Two's a Crowd: Mao II, Coke II, and the Politics of Terrorism in Don DeLillo

By Hardack, Richard | Studies in the Novel, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Two's a Crowd: Mao II, Coke II, and the Politics of Terrorism in Don DeLillo


Hardack, Richard, Studies in the Novel


I keep thinking, without too much supporting evidence, that images have something to do with crowds. An image is a crowd in a way, a smear of impressions. Images tend to draw people together, create mass identity. --Don DeLillo, "The Image and the Crowd" (72-73)

In his 1991 novel Mao II, Don DeLillo stages a battle between the notion of an individual Western identity and that of a "mass-produced" foreign consciousness, a contest producing equal amounts of xenophobia and paranoia. For most of the novel's characters, an alienating mass identity is emblematized by images of non-Western languages and religious and political leaders such as Mao. But for the novel's author, the seemingly foreign "cult of Mao" turns out to represent a product of American consumer culture--that is, an American appropriation of mass terrorism and the commerce of mechanical reproduction (or a Warhol aesthetic and what it signifies). For DeLillo's characters, xenophobia accompanies such an appropriation as an expression of anxiety over "mass identity" and mass production (displaced onto and emblematized by mass weddings); group identities of consumer culture; photographs that displace the "original" object; and hybridized or multicultural texts and languages. The American notion of terrorism, at least at the point DeLillo was writing, is then born from an acute fear of collective identity based in a long Western literary tradition of fetishizing the individual.

DeLillo sets up an opposition between the Western writer/individual and the Eastern/mass terrorist only to collapse it, for example in recontextualizing the alleged "invasion" of global/third-world English into the United States, and in tracing the myriad ways in which an ideology of American individualism is itself surreptitiously predicated on the practices of "foreign" mass production. The anachronistic white writer's individual words are cast against foreign, hybridized "mass" languages of advertising, politics, and terrorism. Throughout Mao II, DeLillo dramatizes the speciousness of the dichotomy between the domestic and the foreign, both of which turn out to be products of the same Western imagination. More dramatically, the foreign terrorist emerges as the alter ego of the American writer. In this process, the figure of Mao comes to designate not a foreign or alternative social or economic system, but the very mechanics of capitalist production in DeLillo's America. In this sense, one never sees Mao, but only Mao II, a Mao effect.

The appearance of a second Mao or Mao II in the text, Warhol's mass-produced dissemination of the Mao image, is paralleled by the appearance of the product Coke II--to some extent a parodic version of the ill-fated New Coke--staging an ironic contest between which two equally Western symbols will colonize the world. In this series of transpositions, DeLillo dramatizes what Anthony Giddens describes as the surprise of postmodernism, that "scarcely anyone today seems to identify post-modernity with what it was once widely accepted to mean--the replacement of capitalism by socialism"(46). Instead, postmodernity perversely heralds the apparent 'replacement' (but actual supplementation) of capitalism by the capitalist symbols of socialism. With archly postmodern irony, DeLillo uses the appropriated, primary symbol of Marxism to critique capitalist xenophobia and its appropriation of other sign systems to its own uses. The children of Marx and Coca Cola grow up to inherit one another, and discover their actual fraternity.

In this essay I explore the frustrating complexity of xenophobia in DeLillo's texts: where it is generated, whom DeLillo's critique is aimed at, and how we determine what is genuinely foreign. To what extent does the author identify with the views of his white protagonist Bill Gray--is that figure for DeLillo a victim of foreign ideologies or his own xenophobia? An unresolved tension between the implied author's and characters' world-view makes the answer to these questions difficult to determine. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Two's a Crowd: Mao II, Coke II, and the Politics of Terrorism in Don DeLillo
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.