10 November 2007

Norman Mailer - Dead at 84

Norman Mailer, like all great writers, refused the banal generalities used to caricature rather than characterize people and events, unafraid to be blunt. He died today, and David Wiegand of the San Francisco Chronicle writes:

Perhaps the quintessential American author of our era, Mailer, 84, married six times, fathered eight children, stabbed one of his wives during a booze-fueled party, once ran for mayor of New York City, and carried on feuds with other writers with such bloodlust that the whiny dustup between Donald Trump and Rosie O'Donnell seems like a lovers' tiff.
In an interview with Mark Binelli for Rolling Stones 40th Anniversary published this year, Mailer shared his ideas on LSD, Bush, and the "greatest generation," of which he was a part.

I never really went into LSD. I sort of disapproved of it. I felt it was too easy. I have always had this very strong, call it a feeling, call it a prejudice, call it a conviction ... that the mysteries are not easily available. You have to earn entrance into them. You didn't learn things for too little. You had to pay a price. And I felt that LSD was blasting superhighways into the mysteries. And what I really didn't like about LSD is that people who were taking it were seeming to become less and less as they took it. They got emptier and more vapid.

Bush & Terrorism
You wrote about how the threat of nuclear annihilation created an existential crisis among young people.
That your death will be without meaning.
Do you see a comparable thing going on today with the war on terror?
9/11 is a perfect example of that. The horror, the shock, is that you get up in the morning, you say goodbye to your children, you kiss your wife, you go off to work, and you are dead. That was intolerable shock. That is why terrorists are so hated, because they destroy the idea that you are going to have a meaningful ending to your life, so therefore, what's the sense of working hard, if you are not doing it in the name of a higher purpose? That is why Bush can keep pushing the button: "Terrorists! Terrorists! Terrorists!" In a certain sense, Bush is a terrorist, because anyone who keeps evoking the word "terrorist" all the time is pressing a button to get a reaction, without any higher moral intent.
So what is the story of Bush, then?
Bush is a terrorist.
Do you think he is the worst president of your lifetime?
He is a spiritual terrorist.
It is interesting that, in retrospect, he makes somebody like Nixon look pretty good.
Nixon was a mean son of a bitch whose inner life probably smelled of old urine, but he was intelligent as hell, and he was serious, and he could recognize the limits that were incumbent upon him whenever he got into a venture. So looking back on him then, yes, we would be far better off with Nixon than we would be with Bush.

The Greatest Generation
What did you make of the baby boomers' belated embrace of the "greatest generation"?
[Laughs] I don't think we ever saw ourselves that way at all. It's cute. It has nothing to do with reality. The reality is we groused, we pissed, we moaned, we were furious. We just pissed and moaned right through the war. The idea of the greatest generation, it was low appeal to our vanity. I don't know what it was to younger people. But I think the smarter ones just said, "Oh, more bullshit."


exskindiver said...

The Toronto Star wrote:

"The most significant turn in Mailer's career, was the 1956 launching of his column in The Village Voice, a periodical Mailer had helped to found a year earlier.
Subsequently collected in Advertisements for Myself,

the columns marked the advent of a style of brutally honest, frankly egotistical, personal journalism that was Mailer's own."

Sounds like Mailer would have made a great blogger.

cce said...

I'm with Xsd,
how great would a Mailer blog have been? Why oh why do we think of these things after a person is gone?

Thanks for sharing this interview, Ron. If nothing else, Norman Mailer was and will remain to be incredibly interesting and the subject of great curiosity. He seemed free to behave in any way he pleased.

Ron Davison said...

spot on brilliant, as the Brits might say. Makes me laugh out loud to think about the world as it might have been for blogging technology for Mailer, Studs Terkel, and others. No editors to filter. No time delay. And no softening those bellicose opinions.

and when you are regularly published, we'll get a sense of how that might have played out - the past generation of writers having blogs, that is.