Surrealpolitik: Mao II

Author: Don DeLillo

New York: Penguin Books (1991)

Quick Summary

This novel gets into the whole thing about the sort of ideological competition between novelists and terrorists (and a bit about photographers' flashes and those of bombs), e.g., novelists and terrorists are both outsiders trying to influence events, but terrorists are dominating the social and media narratives more effectively and their gains are the novelists' losses. DeLillo is supposed to be Mr Paranoid according to so many reviewers, but I personally fail to see much in the way of paranoia here. If anything, the writer-protagonist Bill Gray, despite being a hermit, is insufficiently fearful of people being out to get him even though he's been warned that he'll probably be killed. It also bears mentioning that this book, written in 1991, has several ominous mentions of the World Trade Center towers. But ultimately, as far as having anything to say about terrorism, the novel is pure banality. We have a standard issue Arab terrorist behind the plot, his only twist being that he's a bit of a Maoist. Other than that: desperate, embittered, resentful, and despises Western values. It doesn't get more boring than this. But the novel as a whole is a good read with numerous delights, although DeLillo reaches for the pithy more frequently than I find comfortable.


There are 9 quotes currently associated with this book.

"There's a curious knot that binds novelists and terrorists. In the West we become famous effigies as our books lose the power to shape and influence...Years ago I used to think it was possible for a novelist to alter the inner life of the culture. Now bomb-makers and gunmen have taken that territory. They make raids on human consciousness. What writers used to do before we were all incorporated." (page 41)
Tags: [Politics & Novels, Terror]
News of disaster is the only narrative people need. The darker the news, the grander the narrative. (page 42)
Tags: [Politics & Novels, Postmodernism, Terror]
There's the life and there's the consumer event. Everything around us tends to channel our lives toward some final reality in print or on film. Two lovers quarrel in the back of a taxi and a question becomes implicit in the event. Who will write the book and who will play the lovers in the movie? Everything seeks its own heightened version. Or put it this way. Nothing happens until it's consumed. (page 44)
Tags: [Politics & Novels, Truth & Real, Postmodernism]
We don't need the novel. Quoting Bill. We don't even need catastrophes, necessarily. We only need the reports and predictions and warnings. (page 72)
Tags: [Politics & Novels, Truth & Real, Postmodernism, Terror, Simulacra/Illusion]
[Conversation between Bill Gray and his friend Charlie]
"You have a twisted sense of the writer's place in society. You think the writer belongs at the far margin, doing dangerous things. In Central America, writers carry guns. They have to. And this has always been your idea of the way it ought to be. The state should want to kill all writers. Every government, every group that holds power or aspires to power should feel so threatened by writers that they hunt them down, everywhere."
"I've done no dangerous things."
"No. But you've lived out the vision anyway."
"So my life is a kind of simulation." (page 97)
Tags: [Politics & Novels, Activism, Postmodernism, Simulacra/Illusion]
Beirut is tragic but still breathing. London is the true rubble. (page 129)
Tags: [Politics & Novels, Postmodernism, Culture, Lead Quote Candidate]
And isn't it the novelist, Bill, above all people, above all writers, who understands this rage, who knows in his soul what the terrorist thinks and feels? Through history it's the novelist who has felt affinity for the violent man who lives in the dark. (page 130)
Tags: [Politics & Novels, Terror]
"What terrorists gain, novelists lose. The degree to which they influence mass consciousness is the extent of our decline as shapers of sensibility and thought. The danger they represent equals our own failure to be dangerous...Beckett is the last writer to shape the way we think and see. After him, the major work involves midair explosions and crumbled buildings. This is the new tragic narrative. (page 157)
Tags: [Politics & Novels, Terror]
When you inflict punishment on someone who is not guilty, when you fill rooms with innocent victims, you begin to empty the world of meaning and erect a separate mental state, the mind consuming what's outside itself, replacing real things with plots and fictions. One fiction taking the world narrowly into itself, the other fiction pushing out toward the social order, trying to unfold into it. (page 200)
Tags: [Politics & Novels, Truth & Real, Terror, Simulacra/Illusion, Conspiracy]