The Writer’s Quest for Freedom and Immortality in DeLillo’s Mao II

Beginning with the seminal thoughts of Cawelti’s article on “The Writer as a Celebrity,” I want to continue to explore the issues of fame and celebrity as presented in Don DeLillo’s Mao II. I want to expand on these initial concepts to discuss Bill Gray’s bid for freedom from his celebrity, as well as the loss of faith which makes his final desperate actions necessary and also meaningful. I want to also look at the dichotomy of faith vs. cult (as represented in the triangle of Bill, Karen, and Scott); as well as fanaticism that drives celebrity worship and is present in the dynamics of the terrorist and his followers as well. Finally, the role of the novel and consequently, the novelist, will be explored and the immortality which is promised by the writer’s work itself.

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken

Feeling utterly helpless and hopeless in the face of yet another gaming assignment, I pressed on and tried not to be thoroughly discouraged by my own obvious and painful ineptitude to play video games. I simply lack the hand-eye coordination to move very easily through these kinds of exercises. But enough whining…I did spend enough time inside the couple of worlds I managed to visit to make some observations (although likely poorer for not having a rich experience).

I was fascinated by the gorgeous backdrops and colors. I spent alot of time contemplating the suns and clouds and trees. They were certainly a consolation when I had failed my 15th attempt to bounce across the clouds and get the puzzle piece. I liked the format, and as another classmate already noted, it did remind me of Mario Bros. (My younger brothers played it when we were all a lot younger.) I liked being able to move along and alter the scenery. Even though I knew I was trapped, it was still nice to be able to change up the wallpaper in the prison cell.

I liked the interesting context of the storyline, and was only disappointed that I could not make it to more worlds so I could read more about it all. I was certainly grateful for the “forgiveness” of the shift button, and felt that the game reflected the complicatedness and not so black and white reality of real-world relationships and our own navigation through them. Lots of lessons to learn and the ability to undo mistakes was a nice alternative to the pass/fail doggy-dog reality of some real-life situations.

The little that I did gather about the couple beginning in the garden (before the fall) was a definite shout out to the Garden of Eden from Genesis. I find it interesting that the game, and perhaps our own experiences, is affected by our own desires to return to Eden. Return to some place that existed untouched and unsullied by the mistakes and messiness of life. I never got far enough in the game to know how it turned out and I will be interested to hear in class what unfolds from world to world.

Finally, as strong as the “Garden of Eden” story lives in the subconscious of our lives and experiences, definitely the Fairy-Tale Princess rescue is also embedded there. The quest to save the Princess and save the relationship is one that is not limited to the Prince. I know many many women who strive to rescue their relationships and make incredible sacrifices to do so. I wonder why we identify with the Prince saves Princess storyline?


In the technocratically constructed, written, and functionalized space in which the consumers move about, their trajectories form unforeseeable sentences, partly unreadable paths across a space. Although they are composed with the vocabularies of established languages (those of television, newspapers, supermarkets, or museum sequences) and although they remain subordinated to the prescribed syntactical forms (temporal modes of schedules, paradigmatic orders of spaces, etc.), the trajectories trace out the ruses of other interests and desires that are neither determined nor captured by the systems in which they develop. (Michel de Certeau, “The Practice of Everyday Life”,

Navigating the complicated worlds of the Nelson interactive fictions/poems/art pieces, it reminded me of de Certeau’s piece on “The Practice of Everyday Life” and how humans trace their own trajectories, as de Certeau put it, through the visual spaces that they encounter; and although they are restricted by the “prescribed” forms that the artist has created, still we are able to decide (to an extent) how we engage the material and therefore, how we experience it. This much is given to us by the artists themselves. Therefore, the individual’s desires remain separate from the intentions of the artist. I find it interesting to read the reactions that my classmates have to the pieces and the frustrations they encounter. It seems that although the artist has a desire to express something visually and through the combined medium of text and art, nonetheless, the experience of the user/viewer is controlled somewhat by the viewer alone. Granted we all bring our life experiences to any piece of art or literature we interact with, yet it appears that part of the art itself is the reaction. Like art “happenings” there is something created during the encounter which the artist is invoking or provoking or asking the viewer to participate in –  as opposed to just trying to interpret or understand what the artist necessarily had in mind. This initiates an experience which is dynamic or live. There is not a scripted process to the experience.

It is also a bit like theater, a bit like a concert, and a bit like eating dinner out. Everytime there is a newness and an oldness which is simultaneous. Traditional art (gallery viewings) and literature readings, are somewhat static and internal, with an emphasis on receiving. The theater, and live music, as well as dining, has an interactive element which contributes to the overall experience (I wish I could come up with a better word than just “experience” over and over again!) In this way, especially according to de Certeau, humans form “unreadable paths” across the spaces and consequently further the boundaries of the art by their footprints. For this reason, I believe the internet pieces are a new and important development for artists and consumers.

In the Name of Love: Depreciating Women in Plascencia’s The People of Paper

Nod to my classmate Jon Vela for his concise and effective dissection of male/female depictions in Salvador Plascencia’s The People of Paper. I would like to continue his discussion as I believe his blog brings up many good points and is worth some more dialogue.

Having spent the entire novel wondering why the author would use “Saturn” as his name, I went to the trusty and faithful source – ahem– of Wikipedia to learn a little more. The only interesting thing that came up was the association of Saturn with the Greek god: Chronus or Kronos. The father of Zeus, he was eventually overthrown by his son. Kronos himself castrated his own father, Uranus, with a sickle. Also in the good form of a paranoid despot, Kronos devoured his children to prevent them from causing his downfall. Zeus was hidden away from him and consequently saved. The short of it: He was a very powerful god who ultimately loses his power to his son in a long war.

So, my Wiki-revelation didn’t shed any light on the novel, except for seeing the recurrence of some themes like war and power struggles – unless, perhaps, the People of Paper are viewed as children of Saturn, or a kind of offspring of the Creator. Then their war and desire to overthrow him makes some sense. But it is actually Liz which “castrates” Saturn when she chooses a white man, therefore destroying the chance of producing a blood line faithful to Hispanic heritage. Jon mentions this in his blog, and discusses the turning away from roots/family/heritage in favor of fame and fortune (which may be, in Plascencia’s opinion, the only way to achieve those things in America). The important question Jon asks is whether Plascencia has done this himself.

That the woman is the castrator and the weaker sex who succumbed to the temptation of pale fruit, seems to run strongly throughout the novel. Is this simply because Liz turned away from Saturn? It is especially disturbing to see written repeatedly (in italics no less) the worst word that could ever be used in cursing a woman. Why is it that a woman breaks a man’s heart and is violently treated by his despair, and yet women who act out from that same pain are considered “crazy” and “psycho”? Is it because this man’s pain is somehow transformed into “art”? I don’t think Cameroon was convinced, nor Julieta, nor Rita, for that matter.

Granted Plascencia tries to even out the score by providing examples of women at the mercy of men, but the pervasive current is the injury of the little man standing on a stool. Where does this little man complex come from? Is it the thinly veiled representation of a little man-tool? Are we back to “size matters” and a pissing contest which takes over Europe in the wake of failed love…or wars against imaginary foes in the sky…or writes novels?

I have felt the dagger depths of failed love, and have raged at fate for my loss (as I am sure we all have). But maybe it is the “nature” of a woman to get over it. Maybe because as women, we don’t have any other choice. We fold, we flex, and we adapt in the shadow of men. We keep loving what is in front of us to love. That is our gift. I don’t see it as weakness – neither in Little Merced, or Cami, or Julieta. I see it as our greatest strength.

In the final analysis, I am afraid that Plascencia turns women into shiny hard Madonnas, lifted up on a pedestal and given a mysterious and unfortunate power. He bows down and worships, yet then goes on to smash the thing he worships. He thinks he loves, but he just idolizes. His sadness is a wounded narcissism which cannot accept that HE would be rejected. The real sadness is that he doesn’t have the eyes to see what is truly divine, even when it is sleeping beside him.


i’m running out of time i’m out of step and closing down and never sleep for wanting hours the empty hours of greed and uselessly always the need to feel again the real belief of something more than mockery”

Closedown. I think the quote from Mr. Smith says it all for me. This kind of interactive fiction closes me down. I feel mocked by the game, more than challenged, or even engaged. I put the 60 minutes exactly for each one and that was an unbelievable effort in itself. I did not like it and had absolutely no enjoyment in it. Either I was so discouraged by my hopeless performance and dead-ends (and therefore completely put-off by the whole exercise) or I am simply not wired for this kind of adventure. Every hour was an “empty hour of greed.” I was determined to find completion, an acceptable ending, and was driven by the greed for the closure. But in the end, all that was closed was me.

Letter to Professor Sample’s Mom

In regards to your email to your son asking about the House of Leaves book: The general consensus about the verity of the Navidson Record was that it is false. But the book is filled with possible truths and many untruths, and nobody (at least in our class) can discern or extricate the real from the unreal. It is certainly a tangled web we weave when we begin to deceive…

I have been told that there are people that lie so much that they can’t tell what is true anymore. Danielewski claims that there are no errors in the book, so I would assume he knows exactly where the fiction lies (no pun intended). Classmates have discussed that the purpose in all the blurred lines is to prove that no text can be trusted or considered “sacred truth” and that may be the point to the whole novel.

Or the point may be that there is no point. Even as we were asked to write to you we are all likely grasping at some understanding in order to communicate it to you, but sadly we are trying to apply our minds to the abyss, which I think is a paraphrase/quote of a line from the book.

Your guess is as good as ours. But as your email was proof of, the book does ignite discussion, questions, and reaching out to others to hear their opinions and explore possibilities. And now we are all writing to you, with all our thoughts. The book births a network by its very existence!

Welcome to the house!

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

I see

I’m inside-out. The inside has turned into the outside, and it is more real than what is in front of my eyes. My computer, my desk, the solid object worth of everything around me ripples like an oasis. Words, it is the words which have pulled me through their narrow white portals. I feel exposed. I feel naked as Karen’s body when she pulled herself out from her shirt straddling Bill’s legs. Is it DeLillo’s words which have effected this transformation? Have his words drawn me out like Karen’s arms so that the baggy clothes of my everyday life no longer hide me? I am astonished by how so few pages could cause such a reaction. Like the “Master” DeLillo has lifted me: “out of ordinary strips of space and time” (9).  I am involved “in this mysterious exchange” – and I ask myself, (of the writer), “How are you changing me?” (43).

Bill tells Brita, “I only know what I see. Or what I don’t see” (47). And yet it is Brita that is seeing. She is seeing Bill. Her gaze is single-minded, relentless in its penetration. Bill is exposed under her lens. I remember Karen’s father with his binoculars in the stands. He is at once distant and separated, with the perspective which sees the mass as a whole although he seeks for the individual. And in this view he can distinguish the insides of the living body of many and read its future in the position of the parts. Brita is seeing the individual and instead of the separation, she is connected and joined to him. Her camera (literally and figuratively) captures him, his essence, and in doing so, his inside is pulled outside through the medium of her lens. Just as the medium of the writer’s words pull me inside-out.

In the culmination of a desire for loss: “Everything is seamless and transparent” (46). My walls are undone.

Trolling for narrative

In his famous piece, “The Death of the Author,” Roland Barthes makes his case for the death of the author, stating that as soon as writing begins, “the author enters into his own death” (142). Instead of the author being the origin of the narrative – taking personal responsibility as the “voice” of the text; Barthes prefers to see the author as a mediator of the text, or a scriptor of the text which is “born simultaneously with the text” at the moment of the act of writing (145).

One of Barthes’ problems with the “tyrannically” self-centeredness of author as God, is the limitation imposed on the text by the author’s own limitations. I believe this is crucial because as “God-author” the writer is saddled with the heavy mantle of giving meaning, which is just a form of judgment. I believe Barthes wants to remove the author from this judgment seat in order to open up the text to multiple meanings, interpretations, and revelations. In order to do this, text cannot be seen as originating from one source and received as such – like a single hose squirting water; but instead, must be experienced as part of a whole, from the sea of story.

Harris’ We feel fine, supports this perspective. The database does not judge the text it represents, but instead sifts and ciphers it based on a formula, a formula (although it arguably originated from a man) that is passive and non-human. For me, the database represents what Barthes’ envisioned. If narrative surrounds us all the time, like a sea, than the database is only a mediator of many voices and is essentially the construct or filter, just as the author would/should/could be. It dips its net in and trolls for the stories that are already out there, bringing them to the surface of the computer screen, and allowing us to read them. As a result, multiple texts and multiple narratives, born at the moment they are brought to the surface, provide the complexity and multi-dimensional experience which is to be human.

Yes, it is a conventional love story.

“What makes lovemaking and reading resemble each other most is that within both of them times and spaces open, different from measurable time and space” (156).

Is it a “conventional” love story? Hmmm. I think it is a question worth some analysis and discussion. In terms of the conventional aspects, if the elements of the narrative are viewed from the perspective of motivation; then, yes, the novel is conventional in the following ways: One, the desire for oneness or an erasure of boundaries and the separations of humanness are definitely evident. But in this book, it is the desire to erase boundaries between the writer and the reader. They are the lovers. Bonded by a common space – the book – or the text, which provides the entry-way for the two to interact. Calvino writes that Ludmilla’s body is being read, like a book (155).

Two, there is the process or adventure of bringing about this desired closeness. Just like the “you” is thwarted in his attempts to enter into this hallowed ground with Ludmilla, (eventually successfully consummating the relationship); so the writer is struggling to reach his reader, communicate effectively and enter into a kind of oneness with his audience.

Thirdly, there is the tension of isolation within community. The writer is isolated as he spies on the reader through his telescope. The reader is isolated in her experience of the book: “Reading is solitude” (147). It is solitude, even when the two are together. The dynamic of the intimacy between writer and reader, could be arguably more intimate than the act of lovemaking. When the reader enters the space of the book, just as the lover enters the space of their lover, it is another dimension, defying the flow of regular time and creating its own character. The comparison of the two relationships is, I believe, at the center of the novel and supports the case for the Calvino novel being a love story.

“All books continue in the beyond…”

Having read Calvino’s novel, “If on a winter’s night a traveler” many years ago, I felt safely forewarned and therefore, forearmed for the seemingly endless beginnings of stories, which are presented like so many Russian nesting dolls; each story opening into the next: “If on a winter’s night a traveler” opens into “Outside the town of Malbork” which opens into “Leaning from a steep slope” and so on.

The series of unfinished stories in the book at once echoes and confirms the Cimmerian professor’s statement: “All books continue in the beyond…” (71). (An unfinished statement in itself.) They step off abruptly into an invisible and unseen end, which by definition, is never-ending.

The stories start and stop suddenly; their continuations or completions are texts themselves that are apparently lost. Consequently, the narratives lose themselves in the “beyond,” yet they could also be said to be disintegrating as well, creating as one of the texts states a: “sense of loss, the vertigo of dissolution” (37).

The uncertainty or “vertigo” is discomfiting. Like Calvino’s anonymous reader, my mind reads along and is “seeking a pattern, a route that must surely be there” (27). I propose that there is a “taut trajectory” to Calvino’s beginnings, even as the stories begin to turn in on themselves, and the writers and texts interlace and become even more confused by Chapter Six (27). My desire is to discover the meaning or the purpose of the construct and experience whatever Calvino was attempting to create or communicate.

So the text is a novel adventure and accurately reflects Ludmilla’s statement: “Reading is going toward something that is about to be, and no one yet knows what it will be…” (72). The unfinished beginnings move towards endings that are unknown, mysterious, and therefore they draw me.

Calvino’s book is also moving towards something, that at page 125, I still do not know the destination. But I like the ride and I like my expectations being disrupted because it adds to the adventure and makes the reading exciting – instead of rout and predictable. And in this way I am realizing the “dream of rediscovering a condition of natural reading, innocent, primitive…” (92). I am reading again, for the first time.