Word(s) of the Monday (on Tuesday): “White Noise”

VideoHive television. Image courtesy of lenclo.com/work/cbs-television.



1 resembling a surface reflecting sunlight without absorbing any of the visible rays; of the color of milk or fresh snow. 2 approaching such a color; pale esp. in the face. 3 less dark than other things of the same kind.


1 a sound, esp. a loud or unpleasant one. 2 a series of loud sounds; a confused sound of voices. 3 irregular fluctuations accompanying a transmitted signal but not relevant to it. 4 (in pl.) conventional remarks,or speechlike sounds without actual words (italics made sympathetic noises).

White noise: n. noise containing many frequencies with equal intensity.   -Illustrated Oxford Dictionary


White Noise is a dryly hilarious novel by Don DeLillo. Babies make white noise. People make white noise when they try to make babies. People make white noise to annoy neighbors they do not like, or amp up the paranoid fears of kidnappers, but the most disgusting example of bad white noise is produced by those vicious flying bags of hatred known as geese.


First off, the phrase requires a bit of curiosity to understand because not many individuals learning the English language would understand what the presence of all visible light, white, has to do with noise. The short answer is a lot, and a little.


A strange phrase, it reminds me of the words “abortive smiles” written by Joseph Conrad, or “bad craziness” written by Hunter S. Thompson.  Those are all strange because they violate expectations, and lead to intricate thinking. The abortion of a smile is a particularly bizarre thing to observe, and Conrad used it to describe the fleeting expressions on the faces of sailors re-meeting, or meeting for the first time. The idea that a smile could be aborted abruptly amped up the part of the brain that excites by and examines discovery. I was much younger when I read those lines, but I still remember the night I found them.


Thompson has many better phrases to use, but “bad craziness” is a simple one to explain. It works because it begs questions. If there is bad craziness, what is good craziness? Can there be gray craziness? And what about fun craziness? Naked craziness? Philanthropic craziness? And when Thompson came out with lines like that, they usually had a slightly funny if not hilarious way of holding several meanings at once, even contradictory ideas.


The reason phrases like these are important is their capacity of brevity mixed with an ability to prompt images and thoughts. And for damaged geeks who like language and misbehaving, phrases operate the same way that paint and ink do for artists and illustrators.


So, I selected “white noise” because it comes close to accurately describing the feeling in the head I get when some stressor has finally punctored through a critical threshold. It happens to most of us every once in a while, and can be described as one of those moments that if you have the capacity to deal with it, it will make you stronger, if not irate for an unreasonable amount of time.



The reason phrases like these are important is their capacity of brevity mixed with an ability to prompt images and thoughts. And for damaged geeks who like language and misbehaving, phrases operate the same way that paint and ink do for artists and illustrators.



White noise makes me think about legacy, for phantasmagoric reasons. That’s probably because history scares the shit out of me–particularly when aspects of it repeatedly get projected on screens creating a shadowy sensation of deja vu. For instance, journalists are currently having a hard time reporting on the Bradley Manning trial (Manning is a United States Army soldier on trial for releasing classified information to WikiLeaks), which is an important event to understand, as similar events have occurred in the past with different responses. Years ago, Daniel Ellsberg released “The Pentagon Papers,” a top-secret study about government decisions in Vietnam, for reasons much the same as Manning’s. And if “white noise” can be a crescendo of loud ideas that disorient but also alert you to a massive and imminent problem, then this trial is having that effect.


White noise is to me at times a collection of good, hilarious, strange, horrifying, and bad things. Tragic romance, hard luck, seeing cigarette burns on people’s arms, a dryly hilarious book Don DeLillo wrote, sex trafficking, the fact that geese exist, how a root beer float tastes, failing schools and disenfranchised teachers… when you combine those things with all of what is good about this country, they do not cancel out, which is strange because we’re trained from early on to find a sum of all the factors, to collect all the positives and negatives in the equation and simplify them to one number or as few as possible.


White noise in a sense can be the recognition that the country is not even close to being defined by a few paragraphs let alone words like “free” and “fair” and “dream” and “oppress”.


Late last night around 1am the air stilled outside after a day of curt breezes and bird-laden sunshine. Cigarette smoke rose slowly and hung there, barely perceptible, dissolving into nothingness. And I thought about writing this short essay, which I will expand someday. Maybe soon. But out of that darkness echoed a quote I had not heard in some time. I did not understand why the night and mind orchestrated that memory, but I think I have a better understanding now.


A simple quote, it goes:


“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


It, like the phrases I mentioned above, is a good line because it temporarily arrests the mind with images and thoughts of the things that matter, and does not use complicated or flashy words to do so.


I suppose for a person of my ilk, white noise precedes that silence.

by & filed under Litra'ture & Poetry, Top Stories.