Toxic shock: Gendered environments and embodied knowledge in Don DeLillo’s White Noise and Todd Haynes’s [Safe]

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Lawrence Buell has noted the “emergence of toxicity as a widely shared paradigm of cultural self-identification and of toxic discourse as a commensurately influential force” (665). The centrality of this paradigm to the narratives of Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise (1984) and Todd Haynes’s film [Safe] (USA, 1995) attests not only to an anxiety about the changing relationship between the body and its environment but also to a struggle over the legitimacy of discourses which express this anxiety. In these texts, the postindustrial environment is represented as producing accidental effects in the form of “toxic events:” an apparent environmental disaster in White Noise and the onset of a contested “environmental illness” in [Safe]. I wish to explore the way in which these toxic events are productive of transgressive bodies. Both Babette in White Noise and Carol in [Safe] suffer symptoms whose meaning confounds the masculine discourses of medicine and psychiatry. Moreover, both appropriate unauthorised forms of medical knowledge or technology and in doing so implicitly challenge the gendered authority of normative discourses. By examining the representation of accidental environments and women’s bodies in White Noise and [Safe], I aim to explore the relationship between discourses of toxicity and discourses of female embodiment, focusing especially on discourses of consumption and pathology. I will argue that the toxic events depicted in these texts are productive not only of transgressive bodies but also of crises of gendered knowledge and power.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2007

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Author can archive postprint version (i.e. accepted version - post refereeing). For full details see [Accessed 07/01/2011]


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