Noise in Snow Crash

John Crews

In case anyone might take offence to Stephenson's digressive reign of terror in Snow Crash, here is another view.

Digression in the novel Snow Crash is not meandering, or meaningless. As a matter of fact, the novel heavily leans on the distraction, the non sequituer (sic) to make situational humor possible and appealing in the text. Forget for a second that this is a disruptive aspect in the novel. It is not always a priority when reading literature like Snow Crashto understand and absorb the plot , because this novel is not about a compelling plot. In fact, prioritize plot/narrative, and you miss so much of what makes any reading entertaining and important. What is that?

Literature can be a platform, a launch pad toward subversive and radical reading practices. Using the consistent sidetracked tirade has two stong points in Snow Crash: the characterization that takes place within a digression is entertaining and advances what I would label is a plot by postmodern writers to implement theory into the world of literature.

What could I mean by this? Increasingly, the contemporary novel subjects the reader to a somewhat different reading practice. Suspending elements of plot/narrative between what could be characterized as useless or at best distracting or irrelevant information, quotes, etc... writers like Pynchon in Gravity's Rainbow, Ellison in Invisible Man are not just advancing literature as a series of ideas suspended in interesting prose. Both authors are advancing a text as experience view of literature. When has day to day experience followed a clear, coherent, or linear narrative? Or maybe more pointedly, when did the structure of narrative include aspects of experience and memory, but displace its primary attribute, inherent unpredictability? Let's not impose narrative into life and literature, but do the reverse. Pynchon's project includes advancing the the specificity of the moment, the pitfalls of history, and the poetics of scientific jargon to a bleary degree of detail. Ellison's project includes the deconstruction, reconstruction and switching of memory, identity and epic formula as a radical political space. And so on...

Instead, as readers of those texts, we must deal with the occational digression in a thoughtful way that suspends the uncritical, exposes the construction of writing and its nature. We are increasingly active in asking questions about what we are reading. We must think, question, research, accept, and reject what the author might inscribe as their diegetic world. This makes for a more active, exacting read. This is a good skill to force readers to do more often. Woe be it to those readers who have to have their plot/narrative served to them on a conventional platter, because writers draw from the many worlds theory of enacting the imaginative world into words.

In case the reader is unfamiliar with the concept of noise, read Jeremy Cambell's book Grammatical Man which links the history and progression of information theory and ties it ultimately into a theory about reading and writing. Clearly, however the metaphor is apt. Stephenson's strength is the noise of irreverent information he gives the reader in, suspending story space in a medium of what I would characterize as important and critical flavor.

[To other discussions of Snow Crash by members of English 111, Cyberspace and Critical Theory, Spring 1998.]