because it disrupts the natural order and has unknown consequences.

Nyodene D. is a “toxic cloud” and a “billowing cloud,” which makes it seem like a force of nature. Nyodene D. is called a cloud, not only to describe what it looks like, but to disassociate it from being human-made. Nyodene D.’s portrayal as a force of nature provides the scientists with a reason why they cannot contain or neutralize it. This portrayal undercuts the assumption that what is human-made can be controlled by humans. Further, Jack does not know what makes up the toxic cloud as he refers to its components as “the particular toxic agents.” The microorganisms are also described vaguely as “genetic recombinations.” Although Nyodene D. and the microorganisms are human-made, Jack struggles to understand what they are. The passage does not mention who created the microorganisms, and so it seems like they are solely a product of gene technology. Technology takes on a quality of a living being through producing the microorganisms. Nyodene D. is a physical threat to Jack, and others, as well as a psychological threat by being unknowable. The natural order is distorted by humans not being able to control what they make and technology becoming a creator.

The only people mentioned are the technicians, but this word distances them from human flesh and blood into technology. The label “technician” contains “tech” from “technology.” By being called technicians, the people appear to be an extension of technology instead of human. The technicians will “plant microorganisms,” which seems like a natural activity. People plant seeds in order to grow crops to eat. Nyodene D. is a byproduct of insecticide that is produced to protect crops from insects. Instead of humans eating what is planted, the microorganisms planted are eating the Nyodene D. In order to fix this human-made problem, the technicians distort the natural order. Jack is terrified that humankind through new technology is able to make microorganisms to eat Nyodene D. because these organisms are eating death. From the creation of insecticide to the unwanted chemical Nyodene D., these microorganisms that eat the chemical must also have a side effect, but it is unknown.

Nyodene D., the microorganisms, and the technicians demonstrate how technology warps the natural division between the living and nonliving. Nyodene D. and the microorganisms are a threat to human life because they are a disruption of the natural order and were each created in response to the human-made. White Noise is a warning of how the creation of new chemicals and organisms make the nonliving seem alive and puts the living into technological terms to its detriment.

From the Corner of His Eye: Book Review

From the Corner of His Eye by Dean Koontz is an engaging novel because of its many faceted taps into different subjects, quick action, and the vivid and unique characters. I did not do any research on the book before reading it, and so while reading it I was trying to pin down a genre for it. There’s some mysticism with Maria’s card tricks, her ritual for Bartholomew, and Thomas’ coin tricks. There’s crime with Junior’s murders. There’s a bit of sci-fi with the idea of parallel universes. And there’s action.

Moving from chapter to chapter is going from one disaster to the next. There’s two accidents, though one a murder, another murder, a coma, death from pregnancy from rape, death from polio, loss of eyesight from cancer, and the woes seem endless. For such a long book, over 700 pages, it never felt slow, because there is so much happening. Koontz never withholds information from you. You know Bartholomew will lose his eyesight. You know Agnes will die. You know Junior is going to kill two more people. Koontz makes it explicit. This fact telling style makes you all the more interested because it’s not about what happens, but how it happens, and you’ll keep reading to find out how it unfolds and how the characters take it.

I admire Koontz’s ability to have many characters and make them each unique. Often with a big cast, I feel like names are being thrown at me and that I do not have a grounding in who their characters are. At the beginning, Maria feels like a minor side character, but she has a role throughout the book. No one is brought in simply to serve a purpose to help another character or move the plot along and then is dropped. Every character brought in is milked for all of their worth. I enjoyed being pulled into different characters’ lives who seemed to have nothing to do with each other, and then seeing how Koontz weaved together all of their stories into beautiful harmony.

I think using similes for descriptions is a fine balance between the obvious and the ludicrous, and Koontz has his scales perfectly tipped. His similes are fresh. Instead of tossing in a simile to liven up the text which often serves instead to mystify the reader as to how the simile relates to the context, Koontz’s similes help clarify a feeling, an idea, a description and are appropriate.

The ending was almost a little too neat, but after all of the turmoil the characters had to suffer through, it was well deserved and satisfying.

Between the World and Me Review

Ta-Nehisi Coates framed his non-fiction book Between the World and Me as a long letter to his son. Besides being non-fiction, this letter format gives the novel a personal tone, especially as it is addressed to a loved one. At first, I was uncomfortable with this level of intimacy because I felt like I was prying into another person’s life. At the same time, being first confronted with the straightforward salutation of “Son” I felt distanced because I am not a man and I am not family. As I was reading, I realized that “Son” is not simply Coates’ own son, who is not named until page 68, about half way through the book. “Son” is an address to all black men. It is Coates, a middle-aged black man, speaking to the new black generation about what it was like for him to live as a black body in America and how black bodies are still in danger.

Between the World and Me is gendered because it is written by a father to his son. Although gender does not fall under the scope of the novel, Coates recognizes it.
“The girl from Chicago understood this too, and she understood something more — that all are not equally robbed of their bodies, that the bodies of women are set out for pillage in ways I could never truly know” (65).

The photographs are beautiful and give a raw human quality of a scrapbook or journal that I do not think could be wholly achieved through text alone. In the photos, you see Coates and his family and friends which makes his narrative concrete in a way that bypasses the inherent construct of text.

While the focus of Between the World and Me is race, there is a greater human idea of what the American Dream means and how it influences people, both the oppressors and the oppressed.

My favorite passage from Between the World and Me:
“The Dream thrives on generalization, on limiting the number of possible questions, on privileging immediate answers. The Dream is the enemy of all art, courageous thinking, and honest writing. And it became clear that this was not just for the dreams concocted by Americans to justify themselves but also for the dreams that I had conjured to replace them. I had thought that I must mirror he outside world, create a carbon copy of white claims to civilization. It was beginning to occur to me to question the logic of the claim itself. I had forgotten my own self-interrogations pushed upon me by my mother, or rather I had not yet apprehended their deeper, lifelong meaning. I was only beginning to learn to be wary of my own humanity, of my own hurt and anger—I didn’t yet realize that the boot on your neck is just as likely to make you delusional as it is to ennoble” (50).