White Noise: Top Ten Quotes

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  1. “All his teachers are male, wear rumpled clothes, need haircuts, cough into their armpits. Together they look like teamster officials assembled to identify the body of a mutilated colleague. The impression is one of pervasive bitterness, suspicion and intrigue.”p. 9Jack’s description of the eccentric members of the American environments department at the College-on-the-Hill, under the leadership of Alphonse Stompanato. The department is also known as the popular culture department.

  2. “When he switched from English to German, it was as though a cord had been twisted in his larynx. An abrupt emotion entered his voice, a scrape and gargle that sounded like the stirring of some beast’s ambition. He gaped at me and gestured, he croaked, he verged on strangulation. Sounds came spewing from the base of his tongue, harsh noises damp with passion.”p. 32Jack’s description of his German teacher, Howard Dunlop. The description is amusing in itself but it also reflects the difficulty that Jack himself has with learning and speaking the German language.
  3. “Who knows what I want to do? Who knows what anyone wants to do? How can you be sure about something like that? Isn’t it all a question of brain chemistry, signals going back and forth, electrical energy in the cortex? How do you know whether something is really what you want to do or just some kind of nerve impulse in the brain?” p. 45Heinrich’s observations, if true, suggest that all human desires, hopes and fears can be explained in terms of random activity in the brain.
  4. “[F]or most people there are only two places in the world. Where they live and their TV set. If a thing happens on television, we have every right to find it fascinating, whatever it is.”p. 66 This is one of Murray Suskind’s many observations about the role popular culture plays in people’s lives.
  5. “Who will die first?”p. 100 This is the question that Jack and Babette frequently wonder about. Each wants to be the one who dies first, because life without the other would be too lonely.
  6. “The automatic doors opened and closed, breathing abruptly. Colors and odors  seemed sharper. The sound of gliding feet emerged from a dozen other noises, from the sublittoral drone of maintenance systems,, from the rustle of newsprint as shoppers scanned their horoscopes in the tabloids up front, from the whispers of elderly women with talcumed faces, from the steady rattle of cars going over a loose manhole cover just outside the entrance.” p. 168-69. This is an example of the “white noise,” all the pervasive little sounds that make up the background hum of a technological society.
  7. “No animal has this condition. This is a human condition. Animals fear many things . . . . But their brains aren’t sophisticated enough to accommodate this particular state of mind.”p. 195 Babette explains to Jack what Mr. Gray told her regarding her fear of death.
  8. “The worst rays are direct . . . . This means the faster a person is moving, the more likely she is to receive only partial hits, glancing rays, deflections.”p. 264 Babette, who is a runner, claims that she has a reduced chance of contracting skin cancer. Her observation is of course ridiculous but is one of many half-understood and often not understood at all snippets of information that members of the Gladney family pick up from television or some other element in popular culture.
  9. “A person spends his life saying good-bye to other people. How does he say good-bye to himself?”p. 294 Murray’s comment to Jack, as they discuss death, the thing Jack fears most.
  10. “It is our task in the world to believe things no one else takes seriously, To abandon such beliefs completely, the human race would die. This is why we are here. A tiny minority. To embody old things, old beliefs. The devil, the angels, heaven, hell. If we did not pretend to believe these things, the world would collapse.”  p. 318 Sister Hermann Marie speaks these words to Jack as she treats him for his gunshot wound.  She surprises Jack by saying that she and her fellow nuns do not really believe in the doctrines of the Catholic Church, but it is necessary that they pretend that they do.

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