Interview with Ray Suarez

This interview comes from an NPR Book Club of the Air radio interview with Ray Suarez on August 4, 1994, which followed a listener discussion of White Noise. Suarez says that he's got DeLillo on the phone "from somewhere in the United States."

Suarez: [you describe] the way we use technology and machines and products to process all of our experience. There was a lot of play with television, with understanding what the fire in the distance really was, and how that differed from watching it on TV, Babette on TV as opposed to Babette in real life, the rehearsals for the toxic events and how they related to the real toxic events. There was all this mechanistic undertow to life in a place that really was supposed to be suburban, ex-urban and idyllic in a lot of ways.

DeLillo: Well, I think this is how technology seeps into our consciousness. I think it makes us docile even as it makes us guilty. It knows everything about us. And it causes a level of anxiety that is sort of quietly pervasive. I mean, in the technology of consumer fulfillment we enjoy what we have, at least up to the point when we may begin to feel certain misgivings. In the technology of industry, we worry about the damage to the environment. In the technology of weapons, we're concerned about their potential for destruction. In the technology of nuclear energy, we sometimes find ourselves a little worried about what will happen if there's an accident. So there's something beneath the domestic veneer of our lives that is carried somewhat perniciously by the force of technology. And it causes an odd sort of almost unrealizable dread. Small, sort of.. silky, but I think it's there.

S: That dread may come from the fact that even though we want to believe in the potency and the reliability of our technology, it's constantly fouling us up. Jack Gladney couldn't find out whether that chemical was really going to kill him, whether his potassium was too high or too low, what the test said. We couldn't find out from the people involved in the toxic event whether the thing was really going to hurt the land or not. We couldn't find out whether the drug that was supposed to take away the fear of death was even going to work or not, or whether it was just the case of Babette where it didn't work.

D: We haven't learned to trust technology. If I can shift the emphasis for just a second, think of the Kennedy assassination and how the major artifact of that event, the Zapruder film, which is 18 seconds of footage of the actual death of the president, has been subjected to decades of increasingly sophisticated technological scrutiny. And yet in the end all we're left with are patches and shadows, a sense of a powerful death, but the explanation continues to elude us. Every generation has a new sense of the sophistication of the technology being developed and how it will solve...certain problems of perception, how it will be superior to what we've had before. But sometimes it just doesn't. There are some difficulties, there are human anxieties, that can't be satisfied by the most sophisticated technology.

S: And why was the College on the Hill pictured the way it was? We heard very little about students learning anything real or valuable, or learning it thoroughly and well.

D: Well, see this isn't a campus novel, and it's not a satire on college life. And as far as I'm concerned, they did get decent educations. I don't think this was an issue at all.

S: So there was no satiric intent to Jack Gladney's seat at the head of the Hitler Studies department?

D: Let's face it, we want to know more about the Nazi era, and Hitler's place in it. But this is just a comment on the kind of super-specialization that has entered out culture in the last 15 years or so. Why not an academic specialty devoted to a single individual, if the individual is as important as Hitler. As Jack reflects, Hitler is not only bigger than life but bigger than death. And in his own personal response, Hitler provides an odd kind of psychological shelter. It's of course a token of Jack's desperation that he'd resort to such a method in order to find some ??? from his fear of dying.

Parts of the interview were printed in a small piece entitled "Tech Noise" in Inc. Technology, Summer 1995 issue, page 18, and you can read what they used in their archive.
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Last updated: 12-JAN-97