In August of 1977, when visiting Mailer in Provincetown, I asked him to sign a copy of his new book, Genius and Lust: A Journey Through the Writings of Henry Miller (Grove Press, October, 1976). He did, and because I usually use unsigned or paperback editions of Mailer’s work for reference, this signed edition has been untouched all these years. I recently found Mailer’s hand-written note, described below, laid in this copy. It was written in green pencil on the blank side of one page of a xerox copy of an essay by Mark Kram in Sports Illustrated (September 2, 1974), “The Fight’s Lone Arranger.” The piece is a profile of Don King, the promoter who was principally responsible for convincing George Foreman and Muhammad Ali to hold their October 1974 heavyweight championship bout in Zaire. Mailer underlined two passages in the essay, both of which describe King’s violent criminal background, for use in his planned account of the match, The Fight (Little, Brown, July 1975). Paraphrases of the passages show up there (pp. 115-17).
Mailer’s working papers can best be described as a mare’s nest. Once a book was completed and published, the research notes, drafts, galleys, and correspondence surrounding it went unsorted into cardboard boxes destined for his Manhattan storage vault—usually. A certain percentage was lost or shunted by family to closets or basement shelves or, as in this case, recycled as scrap paper. The note I found concerns Henry Miller and Mailer’s theory of personality, Alpha-Omega (at that time, he referred to it as “Alpha-Bravo”). The most complete elaboration of the theory is in Harlot’s Ghost (Random House, October, 1991), where it is presented as the brainchild of Hadley Kittredge, a CIA psychologist. Briefly, Mailer believed that all humans house two separate personalities, each of which are as complex and differentiated as what we ordinarily think of as a complete personality. But, as Kittredge explains, Alpha originates in the male sperm, and Omega in the female ovum, which “knows more about mysteries:
conception, birth, death, night, the moon, eternity, karma, ghosts, divinities, myths, magic, our primitive past, so on. The other Alpha, creature of forward-swimming energies of sperm, ambitious, blind to all but its own purpose, tends of course, to be more oriented toward enterprise, technology, grinding the corn, repairing the mill building, building the bridges between money and power, und so weiter (498-99).
After he completed work on The Fight, Mailer accepted a $50,000 advance for an anthology of the writings of Henry Miller, which was split with Miller. He spent the better part of 1975 reading Miller’s work and making notes, including this one:
Henry Miller: Alpha & Bravo—never more so than in a writer. Shakespeare—Kings—& Stendhal. Never more than in American writers. Examples: Hem, Fitz, Dos Passos, Melville, Hawthorne, James.
Never more than in Henry Miller. It is why he is not a big American success although he has written the biggest-style prose, he and Faulkner and Wolfe, since Herman Melville, and his greatest paragraphs have more power than either of the others. His Alpha and Bravo are also furthest apart.
Pick his best writing when he was without a woman.
This note, brilliantly elaborated and stripped of the Alpha-Bravo theory, appears in Genius and Lust, as follows:
Miller at his best wrote a prose grander than Faulkner’s, and wilder—the good reader is revolved in a farrago of light with words heavy as velvet, brilliant as gems, eruptions of thought cover the page. You could be in the vortex of one of Turner’s oceanic holocausts when the sun shines at the very center of the storm. No, there is nothing like Henry Miller when he gets rolling. Men with literary styles as full as Hawthorne appear by comparison stripped of their rich language, stripped as an AP style book; one has to take the English language back to Marlowe and Shakespeare before encountering a wealth of imagery equal in intensity (496).
It’s possible that Mailer gave me the Miller note when he signed my copy of the book, or I plucked it from his papers when my wife and I were organizing his archive for deposit in the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas-Austin. I can’t remember.