r.i.p. mailer

by

out of town last weekend without access to wifi or the usual media, i didn’t even know norman mailer passed away saturday until it was alluded to in yesterday’s dispatch (haven’t cracked open the cover of this week’s new yorker yet but i’m sure there’s a postscript). [ed. note: there is, and they nailed it.]

but set aside for a moment what you know or think you know about mailer “the performer,” as the new yorker puts it, and consider his work. of course, he often appeared as a third-person character in his own work, so maybe that’s an impossibly tall order. forget that. the two are inseparable. both, equally fascinating.

instead, consider armies of the night, his nonfiction account of his participation in the 1967 anti-vietnam march on the pentagon. genre-wise, the nonfiction categorization of this book is often preceded with “creative” or “literary,” and it’s certainly nothing if not high art. mailer’s in full command of his writerly faculty and trenchant wit here — this book’s hilarious — and his powers of observation and eye for detail have never been keener. nor his sense of self. the egotistical “tragicomic hero” is on full display and i love every minute of it.

here’s some typical mailer on mailer, excerpted from chapter 2:

All right, let us look into his mind. It has been burned out by the gouts of bourbon he has taken into himself the night before (in fact, one of the reasons he detests napalm is that he assumes its effect on the countryside is comparable to the ravages of booze on the better foliage of his brain) however, one can make too much of a hangover, these are comic profits which should perhaps be reinvested—his headache is in truth not thunderous so much as definite and ineradicable until late afternoon, when whiskey wastes half-cleared, he will feel legitimized to take another drink. In the meantime, he must stir his stupefied message center into sufficient activity to give him a mind to meet the minds he would encounter this day, for this day, Friday, was—you will recall—the occasion on which he would lend the dubious substance of his name to those young men brave enough, idealistic enough, (and doubtless vegetarian enough!) to give their draft cards back to the government on the steps of the Department of Justice. Mailer detested the thought of getting through the upcoming hours.

armies of the night won the pulitzer prize and the national book award in ’68. go read.

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3 Responses to “r.i.p. mailer”

  1. Charly Says:

    Have you finished Harlot’s Ghost? It makes Infinite Jest seem short. Mailer considered it one of his best.

  2. ryan Says:

    haven’t tackled that one yet. you?

  3. Charly Says:

    Finished it in 1993. It took a while!

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