Monday, December 24, 2007

Reflections: Remembering Mailer


Back in November, 2007 I noted the passing of the great American writer, Norman Mailer. This morning, in my travels around cyberspace, I came upon this remarkable interview with Mailer, from five years ago. It is full of wisdom and insight into contemporary America, the human condition, politics, the Middle East, the war in Iraq, the implications of hegemony, religion, the evils of flourescent lighting, and much more.

To perhaps pique your interest in reading this long interview, I give you the excerpt below, which is Mailer's take on an observational refrain my own, to which I have frequently referred as cognitive dissonance:

A lot of Americans [in the aftermath of WWII] were very happy to be prosperous, but they also felt secretly guilty. Why? Because we are a Christian nation. The Judeo in Judeo-Christian is essentially a grace note. We are a Christian nation. And the idea, if you really are a Christian and a great many people in America at that point were significantly devout, was that you were not supposed to be all that rich. God didn’t want it. Jesus certainly didn’t. You were not supposed to pile up a lot of money. You were supposed to spend your life in reasonably altruistic acts. That was one half of the collective psyche. The other half: Beat everybody you are in a contest with because you’ve got to win. To a certain extent, and this is a cruel, but possibly an accurate remark, to be an American is to be an oxymoron. On the one hand, you are a good Christian, and on the other, you are viscerally combative. You are supposed to be macho and win. Jesus and Evel Knievel don’t necessarily consort too well in one psyche.

I hope that I can encourage anybody who has never read Mailer to do so now. I believe that he will be known to history as one of two or three definitional voices of the generation immediately preceding my own, and a major, if subliminal, influence on the generations thereafter.

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2 comments:

Edgewise said...

FYI:

"Norman Mailer, a dissenting view"
by Roger Kimball

http://preview.tinyurl.com/33hq7y
http://pajamasmedia.com/xpress/rogerkimball/2007/11/10/norman_mailer_a_dissenting_vie.php

Would like your opinion(s) on Kimball's essay.

Thanks in advance.

Rodak said...

Edgewise--
My opinion of Kimball's essay is that it's a hit-job by a radically biased right-winger.
That said, much of what he says about Mailer is true. He was a very flawed individual, who consciously set out to create his own legend, and then had to try to live up to it. That truth seems to irk Kimball no end. It doesn't irk me. One could say the same of Bob Dylan, another favorite of mine. One could also say it of some figures on the right; but I'm not going to go there.
As a writer, Mailer showed flashes of brilliance in every one of his works. But he was inconsistent. He never lived up to the potential that his fans perceived in those brilliant flashes. He never wrote the Great American Novel. That was, at one time, expected of him.
I don't care about any of that. What disgusts me is not self-mythologizers and over-the-top exhibitionists; what I can't stand are the bleating merinos that make up 99% of the population, and who only want the safety of the herd. Saints, artists, and outlaws are interesting. Proclaimers of the party-line and their lawn-conscious, SUV-driving constituents, in all their knee-jerk compliance to "respectability" are not. Norman Mailer was enough of an artist, enough of an outlaw, and even, in some ways, enough of a saint, to hold my attention for the past forty years. My cap is duly doffed.
As for Kimball, while his use of the word "egregious" signals his bias, Kimball's closing sentence is otherwise quite similar to the thrust of my post on Mailer:

He did not make the revolution, but he assuredly became one of its most egregious abettors.