Chauncey Gardener is The Most Photographed Barn in America. “No one sees the barn” (Delillo, 12). And although Murray seems to be the only one who is even aware that the observers have created the thing they come to see, he himself does not know what the barn would look like without the photographs. No one knows Chance as he really is or they might laugh cruelly. Instead, they listen with rapt attention and cheer his stories about his life in “the garden”. How did Chance come to be behind a wall of vision so thick that no-one sees him at all? The development of simulacra without an underlying reality, the lack of self understanding and identity, the sheer amount of evidence against reality – override the basic human emotions of the characters of both novels. In both Don Delillo’s White Noise and Jerzy Kosinsky’s Being There, waning of affect occurs when there is disparity between reality and its reflection.
White Noise is filled with instances where the descriptor becomes more important than the thing it was intended to describe. Jack Gladney, on describing a person says, “His skin was a color that I want to call flesh-toned” (Delilo, 23). This is ridiculous because all skin is a form of flesh tone, but this basic reality is irrelevant in the face of the crayola-knowledge presented to society.
Murray both recognizes the lack of reality behind the simulacra (as evidenced by his perception of the barn) and embraces it: “You have to learn how to look. You have to open yourself to the data. TV offers incredible amounts of psychic data” (Delillo, 56). He is the most interesting character because he is fully aware of the lack of reality and is not troubled by it. Murray does not appear to suffer from waning of affect. He believes in an artificial reality that he himself has helped create, utilizing technology as a link to the spiritual world. Perhaps Murray’s strength lies in the fact that he does not need to believe in the simulacra and so can accept them as images without expecting too much of them.
Technological input is actually a form of self-induced water torture. Human imagination needs freedom to soar, but human character also demands a solid landing place when it is tired. If life is always fun and exciting and mysterious, the inevitable result of over-stimulation is paranoia and rejection of reality. Jack puts so much faith in the drug Dylar that he doesn’t try any other ways to deal with his problems. At the same time he puts so much fear into Nyodene D. that he forgets to live whatever life he has left.
In Being There, Chance is not aware of the lack of reality behind the simulacra, because in many cases he is not even aware of the simulacra themselves. Although he thinks life must be like a soap opera, he also believes that when people talk about growth they are referring to his garden. He is not capable of understanding what is happening around him, but he has much experience with television, which gives him confidence that things will come and go, but the show will stay the same. Chance’s actions and feelings have very little to do with the events taking place around him. In fact, none of the characters in Being There understand what is happening, nor do they realize that there is a reality they are missing out on.
Chance cannot be blamed for his lack of understanding, because his mental capacity seems to already be stretched to its limit. The other characters surely should have more sense than to accept him as an authority without understanding him, but they are given so much assurance from each other that they ignore the evidence of their own experience.
Being There is simpler to follow because none of the characters grasp any reality what so ever. When only some things are not what they seem, as in White Noise, the reader’s grasp on what is really happening is more slippery. All the characters that suffer from waning of affect have one thing in common. They base their reality on things that are not really there, on things that do not have a capacity to provide substance that they need. When you go onboard a holodeck and eat the food, do you not become a hologram yourself?
If the synthetic reality exactly matches the real reality in every way, so that it is not possible to tell them apart, and they are both real in the same way to the same extent.
Chance’s proof of existence is based on the perception of him by others. “By looking at him others could make him be clear, could open him up and unfold him; not to be seen was to blur and fade out” (Kosinski, 14). And it is carried to the point where a simulacrum is required in order for existence to be real at all. “It is almost as if he never existed before” (Kosinski, 130). A being without perception is not there; a perception without being is real.
It is not possible to differentiate unless there is a difference. Simulacra can not only look like reality, but also become reality. Perhaps then it is not the lack of reality that troubles people in postmodern society, but its presence. When people live with simulacra everyday, anything that reminds them of its unreality is disturbing. In a universe where all presentations of reality are backed up by powerful technology that we as individuals cannot understand, does it matter whether or not that presentation is real? Waning of affect occurs when there is disparity between reality and its reflection. When the reflection is so overwhelming that it changes reality to remove the disparity, the dilemma is resolved.
The remaining question is whether or not it is possible for a synthetic reality to utterly replace reality so seamlessly that the differences can no longer be detected. Being There would tend to imply that it is possible. The answer to waning of affect is not that people need to grasp reality in order to feel deeply, but that people need a solid perception of some kind to base their emotions on. Although it is not satisfying to allow false perceptions to stand, they are unquestionably easier to live with than no perception at all.