Terrorists as Novelists? Authors as Hostages?!

            I remember the class talked about how terrorists are the new novelists. So, I found it interesting to hear Bill say it himself (41). I think that there is an underlying story going on in Mao II, about how the writers, or at least the publishers, are trying to take the” human conscious” back from the terrorists. One thing I asked myself was what is Bill’s last name? I would think an author, even a fictitious one, would have a full name. Maybe DeLillo was trying to enhance the idea that the authors have lost so much pull in our culture. This idea became even more apparent to me when I heard Charles’s plan at the end of part one. Interestingly, this is the moment when Bill’s last name is first mentioned; Charles says, “But I want Bill Gray…There’s an excitement that attaches to your name and it will help us put a mark on this event, for people to talk about it and think about it long after the speeches fade” (99). Bill’s participation in saving the unknown writer will certainly increase his celebrity status to new heights because it will be televised, and it will be, as Charles puts it, so “beautifully balanced.” Of course Charles is Bill’s editor, so he may just want to make a fortune off Bill’s upcoming book. Cawelti says in The Writer as a Celebrity, “The importance of celebrity as a means of contact between writer and audience is further intensified by the degree to which the writer aspires to address himself to the widest possible audience” (165). If Bill reemerges to the public in the innovative way in which Charles wants him to, then according to Cawelti, Bill Gray’s stock would shoot through the roof.

            There was a line at the end of part one that gave me more reason to believe another related idea I was thinking about. After urging Bill to read the unknown writer’s poems in front of a live audience, Charles says, “It’s something I think you need to do. Remember. One less writer in the hands of killers” (102). After I heard this line, I thought to myself although the terrorists are holding the unknown captive, aren’t Karen, Scott, Charles, maybe even Brita holding Bill captive? How much different are they from the terrorists holding the unknown writer? Several times Scott is almost forcing Bill to get to his room and write his book. And, at the very end of Chapter 6, there is even a description that made me think of Bill as that fairy tale prisoner locked up in a dark tower: “[Brita] looked back again and thought she saw the faintest trace of silhouette centered in the window, man-shaped and dead still, and she kept on looking until the house slipped into the distance, lost in trees and shifting perspective, in the spacious power of night” (75). It is as if Bill is being held hostage until he finishes that book, so that the people who know him well enough, such as Charles and Scott, can bank on him. It makes me wonder if Bill and this unknown author share a more distinctive connection or comparison. Is Bill going to be a sacrificial lamb of some sort?

2 thoughts on “Terrorists as Novelists? Authors as Hostages?!”

  1. I decided to look for a moment in the book, prior to the scene between Bill and Charles, when Bill’s last name is mentioned. So far, the only time I have found his last name is very early in the book when Brita mentions, “Magazines would do anything to run a photo essay on Bill Gray” (26). I think that is interesting considering Cawelti says, “The test of artistic fame is that one’s words or images remain in the minds of men; the test of celebrity is being followed everywhre by a photographer” (164). Does this mean Bill is simply “The object of Celebrity?”

  2. That’s a very good question about whether Bill is being held hostage in a sense by Scott and Karen (and perhaps, even by his book). The way Bill has to “escape” New York without Scott seeing him adds to this theory.

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