Better off dead

I appreciated a classmate’s comment about Bill being the hostage. The question that occurred to me, was: “Who exactly is he hostage of?” Is it Scott? Is he hostage of his own celebrity? Then I wondered, who else is a “hostage” in the novel? Is Scott hostage to his idea of Bill and Bill’s genius? Is Karen hostage to some cosmic-consciousness, bound to any and everything that flies through the universe and enters her head? Who is Brita hostage to?

What I thought about, as I continued to mull this idea of captivity over and specifically Bill’s captivity, was the contrast between the romantic idea of a writer as a terrorist and the reality of Bill as a hostage. But I realized that Bill was a hostage to himself – not just to his fame or his celebrity, or Scott, or even his novel, groping around every corner and scraping at every door. When Bill disappeared to “lose himself,” I actually think he was on a quest to find himself. The hostage in Beirut, the writer, was a symbol of himself and I believe he believed that in freeing the hostage, somehow he could free himself.

Unfortunately, Bill could not save himself (nor free himself) and that is why he died – a type of freedom, if you look at it that way. Bill was hostage to self-consciousness, a realized hell on earth if it is psychological, emotional, or physical. For example, when you are in physical pain, you are terribly conscious of yourself and it is impossible to “get out of yourself.” When Bill was “in the zone” (I can’t think of a better way to describe it), he was free of himself. When his gift was flowing and he was flowing with it, then he lost the consciousness of “Bill”, per se. But as his fame increased, and the circumstances of his life changed as a result of his success, he became more and more conscious of his own gift, muchly as a consequence of others being conscious of it. Their consciousness magnified his own and therefore he fled in order to hide from the unbearable burden of himself. Of course, the opposite happened and the “idea of Bill” grew into mythical proportions, taking on a life of its own…

Interestingly, the other leaders or public figures in the novel form a stark contrast to Bill’s situation:  Moon, Mao, Warhol, Khomeini, and Rashid. These men formed an image of themselves that they put, face-out, to the world and controlled the world’s consciousness of them. They were very deliberate about how they saw themselves and how others saw them. When the world’s idea of Bill (for me epitomized in Scott), leaked into Bill’s world, it destroyed him. He became hostage to himself. The freedom he had before to write outside so clearly what was inside got twisted and deformed in the darkness of his isolation. The hellish weight of “Bill” and “The Gift” crushed him. He lost who he was, and the final thoughts as he is dying are very telling: it is a process of returning to a time, and a place, where he was someone he was trying to remember? He died in anonymity, his identity stolen – poetically ironic. The terror which killed him in the end was the terror of meaningless.

“The anxiety of meaninglessness is anxiety about the loss of an ultimate concern, of a meaning which gives meaning to all meanings. This anxiety is aroused by the loss of a spiritual center, of an answer, however symbolic and indirect, to the question of the meaning of existence. . . The breakdown of absolutism, the development of liberalism and democracy, the rise of a technical civilization with its victory over all enemies and its own beginning disintegration — these are the sociological presupposition for the third main period of anxiety. In this the anxiety of emptiness and meaninglessness is dominant. We are under the threat of spiritual nonbeing.” – Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be