Norman Mailer’s ‘Long View’

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This show was recorded on Friday, March 9, 2007.


Norman Mailer [Photo: Christina Pabst, Courtesy of Random House]

Norman Mailer in conversation is formal, playful, learned, cordial, intensely civilized, energetic from start to finish. We sat in the living room of his year-round house facing south onto Provincetown Harbor. The panoramic “long view” Mailer has always liked for writing (and talking) was one of many reminders of Steven Marcus’ wonderful Paris Review interview with Mailer 40-some years ago, in the novelist’s Brooklyn Heights apartment overlooking New York Harbor. “In general,” as Marcus observed then, “he conducts himself without affectation as a kind of secular prince. The interviewer was repeatedly struck during the course of a long afternoon’s work by Mailer’s manners, which were exquisite. The role of novelist-being-interviewed suits him very well.”

The peculiar pleasure of interviewing Norman Mailer comes in this notion he encourages — that we are, each and all of us, engaged in the composition of a panoramic Proustian novel of our time. It’s in his almost absurdly generous and challenging extension of the fantasy that his eye and his writerly craft over the last 60-some years are part of a web “nearly all of us have created in our own minds; each book vastly different yet still related by the web of history, the style of our lives, and the river of becoming that we refer to by the most intimate and indefinable of words, the most mysterious word of them all — time. Time!”

The occasion of our resuming the conversation, so to speak, was Mailer’s new novel, The Castle in the Forest. As you’ve heard, it is a fictional treatment of history and rumor about the mutiply-incestuous conception of Adolf Hitler. It’s a book about fleshly and philosophical evil — about 20th Century history and a few players in the Nazi Reich, like Heinrich Himmler, that fascinate Mailer particularly. It’s also about bees, a subject Mailer has studied almost as E. O. Wilson has studied ants. But more fundamentally The Castle in the Forest seems to me an exercise in theology, a confirmation, finally, that there’s a believer inside Norman Mailer — original, but recognizably sprung from the Jewish and Christian traditions, and almost systematic. The narrator of the novel is a devil, an agent of the luciferian “Maestro,” who takes the historical form of a Nazi security agent. He explains himself early on:

Given the present authority of the scientific world, most well-educated people are ready to bridle at the notion of such an entity as the Devil. They have even less readiness to accept the cosmic drama of an ongoing conflict between Satan and the Lord. The modern tendency is to believe that such speculation is a medieval nonsense happily extirpated centuries ago by the Enlightenment. The existence of God may still be acceptable to a minority of intellectuals, but not the belief that there is an opposed entity equal to God or nearly so. One Mystery might be allowed, but two, never! That is fodder for the ignorant.

Norman Mailer, The Castle in the Forest, page 71.

And then there’s this modern and Mailerian twist on human agency in a zone of struggle between God and Satan:

… there are three aspects to reality — the divine, the satanic, the human — in effect, three separate armies, three kingdoms, not two. God and His angelic cohort work upon men, women, and children to bring them under His Influence. Our Maestro, and we, his representatives, look to possess the souls of many of these same humans. Until the Middle Ages, human beings could not bring much of an active role to the contest. Often, they were pawns. Hence the notion of the Two Kingdoms. By now, however, we are obliged to take the individual man or woman into account. I will even say that many, if not most, humans, are at present doing their best to be beholden neither to God nor to the Maestro. They seek to be free. They often remark (and most sententiously), “I want to discover who I am.” … Humans have become so vain (through technology) that more than a number expect by now to become independent of God and the Devil.

Norman Mailer, The Castle in the Forest, page 76.

Chris visiting Norman Mailer, 2004 [Mary McGrath]

Mailer’s theories of God get the conversation started. He has suggested elsewhere that his edge in the competitive struggle with the secular storytellers of his generation is precisely this taste for metaphysics and theology. But in his 85th year, or with me anyway, he is generous with old rivals like Updike and Roth, and content with the line that there are perhaps 20 American writers who think they’re near the top of the heap, and he’s one of them.

And then we digress.. onto his love of Proust — brilliantly apotheosized; and his own conditioning in Existentialism… Hilariously onto John McCain, then Donald Rumsfeld, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama… onto the grip of Stupidity on the Age of Bush; and the multiplicity of wrong motives behind the War in Iraq… onto the nine Mailer grandchildren to whom this very patriarchal character dedicated The Castle in the Forest.

I wish I were asking for questions to put to the man, but the interview is done. I’d still be fascinated to hear what people consider to be the essential Mailer.

What if it was his movie role as ringside commentator in “When We Were Kings,” in which I and many others say he damn near stole the show from Muhammad Ali?

I keep Mailer’s 1300-page collection of a life’s work, titled The Time of Our Time ever close at hand, and there are so many passages to savor. For example:

Bobby Kennedy, that archetype Bobby Kennedy, looked like a West Point cadet, or, better, one of those unreconstructed Irishmen from Kirkland House one always used to have to face in the line in Harvard house football games. “Hello,” you would say to the ones who looked like him as you lined up for the scrimmage after the kick-off, and his type would nod and look away, one rock glint of recognition your due for living across the hall from one another all through Freshman year, and then bang, as the ball was passed back, you’d get a bony king-hell knee in the crotch. He was the kind of man never to put on the gloves with if you wanted to do some social boxing, because after two minutes it would be a war, and ego-bastards last long in a war.

Norman Mailer, “Superman Comes to the Supermarket,” on the Kennedy convention at Los Angeles, 1960, in The Time of Our Time, page 350.

I have a proposal. Address an open letter in your name to Ernest Hemingway. Many would say — I am one of them — that he has been our greatest writer. It is certain he created my generation — he told us to be brave in a bad world and to be ready to die alone… Show the world that you will let a Nobel Prize writer who speaks the language of the country travel anywhere in your territory, unmolested, unobstructed, unindoctrinated. Let him come, let him get to know you if he wishes, hope that he will write something about Cuba, a paragraph, a line, a poem, a statement — whatever he says cannot be ignored in my country. The world will read what Hemingway has to say, the world will read it critically, because he will be making a history, he may even be preparing a ground on which you and our new president can meet.

Norman Mailer, “An Open Letter to Fidel Castro,” written in November 1960 but not published until after the Bay of Pigs invasion in the Spring of 1961, in The Time of Our Time, page 391.

He kept making encouraging comments, “Hey, you’re doing fine, Norm,” and, a little later, “Say, you’re in good condition,” to which the physical specimen could only grunt for reply — mainly it was the continuing sense of a perfect pace to Ali’s legs that helped the run, as if his own legs were somehow being tuned to pick their own best rate, yes, something easy and uncompetitive came off Ali’s good stride.

“How old are you, Norm?”

He answered in two bursts, “Fifty — one.”

“Say, when I’m fifty-one, I won’t be strong enough to run to the corner,” said Ali. “I’m feeling tired already.”

Norman Mailer, on Muhammad Ali in training for “the rumble in the jungle” with George Foreman in 1974, from The Fight, quoted in The Time of Our Time, page 918.

Mailer is still, at 84, the embodiment of manly energy. He seems to me the fulfillment in our time of what Henry James expected the artist to be — the one “on whom nothing is lost.”

So, friends: who is Norman Mailer to you?

Extra Credit Reading

Mark Singer, Tough Guy, The New Yorker, May 21, 2007: “‘Norman said, “The sounds of punches in movies are all phony,”‘ Shatz recalled. ‘He wanted me to record his own punches. He was a boxer, of course. So we were in my cutting room with a portable digital recorder, and I remember thinking at the time, I’m watching Norman Mailer hit himself and I’m not stopping him. He hit himself at least twenty times—in the face and the chest—until we finally got it right.'”

Boris Kachka, Mr. Tendentious, The New York Magazine, January 15, 2007: “If the reviews for Castle are bad (and the buzz ain’t good), don’t be surprised if the old lion roars yet again. After all, it was only last month in Esquire that he took on one longtime foe, Times critic Michiko Kakutani, saying, ‘What put the hair up her immortal Japanese ass is beyond me.’ Below, a necessarily much-abbreviated dossier, Mailer’s All-Time Enemies List.”

Norman Mailer, interviewed by John Freeman, Critical Outtakes: Norman Mailer on Bush, Iraq and Fascism, Critical Mass, November 21, 2006: “People really do take their cue from how well the leader speaks. FDR was able to turn the nation around because he spoke so beautifully. He had such command of language, such a love of language, such concern for it. The English were able to keep themselves together after losing the Empire because they had Shakespeare and they have a tradition of speaking well. And when you have a leader who speaks in dull slogans you are stupefying the mind of the country.”

Bill Gunlocke, Norman Mailer: The Long Goodbye, An Editor’s Notes, January 29, 2007: “He looked a little stronger than the last time. He looked a little different too. You likely saw the Times photo in the book review a week ago. His hair straighter than you remember it. He looked like Irwin Corey meets Pat Riley. His voice was stronger than you’d think for someone turning 84 any minute. It’s a great voice, unmistakable for 40 years.”

Marshall Payne, Music and writing fiction #1, Marshall Payne’s LiveJournal, May 28, 2007: “I read an interview with Norman Mailer where he said that when he quit smoking he found it impossible to write. He never said if it was the physical act of not having a cigarette in his hand while he wrote, but I imagine it was more the shock of nicotine withdrawal that knocked him out of the creative saddle for a few months. At any rate, he said that he had to teach himself to write all over again. Where before he was a word writer, he became a rhythm writer once he regained his artistry.”

nother, in a comment to Open Source, March 28, 2007: “For me, all of Mailer’s moves coalesce into a lived life of art. Guys like him and Hemingway, and even Muhammad Ali, were all carrying on a tradition of the Aesthetic movement, one of its tenets being to make an art of life. Yet if the coin is the Aesthetic movement and Oscar Wilde is on one side, then our American men of men are certainly on the other. In the same way that Wilde’s homosexual flamboyancy expressed his individualism to those Victorians, our American machos expressed their individualism by flamboyantly displaying their masculinity.”

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  • hurley

    What an engaging write-up. Mailer for me above all the author of Of A Fire On The Moon and The Armies Of The Night, with its imperishable line, “She had a voice that could boil the fat off a cab driver’s neck.” I never went in for his metaphysics, but they give a strange linguistic charge to his best work, which for me at least tends to consist of scattered sentences and paragraphs rather than the books themselves. No mistaking a great Mailer sentence for anything else. He’s lived large, written the same way, for better and worse. I look forward to the show.

  • Thanks, Brother Hurley. Always good to hear. If Norman Mailer ever leaves us, I wonder if Sammy Davis Jr’s epitaph could be adapted for him: “He Did It All.” I forgot to mention this (to me) endearing show-biz quality that Norman brings to everything. He loves to talk about his friend Warren Beatty: like me, he’s cherished the fantasy of Beatty running for President, ideally against Clint Eastwood as the Republican nominee. If Beatty ever won, Norman would ask to be CIA director. Mailer has — and knows he has — a lot of Sinatra qualities, including the dainty manners and the taste for mayhem. And though people mocked him for presumption on the matter, he has the restless and indomitable drive of his book subject in the 90’s, the incomparable Picasso.

  • hurley

    Yes, a perfect derangement of epitaphs. My Beatty-Eastwood fantasy would be for them to marry, as I hope George Clooney and Brad Pitt might yet, delivering a death-blow to the DAR types and their silly, mean-spirited opposition to gay marriage. Maybe Mailer should marry Vidal? There’s an idea for a show. The comparison with Picasso apt — you could have titled your show The Success and Failure of Mailer — after Berger’s book on Picasso, and for many of the same reasons. Mailer like Picasso something of the demiurge, his reach almost always exceeding his grasp (“or what’s a heaven for”), but usually to good purpose. There’s a Picasso Museum in the Marais in Paris, a dainty chateau out of all negative proportion to its subject. What would a Mailer Museum look like?

  • nother

    Great stuff guys! But, if you want to talk about death-blows, if Eastwood goes the way of Rock Hudson, I’m in big damm trouble – I’ll have to do a lot of reevaluating.

    When I think of the man Mailer or Hemmingway the man, a song comes to mind that I heard belted out from a burly dreadlocked Jamaican on a beach in Negril.

    “Please don’t mistake my kindness for weakness.”

    These are strong men who are in touch with their feminine side. In touch in a way that says I lust for life, the whole of it, and the whole of it means embracing vulnerability and encompassing beauty and if you have a problem with that say it to my face!

    A few weeks ago I was sauntering through Hemmingway’s house in Key West Florida – oh, what a pleasure. It’s not an aesthetic pleasure I garner, and I hesitate to say holistic; It’s like that admirable feeling you feel when your hanging around your buddy who is six feet five, 280 pounds of muscle, but is as sweet as can be. This strong friend of yours, like Hemingway and his house, having nothing to prove; their foundation is concrete, enabling them to venture to be tender.

    Cats abound, the ancestor’s of the cats who were Hemmingway’s true friends, 50 of them prance and linger throughout with a reserved pugnacity. As you make your way along the wide halls and multitude of glassless windows, there is seemingly more sunlight inside the house than out; all of it emanating a boundless warmth. Walking down the back stairs you descend into his luscious garden and eventually come across a subtle drinking trough for the cats. Turns out this trough was once the urinal at “Sloppy Joes,” the bar he drank in almost every day. Legend has it he said he deserved the damm thing after all the money he had poured down it (I’m inclined to think he felt a curious intimacy to it as well). So one day he dragged it home from the bar and planted it pristinely amidst his flowers.

    Even today, in the context of his sun-drenched garden, the toilet reflects an ivory luster from its worn-in porcelain. It has a history; it’s experience (no matter how coarse) complements the fleeting radiance of near-by buds. The garden is whole.

  • CheeseMoose

    I’ve probably read everything that Norman Mailer has ever written – and always holding my nose. What makes him a must-read is the topics he takes on. But what makes you hold your nose is his obnoxious insecurity that always makes the reader feel like he’s being buttonholed by some Bill O’Reilly-type in a bar. The fact is, Norman Mailer is not a very good writer – but he is a very good Writer. He has always been auditioning for the role of Modern Hemingway – but not through his work, through his persona. That’s what makes him such a good interviewee. One gets the feeling that he only writes the books to have an excuse to go on the talk shows.

    Now that he’s in his 80’s, his pugnaciousness isn’t as off-putting. He’s not even that pugnacious anymore. As Gore Vidal said about himself, “I used to be known as a famous novelist – I didn’t change, but there’s no such thing anymore.” We don’t look to novelists to explain the world anymore, so it’s a nostalgic pleasure to watch throwbacks like Mailer and VIdal hurl their thunderbolts, as if anything a writer could say could change the world. As if there was any opinion important enough for one writer to punch aother writer in the face about. That’s the world I always wanted to live in, one in which engaged people still felt like they have the ability to affect history. Unfortunately, passion like that is out of style. Oh well. Maybe the world of podcasts and blogs and YouTube will develop its own Mailers and Vidals. I hope so.

  • nother

    “He lives the poetry that he cannot write. The others write the poetry that they dare not realize.”

    -Oscar Wilde

    Cheesemoose, I view Mailer’s actions differently; for me, all of Mailer’s moves coalesce into a lived life of art. Guys like him and Hemingway, and even Muhammad Ali, were all carrying on a tradition of the Aesthetic movement, one of its tenets being to make an art of life. Yet if the coin is the Aesthetic movement and Oscar Wilde is on one side, then our American men of men are certainly on the other. In the same way that Wilde’s homosexual flamboyancy expressed his individualism to those Victorians, our American machos expressed their individualism by flamboyantly displaying their masculinity.

    Our man Whitman might be the tie that binds here –


    “When I peruse the conquer’d fame of heroes and the victories

    of mighty generals, I do not envy the generals,

    Nor the President in his Presidency, nor the rich in his great


    But when I hear of the brotherhood of lovers, how it was

    with them,

    How together through life, through dangers, odium, un-

    changing, long and long,

    Through youth and through middle and old age, how un-

    faltering, how affectionate and faithful they were,

    Then I am pensive—I hastily walk away fill’d with the bitter-

    est envy.”

  • CheeseMoose

    Wow. I like that Whitman.

    I think it’d be interesting to do a poll and see if people who liked Kerouac liked Mailer, and vice versa. Cuz I’ve got a theory, that you’re either in one camp or the other. Kind of like Tarantino’s thing of you’re either a Beatles Man or an Elvis Man. Once you’ve read Keroac, Mailer’s love of intellectual argument seems very uncool. Mailer seems to want more than anything to be cool, but by the time he wrote The White Negro, Keroauc had already been there and gone beyond it. Kerouac understood the poetry, Mailer never could find his rhythm. He talked a good game but he couldn’t get the music into his writing. Yes, he occassionally pulled of a nice line, but he was too aware of it, too proud of it, couldn’t help pointing to it. The power Kerouac had, and that made him resented so bitterly by the entire establishment, was that he made the whole intellectual game seem old and beside the point. Mailer could never get past the need to be patted on the head by his Harvard professors, told he was a genius, etc.

    On your point about the Aesthetic movement…I may not know enough about it, but I think Kerouac and the beats fit more easily into this category than Mailer ever did. Kerouac was a reaction against Hemingway’s macho; Mailer never stopped worshipping at that altar. Kerouac was for tenderness between men, much more Whitmanesque than Mailer. Mailer was always battling for the throne. Kerouac laughed at the concept of a throne.

  • rc21

    My favorite lines by Mailer; Both in regards to the misunderstood writer Jack Abbott.

    ” This guy isn’t a murderer,he’s an artist!”

    “Culture is worth a little risk”

    There is rarely a link between artistic greatness and human greatness.

    Mailer is a perfect example of the morally incompetent artist.

    I wonder what Richard Adens family think of this great writer?

  • Lumière


    Richard AdAn

    ///There is rarely a link between artistic greatness and human greatness.\\\

    How are you defining human greatness?

  • enhabit

    wilde and whitman quoted together (always liked that wilde quote)..terrific!

    greatness like morality is relative..most of my “greats” work with poverty..yours’ might run fast..others’ may dare to paint what they’s all relative.

    that said..we have been through the banality of evil..much more to come i expect..demonizing anyone, including hitler, is dangerous! humanity is responsible for that pile! not satan. if there is a satan, his victory will come from our blaming him for everything.

    i hope that mailer is playing “uncle screwtape” to old adolf for philosophical/psychological dialogue purposes only…even so, not everyone will understand.

  • rc21

    Lumiere, In answer to your question. Society in general tends to idolize and romanticize people that provide entertainment or are seen as bigger than life figures in the media and pop culture. They have great artistic talents,be it acting, writing,painting,athletics etc.

    Many people see this artistic greatness and tend to couple it with greatness in morality. They idolize the talent that this person represents and extrapolate this into other dimmensions of the heroes being.

    My definition of human greatness? That is a tough question. I would not equate artistic greatness with human greatness. I can on the one hand appreciate O.J. Simpsons great artistry on the football field but do I feel he is a great human? No I do not. The same holds true with Mailer I admire his writing skills. I abhor his personal behaviour.

    Probably not the answer your looking for but I’m rushed for time this morning.

  • Lumière


    People are trying to understand the relationship between art and artist. I first wanted to deny that one can separate the artist from the art, but one can separate the artist from the art.

    Many literary artists eschew the autobiographical nature of their work. This makes the work obscure and lends it an obliqueness.

    As a visual artist, I say that my imagery is exactly who I am. I honestly believe this to be the truth, but at the same time, I know ( or I hope) it makes the work interestingly obscure.

    Human greatness might not be what one thinks it to be – not a list of sublime items. The two greatest living humans are people who posses the most flaws known to me, my parents.

    My father has always stood by me at every goofball turn of my life. He had a knack for being able to give me an ultimatum at just the right moment. I asked him for money once in my life and he said NO. He said it in a way…. a kick in the butt….I got the message that I am alone in the world and if I was to succeed, it was going to be by standing on my own. The more important allegory behind the narrative NO: he knew I could succeed.

    Mailer took a risk on Jack Henry Abbott and it was a kick in the butt for all of us to see. The more important allegory behind the narrative: the risk, the failure, and the continuing on in the Wittgenstein-ian stream of life.

    In the narrative, one may be able to separate the art from the artist.

    By way of allegory, art and artist are inextricably linked.

  • enhabit

    picasso said that there is no such thing as originality.

  • Lumière

    “The worst thing for an artist, by way of his creation, is to know he is not alone in the world.”

    I attribute that to Thomas Mann, but can anyone find where he said it?

  • rc21

    Lumiere, Good story. I agree with you inpart. But remember when your Father kicked you in the butt I don’t think he thought the consequences of not giving in to your request would result in the murder of an innocent man that had just become engaged.

    Mailer knew Abbott was a dangerous murderer who would likely re-offend. The proffesionals in the prison system affirmed this. It was Mailers arrogance and huberis, a belief that his form of art, his value system trumped the consequences of letting Abbott loose on society. I guess you could say the family of Richard Adan got a good kick in the butt. Unfortunately Richard Aden recieved more than a kick in the butt.

    Couple this with Mailers reapeated stabbing of his wife, and I think I’m on pretty strong ground when I say Mailer is not a great human. Mailer took risk here also and escaped with a few weeks in a psyco ward. Most people would be happy with that punishment for attacking their spouse with a knife.

    Your father sounds great. Forgive me if I do not hold the same opinion of mr Mailer.

  • enhabit

    i’d bet that thomas mann would acknowledge his debt to other writers.

    ironic..i have heard it said that much of literature’s power springs from discovering that one is not alone in the world.

    like the quote though.

  • hurley

    rc21 says: Couple this with Mailers reapeated stabbing of his wife

    Is this true? Did he stab her once, twice, thrice? It might seem a distinction without it a difference, but it’s not. Mailer has lived half his life in the shadow of that moment of drunken violent stupidity, so best to be clear about what actually happened and not beard him with any more than he has to answer for. “Repeatedly” is one step from “Miller-Mailer-Manson Man,” and that gibe never rang true with me.

    No offence intended, rc21, but do please set me straight one way or another.

  • Lumière

    I have to parse words more carefully:

    ////understand the relationship between art and artist.\\\

    This is my POV of the public interest in an artist vs. the work.

    People are objecting to Mailer making himself the work; the way in which he can get people interested in what he says.

    You can be a wretch of a human, but by producing great art, be a great artist.

    So we can agree:

    ///I admire his writing skills. I abhor his personal behaviour.\\\

    You said:

    ///morally incompetent artist\\\

    This is a different tack entirely and where there can be ambivalence.

    Can Mailer be a morally incompetent human and produce morally competent art? If he produces morally competent art, he is potentially a morally competent artist.

    We can’t know his exact motivations, even as he has openly expressed them, because we don’t know if he is playing to the crowd – conflating.

    My understanding is that art comes from inner conflict – I think Mailer’s got that.

  • Lumière


    ///i’d bet that thomas mann would acknowledge his debt to other writers.\\\

    Yes, I’m sure he would do that.

    What is missed in post-modern appropriation is a precept of modernism and a cornerstone of Western culture: progress.

    Picasso said: steal everything and make it your own.

    “Make it your own” means: move it forward, progress

    The post-modernist only hears: “steal everything”

  • enhabit

    same wavelength

    i had a teacher (italian) in design school who para-phrased that picasso comment a little diferently..”one must learn not to borrow but to steal”

    the context of the conversation was that one must get to the root of something, grow from it and not just superficailly copy…thus advancing without mere mimicary. but then that same teacher would say, as a compliment and a must learn to embrace banality.

    what has this culture of “sampling” done to our youth?

    take your point..steal everything..our age sometimes seems detached from a greater context…placeless..

    as another teacher would say..know the difference between silence and muteness.

  • farouet

    One near guarantee that Mailer will be considered one of the century’s greats is that he was marginalized by the Establishment, yet they always had to account for him because he could dance circles around all of them.

    It doesn’t surprise me to see the remark about his ‘religiosity’ since he helped me see the (relative) sense of an ‘existential god’, one who is stiving to make things good from the imperfections found about. Something like Tillich’s evolving god, not a pinned-down, written-for-all-time, rationalized-by-the-hierophants kind, but a creative force working with obstinate material.

    Have loved reading his books for over 40 years, and I go back to them periodically. People don’t give enough credit to his Of A Fire On The Moon — remarkable not just as one finer extension of his ego dealing with matters of the time, but as a clean exposition of a scientific subject.

    On occasion I’ve used passages from his work in my classrooms, and it’s clear from student reactions that his ideas and expressiveness have no less bite in 2007 than they had in 1957. That he can outrage some and make others laugh from surprise credits him ongoing.

    NM’s prose style, which he deals with in some places, but never takes as full a credit as he should, is someone’s future ‘academic meal ticket’. It has strength, sensitivity, intellective subtlety, humor, and stamina — really, it cuts across field from those focused on the spareness of Hemingway (whose works I love as well). Updike has a delicacy and Pynchon an oddity. Mailer fills the room.

    And for those who see him as misogynistic — clean off your glasses! Mailer has spent his life (insofar as I can see) engaging women — respecting their ability to supply the half of him he, as a man, cannot himself provide, just as he offers his half to them.

    This man is a gem.

  • Lumière

    CheeseMoose says:

    The power Kerouac had, and that made him resented so bitterly by the entire establishment, was that he made the whole intellectual game seem old and beside the point. Mailer could never get past the need to be patted on the head by his Harvard professors, told he was a genius, etc.

    farouet says:

    One near guarantee that Mailer will be considered one of the century’s greats is that he was marginalized by the Establishment, yet they always had to account for him because he could dance circles around all of them.


  • rc21

    To Hurley; Yes it is true Mailer attempted to kill his 2nd wife Adele in 1960. She was stabbed at least twice once in the back and once in the abdomen. She may have been stabbed more times I’m not sure so I cant give you a precise number. Adele was in intensive care for several weeks I believe. Mailer was sent to the nut house for a couple of weeks. One of the perks of being famous and part of the culturally elte I suppose.

    Unlike others on this site I don’t consider Mailer anything special. He is a pretty good writer and I have enjoyed some of his books. As a human being he is not my cup of tea along with my stated reasons I also would say having 9 kids with 6 different wives is not any indication of a person with a solid moral foundation.

    I once read a comment by some one who said when he was in college he asked one of his english profs if there were any writers he hated. He came up with 2 Theodore Dreisler, “Because he was such a terrible writer and Norman Mailer because he was such a terrible person”.

    Some think because of Mailers literary proweess that his opinions on world events and life in general are to be valued and held high for all to behold.

    My opinion is this: Mailer and other writers are no more likely than anyone else to have something intelligent to say.

    They are just far more likely to say it.

  • farouet

    I’m not sure if I’m replying to anyone in particular or just to some strands I’m picking up again on rereading.

    There’s no question Mailer is a good publicist of his own work. He’s stated that more than once. It’s something of an extraneous point that relates more to book sales and to interesting interviews than his literary art. From the late 1950s, he realized — possibly following the example of French writers like Sartre, Malraux, and so on — that European intellectual engagement led to something like a fusion among author and writing and social environment. He just managed an American ‘spin’ on it, the ‘advertisement’ factor, the guy on stage, the public risk-taker.

    His artistry — what does he say on this site? — may rank among the ’20’ who see themselves around the top. I don’t think that’s arrogant. Quite the opposite. Some folks (Mailer may be one) put Saul Bellow near the top. Frankly, I’ve never been able to connect there; it may just take me time. Kerouac is best seen as a humorist, a kid in class who does wrong things for the joy of it and who people like, but he’s a sad case of high-pitched enthusiasm running out of its own steam. Phillip Roth’s personae I can relate to, yet his style is a bit thin for me. I mentioned Updike before: he’s a master, very smart, with a light precision none of them has — very good.

    But Mailer fills things. In his (younger) life, he may have been approximating some of the Hemingway bluster, but the style is antithetical — half-page sentences built off shrunken clauses qualifying personal appraisals of psychological states related to cosmic stakes. These are all-day meals — potlatches!

    As to the morality of his positions — well, I can’t attest to the morality of my last week.

    I do remember when the Abbott incident took place and the story was hot on TV. A camera caught Mailer — in a hallway, waiting for an elevator? — and there he was in an long, expensive, white coat, the perfect Victim for a TV camera to lay blame on.

    He stared at that red eye. He stared back and said nothing as he moved his body quite naturally, but kept his stare right at the camera. He knew what he had done; he knew what Abbott had done. He knew part of the responsibility for the dead man was being morally laid at his feet.

    But the quiet, accusing, red eye of that camera was there to take cheap shots. It had no moral standing whatsoever. And his glare bore witness to that. He was taking the heat. The camera and its implicitly condemnatory audience was feeling a thrill of entertainment.

    We may get the sense that Mailer is a guy who’s been trying to carve out an image — not just as a shallow celebrity, but as a man whose ideas and actions must be taken into consideration. Some people in this thread prefer guys who don’t ‘try consciously to achieve and do so’, but merely ‘achieve through a natural grace that has no ulterior motive and no blame’.

    Let me suggest that Mailer not only tried, but he succeeded.

  • Lumière

    ///…don’t ‘try consciously to achieve and do so’, ….‘achieve through a natural grace that has no ulterior motive and no blame’…\\\

    The term I would use for those phrases is authenticity.

    People relate to each other base on shared experience, so being a media maven isn’t too relevant. The preoccupation with the artist as an identity proxy is the crux of the discussion.

    People read the work and want to know the relationship between the artist and art work. I think the reason is that the work is made more ‘sticky’ by way of a consistency or cohesiveness with the artist’s outlook. I can’t imagine people ever reaching for a computer generated novel – mirror neurons?

    As for morality:

    People are full of conflict stemming from a universal human centricity. Artists, quite naturally, would be more sensitive to the oppressive conformity of society. The conflict dynamic releases itself in the work and outward at society – so there is a consistency or cohesiveness between the artist and the work based on conflict – morality isn’t necessarily in play regarding the artistic process.

    My question for Mailer is a very personal question:

    Looking at the totality of your work, what meaning do you derive from it – not what meaning WE should get from the work – what did it do for you?

  • CheeseMoose

    farouet, I like your image of Mailer staring into the red eye. I agree that Mailer tried, more than any other writer, to stare that red eye down.

    That, ultimately, may be what he’s best remembered for. It’s why I still read his work and still listen to him when he speaks. It’s a worthy, tragic quest. The Devouring Eye has multitudes of lambs willing to sacrifice themselves on its altar. Sacrificial Lions, not so many. Mailer’s great value to his time was his belief that he could take on the red eye and beat it. It devours him like it devours all the others, but lions like Mailer make more interesting meals than lambs like Britney Spears.

  • Lumière

    Mailer Quotes:

    In America all too few blows are struck into flesh. We kill the spirit here, we are experts at that. We use psychic bullets and kill each other cell by cell.

    Once a newspaper touches a story, the facts are lost forever, even to the protagonists.

    I think it’s bad to talk about one’s present work, for it spoils something at the root of the creative act. It discharges the tension.

    The final purpose of art is to intensify, even, if necessary, to exacerbate, the moral consciousness of people.

  • Lumière

    “The final purpose of art is to intensify, …… the moral consciousness of people.”

    Thar ya go…

    I would say that the initial purpose of art is to lift the spirit to a place where the “essential horrors and suffering” fail to penetrate.

    A place where, finally, one could be possessed of a moral consciousness.


  • farouet

    Some worthy things have appeared since I’ve last looked.

    For CheeseMoose: Yeah. Mailer is a lion, literary and (at least when younger) physically. One can psychologize motives for his off-and-on pugnaciousness and his appetitious gallantry for women, but what we see in his male display is, well, strength. He can stand up to verbal and physical battle; he can take his shots ‘like a man’; he’ll admit his culpability, poor judgment, alcoholic mistakes — and learn from it all.

    The celebs of today are as flimsy as any page of People Magazine. The young female singers are eaten alive by the adulation and ultimate discard. Paris Hilton is Pia Zadora with her own big money. I suppose the only gutsy one has been Madonna, but she’s been, frankly, from the start, a mediocrity. Andy Warhol’s ironic (?) “15 minutes of fame” jibe has become an ideal.

    Mailer’s fame was earned.

    For Lumiere: I would also be curious to ask M a few questions, not least what the meaning of his work meant for him. Look, the guy’s still writing! He’s still enlarging his ‘visual field’ or articulating the details.

    His is an idiosyncratic search. Somewhere he said that we define our own categories. No one dips into Mailer for spiritual refreshment — too dainty a phrase. Yet, that’s where he’s angling, I’m convinced. He’s like an expanding universe, establishing new space through self-movement. And, conscious of his own movements, he questions what he’s doing and what it is that what he’s doing does to those around him.

    If any writer/artist from the past 80 years is authentic, it’s Mailer. He’s just not sedate about it. He’s just not sanctimonious about it. He’s not founding or placating a school of thought as academic theorists do. He’s just not orthodox. He has called himself a ‘left conservative’ — a label that makes sense when you think it through, and you have to think it through.

    It would be mistaken to discount the public Mailer simply as an egotist. What he’s done is shown us what courage it takes to make public the ideas we have that should be made public. In doing that, he (and we, if we braved it) exposes his privacy — the soft parts vulnerable to adversaries who can’t quite take him on frontally.

  • Lumière

    ///…public Mailer….shown us what courage it takes…\\\

    Indeed !

  • joshua hendrickson

    cheesemoose says,

    Gore Vidal said about himself, “I used to be known as a famous novelist – I didn’t change, but there’s no such thing anymore.” We don’t look to novelists to explain the world anymore, so it’s a nostalgic pleasure to watch throwbacks like Mailer and VIdal hurl their thunderbolts, as if anything a writer could say could change the world. As if there was any opinion important enough for one writer to punch aother writer in the face about. That’s the world I always wanted to live in, one in which engaged people still felt like they have the ability to affect history.

    Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! But even though the world of podcasts and youtube and bloggity-blog-blogs has shattered that old world like a blast from the death star, I still hope, with my own novels, to carve out a place for myself on whatever tiny, soil-less asteroid remains of that old world. I am young enough to superficially belong to the new world, and just old enough for my heart to have been nurtured in the old world. Both have value, and I will always be fond of Mailer and (especially) Vidal for their works.

  • mjohnburns

    My favorite Norman Mailer passage:

    The immense ego of city people.

    How do you conceive your own death, your own unimportance in all that man-created immensity, through all the marble vaults and brick ridges and the furnaces that lead to the market place? You always believe somehow that the world will end with your death. It is all more intense, more violent, more rutted than life anywhere else.

    The Naked and the Dead, p. 328.

  • patsyb

    Camus and Mailer back-to-back — what bookends! Sisyphean both and yet so unlike each other.

  • misfit

    Mailer says that the reason he is not optimistic about our country is the power of corporations. He references the methods of corporations via commercials and the negative effects, for example, on reading. I want to also remind us of the negative substance of corporations. I think of three corporate structures in particular that in my mind have more or less ruined life today: the pharmaceutical companies that have corrupted health care; agribusiness that has ruined our food supply and made us sick to begin with; and of course the industrial-military complex that requires continuous war.

  • mansico

    re: Bush’s hyphenated speaking style.

    Mr. Mailer missed the best of them all, ie; “Saddam-Hussein-and-his-weapons-of mass-destruction”, repeated ad nauseum by Bush and every member of his administration for months prior to the invasion of Iraq

  • While I enjoyed Chris’s interview with Norman Mailer, I have to respond to what I find a misunderstanding of the conception of G-d in Judaism. Obviously Norman Mailer has not been in a synagogue in many years, that notwithstanding he should understand that “Fear of G-d” does not actually mean being afraid of an all omnipotent power. Rather it means that we should respect the force that is controlling nature, etc. It has nothing to do with being afraid, etc.

    As I commented to my wife, Mailer must be “fixin to die” as he progresses in years, hence he concern with G-d and the devil. And I can appreciate this.

  • Mailer is such an arrogant and impotent wind bag. This interview of him started out with how he challenged the women’s movement but never a word was said about it, which Lydon, an obviously biased feminist himself, should have raised and didn’t. In all his political comments no mention was made of feminism, the ruling ideology of both the Left and Right. What a sad old man and what a deluded feminized man he has become.

    Tom Smith

  • bft

    Egad—“Sympathy for the Devil” on a podcast—how’d that license work?

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  • Dan McGuire

    I recall in the summer of 1988, I was working in Boston. I spent a weekend on Cape Cod, in Provincetown. I drove all over the Cape on the Sunday of that weekend, looking for a place to buy liquor. Blue laws were still in effect then so I was coming up empty. Then I see a man walking his dog and slow to ask for help with my search. It’s Norman Mailer. Of course, he knew the one place where I could buy liquor and saved the day. I think he was flattered that I recognized him immediately and told him I’d read and very much enjoyed “The Executioner’s Song.” A true gentleman, although I think “Armies of the Night” is trash. He’s a better novelist than journalist.