KR BlogBlogCurrent EventsEnthusiamsReading

Holograms and Hurricanes (Part One)

In yesterday’s New York Times, a story caught my eye: Redd Foxx and Andy Kaufman are heading back on tour. Sure, they’ve been dead for decades (Foxx died in 1991, Kaufman in 1984), but they’re being turned into holograms by Hologram USA, a technology company that, according to its founder, will create “residencies in multiple locations in tourist-oriented cities across the country.” Michael Kaufman, Andy’s brother, calls the upcoming tour “the right platform for the new generation of audiences to experience Andy.” Don DeLillo, nothing if not prescient, anticipated this story thirty years ago.

White Noise was published in 1985. As Richard Powers wrote a handful of years ago (on the book’s twenty-fifth anniversary), DeLillo’s novel “remains deeply disconcerting, prophetic, hilarious, volatile, enigmatic, and altogether resistant to containment or antidote. The world of Jack Gladney, his colleagues, and his family grows more estrangingly familiar, more recognizably alien with every subsequent cultural bewilderment.” The reanimation of two comedians may not qualify, on its own, as a cultural bewilderment, but it’s part of a larger puzzle we more and more face: What’s real? What’s not? This morning, for example, I was listening to “Car Talk”—not thinking about it, really, but just listening to it as I was cleaning up my living room. About halfway through the show, a caller asked Tom and Ray about a 1998 Ford Escort, which made me remember that the shows are reruns and that Tom is dead. After the closing credits were read, Ray made a joke about Pope Francis’s recent visit to New York. So: an old show, a new sign-off. How alert must we be to tease out these differences? Or, as DeLillo’s narrator asks, “What is a thing, and how do we know it’s not another thing?”

White Noise investigates this question on nearly every page. A band plays live Muzak. Jack and his son Heinrich debate whether or not it’s raining. (Heinrich: “It’s going to rain tonight.” Jack: “It’s raining now.” Heinrich: “The radio said tonight.”) Jack’s daughter Steffie mutters something in her sleep in “a language not quite of this world” that Jack hears as “beautiful and mysterious, gold-shot with looming wonder.” The utterance: “Toyota Celica.” (Car Talk, indeed.)

When a plane almost crashes in a small town, the passengers emerge “gray and stricken.” Jack and another one of his daughters have this exchange:

Where’s the media?

There is no media in Iron City.

They went through all that for nothing?

When an actual catastrophe occurs, SIMUVAC (short for simulated evacuation) springs into action. “But this evacuation isn’t simulated,” Jack tells one of the officials. “It’s real.”

We know that. But we thought we could use it as a model.

A form of practice? Are you saying you saw a chance to use the real event in order to rehearse the simulation?

The answer, of course, is yes—though, as the official explains, “We don’t have our victims laid out where we’d want them if this was an actual simulation.”

Last example: Jack and his colleague Murray are standing in front of “THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED BARN IN AMERICA.” “No one sees the barn,” Murray says. “Once you’ve seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn.” He tries to imagine the barn before it was photographed:

What did it look like, how was it different from other barns, how was it similar to other barns? We can’t answer these questions because we’ve read the signs, seen the people snapping the pictures. We can’t get outside the aura. We’re part of the aura. We’re here, we’re now.

Will future audiences—there and then—experience Foxx and Kaufman in a similar way? Can a reanimated Baudrillard be far behind?

DeLillo punctuates his novel with short narrative interruptions—white noise, if you will. Here’s one: “The radio said: ‘It’s the rainbow hologram that gives this credit card a marketing intrigue.’”

He often ends chapters with single-sentence paragraphs:

I am the false character that follows the name around.

Technology with a human face.

FoxxAndy K

(Next up: DeLillo and Hurricane Patricia.)