Friday, 10 December 2010

'White Noise'...

As the Christmas shopping madness sweeps across the nation, I found myself caught in the blizzard of it all in Birmingham’s Bull Ring the other day. I’m not much of a shopper, like most blokes I just gravitate towards the record and bookstores and then a coffee shop for a rest, and find the whole experience exhausting and bewildering. In these situations I’m often reminded of a favourite passage in a favourite book, ‘White Noise’ by Don Delillo. It’s a brilliant read, that was recommended to me at Art College by one of my lecturers. I’ve since recommended it to students myself. I’ve copied some of the passage out below. It describes so well the modern shopping experience in our giant, homogenized malls, and how the central character is caught uncharacteristically up in it all…I really identify with it at this time of year.

‘The encounter put me in the mood to shop. I found the others and we walked across two parking lots to the main structure in the Mid-Village Hall, a ten-story building arranged around a center court of waterfalls, promenades and gardens. Babette and the kids followed me into the elevator, into the shops set laong the tiers, through the emporiums and department stores, puzzled but excited by my desire to buy. When I could not decide between two shirts, they encouraged me to buy both. When I said I was hungry, they fed me pretzels, beer, souvlaki. The two girls scouted ahead, spotting things they thought I might want or need, running back to get me, to clutch my arms, plead with me to follow. They were my guides to endless well-being. People swarmed through the boutiques and gourmet shops. Organ music rose from the great court. We smelled chocolate, popcorn, cologne; we smelled rugs and furs, hanging salamis and deathly vinyl. My family gloried in the event. I was one of them, shopping, at last. They gave me advice, badgered clerks on my behalf. I kept seeing myself unexpectedly in some reflecting surface. We moved from store to store, rejecting not only items in certain departments but whole stores, mammoth corporations that did not strike our fancy for one reason or another. There was always another store, three floors, eight floors, basement full of cheese graters and paring knives. I shopped with reckless abandon. I shopped for immediate needs and distant contingencies. I shopped for its own sake, looking and touching, inspecting merchandise I had no intention of buying, then buying it. I sent clerks into their fabric books and pattern books to search for elusive designs. I began to grow in value and self-regard. I filled myself out, found new aspects of myself, located a person I’d forgotten existed. Brightness settled around me. We crossed from furniture to men’s wear, walking through cosmetics. Our images appeared on mirrored columns, in glassware and chrome, on TV monitors in security rooms. I traded money for goods. The more money I spent, the less important it seemed. I was bigger than these sums. These sums poured off my skin like so much rain. These forms came back to me in the form of existential credit. I felt expansive…A band played Muzak. Voices rose ten stories from the gardens and promenades, a roar that echoed and swirled through the vast gallery, mixing with noises from the tiers, with shuffling feet and chiming bells, the hum of escalators, the sound of people eating, the human buzz of some vivid and happy transaction.’

Don Delillo,

‘White Noise’, 1985

No comments: