Celebrity implications

Just as Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler focuses on the role of the reader, Delillo’s Mao II focuses on the role of the writer or as Cawelti would put it, the “persona” of “the writer as a celebrity.” The main character Bill Cray has become too aware of his role as a writer and his persona outside of his work. This “conflicted writer” believes to be in conflict with the language and with his own identity but it might not be so clear that his conflict surges from his relationship with his celebrity status and his audience.

He unconsciously blames the public for turning away from fiction and becoming fixated with sensationalist news. He believes writers will become irrelevant because the fictional stories with which writers used to entertain the masses have become an everyday reality and are no longer exciting to people. He feels he has been left with nothing else to say. “News of disaster is the only narrative people need. The darker the news, the grander the narrative. News is the last addiction before—what? I don’t know. But you’re smart to trap us in your camera before we disappear.” (42)

In parallel to Bill’s self-obsession, the rest of the characters seem to be obsessed with the writer-celebrity. Brita, a free-lance photographer will only photograph writers and dedicates her work and art to create a “record,” “census,” of writers “in still pictures.” Scott, Bill’s assistant, became almost a servant and an extension of the writer himself and sometimes he even acts as Bill’s conscience.

I found interesting that neither Scott nor Bill had any faith on the work Bill had spent so much time. They both agreed that it wasn’t good in relation to his other work but from the point of view of whether it would be well accepted or not by the public. While Bill complains that “the more books they(publishers) publish, the weaker we(writers) become,” (47)  he, himself has lost his perspective for writing. His existentialist crisis was rooted on the fact that he didn’t know how to protect his work from his celebrity as a writer.

Cawelti’s piece starts by presenting how literature found its way into popular culture by creating and repeating formulaic patterns to penetrate the larger masses. The piece ended with the transformation this popular culture inflicted in the life of the writer and his work as a result of reaching such large masses.