“Man’s guilt in history and in the tides of his own blood has been complicated by technology, the daily seeping falsehearted death.”
As Jack observes his son’s receding hairline he considers the ways in which modern technology has led to physical effects on the human body. He also wonders how much of his son’s receding hairline is due to his own genetic makeup. The line between internal nature and external technology is blurred for Jack. Death is natural, but it is also something that comes from the incomprehensible technology of the contemporary world. A central theme of the novel is the way nature has become synthetic in the modern world. This foreshadows Jack’s fixation on death and Nyodene-D from the airborne toxic event.
“All plots tend to move deathward. This is the nature of plots.”
On the surface this simply dramatizes Jack’s morbid fixation on death. But it also offers a view of the central ideas of the novel. Plots are schemes as in the plot to assassinate Hitler, but they are the course of life. Life always tends toward death. The theme of the inevitability of death runs through the novel. Death is also completely unreal in the novel. Even as death closes in on everyone in the airborne toxic event, death remains a complete abstraction. The presence of death as something that drives the plot is an ironic trope in the novel.
“The system was invisible, which makes it all the more impressive, all the more disquieting to deal with. But we were in accord, at least for now. The networks, the circuits, the streams, the harmonies.”
Here Jack considers how the bank computer in the form of an ATM coincides with and corroborates his own account of his balance. He finds solace in the fact that the invisible technology is in accord with his natural sense of life. Again, the novel deals with the unreal aspect of modern life even as we blur the lines between real life and our lives as represented by technology. The lines a blurred just as when Jack considers the cause of Heinrich’s receding hairline. The tension between what we see as real life and the technological representation of life is a central feature of what we call postmodernism.
“What if death is nothing but sound?”
“You hear it forever. Sound all around. How awful.”
The image of “white noise” pervades the novel in the form of the junk imagery and sound, which attends modern life. The noise of the supermarket and the television becomes white noise. In this quotation Jack makes explicit the metaphor of white noise and death. Death itself becomes just another chaotic feature of the contemporary world. This suggests that eventually, the white noise of life swallows everything and all that is left is the white noise of death—eternal white noise.
“Another postmodern sunset, rich in romantic imagery. Why try to describe it? It’s enough to say that everything in our field of vision seemed to exist in order to gather the light of this event.”
At the end of the novel, a moment of real postmodern irony is revealed as Jack and Winnie gaze at what is now an artificially beautiful sunset, one that was changed by the airborne toxic event. This is an image in which nature itself has been transformed by the effects of technology. The “beauty” is completely unremarkable since it is both technologically simulated and also always reproduced in the same way. The sunset is in many ways little more than a reproduction of a sunset. Another feature of postmodernism is the endless reproduction of the image. This renders the image meaningless.