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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