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The Image World of Mao II
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The South Atlantic Quarterly 103.1 (2004) 5-19

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The Image World of Mao II

William Noland

What started out as a list of images directly culled from Don DeLillo's novel Mao II evolved in production of my theatrical adaptation of the novel into a continuously playing triptych of interrelated digital video streams. The set for the production featured three surfaces resembling a bombed-out building in New York or Beirut, onto which William Noland and I projected the consciousness of Bill Gray, the novelist so deeply identified with the writer taken hostage in Beirut and the boy playing baseball alone in his room, both immersed in fantasy, both lost to the world (1). In original video footage we created the image of the other Boy (2), not the one playing baseball, but the one with no face other than that of the terrorist, Abu Rashid (3). Two eyes are cut out of the hood that hides the Boy's face from the prisoner. The image of Rashid, the terrorist autocrat who models himself on Mao Tse-tung, is the Boy's identity. Khomeini (4) and Mao (6) versus Bill Gray (5), who clings to the ideal of the dangerous writer who shapes consciousness, the writer who shouts democratically against autocracy simply by writing a novel. Khomeini's death is as heavy as a mountain: his mourners beat themselves in transcendent frenzy (7–8). [End Page 5] Bill Gray's death is as light as a feather, anonymous. But in his memory the lone runner rounds the bases (9), in London the boys play soccer (10), and in Tiananmen Square a single student confronts a line of tanks, courageously exercising his democratic shout (11). Bill (12) writes his way back into the creativity of his childhood by imagining the hostage and his repetitive suffering (13). At Sheffield Stadium a different child is crushed to death against a fence by impatient and unfeeling fans (14). Her face evokes medieval Brueghel's Triumph of Death in eerily perfect imitation, and Brueghel's army of skeletons (15) echoes the Moonies' mass wedding at Yankee Stadium (16): "A mass of people turned into a sculptural object." Repetition and despair against the face of a child crushed into anonymity.

"There is a longing for Mao that will sweep the world."
—Jody McAuliffe [End Page 6]
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William Noland is associate professor of the practice of sculpture and photography at Duke University. The recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Visual Artist Fellowship for sculpture and a Fulbright Scholar Award for photography, he has had numerous solo exhibitions, both nationally and internationally. He is a contributing photographer for DoubleTake magazine, for which he has a forthcoming photo-essay about workers on Wall Street and Silicon Valley. A book about Cuba, Entrevistas Cubanas: Historias de una Naci�n Dividida, coauthored by Felipe Arocena, is to be published in 2004. In collaboration with composer Scott Lindroth, he recently completed a nineteen-minute digital video piece, American Landscape, which grew out of their work together on the stage production of Don DeLillo's Mao II. The video was the subject of an installation at the Johnson Center Gallery at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, in the fall of 2003.