An exclusive extract from Norman Mailer’s unpublished ‘marijuana journal’

By Norman Mailer

During the winter of 1954-5, Norman Mailer found himself at a crossroads. He was thirty-two and concerned that his career as the promising and precocious young author of The Naked and the Dead (1948) might already have burnt out, like a shooting star. His second novel, Barbary Shore (1952), had not been well received by critics and he was struggling to publish his third novel, The Deer Park (1955). He considered that the international success of Naked may have been a fluke and that he was just “an imposture”. Mailer turned inwards, towards self-analysis, and examined his relationship with the external world. He used cannabis (his “tea”, or “Lipton’s”) on the weekends and recorded his thoughts and experiences in over 700 journal entries, from December 1, 1954 to March 4, 1955. His journey plumbed the depths of his soul, skirting the borders of dread, insanity and despair, and helped him to perceive his own responsibility as an artist and develop his own self-reliance and practical existentialism. “Lipton’s” – which would become the foundation of his iconic essay “The White Negro” (1957) and the biographical passages in Advertisements for Myself (1959) – ends shortly after Walter Minton of Putnam’s agreed in February 1955 to publish The Deer Park.

Another factor that led Mailer to “Lipton’s” was his relationship with the prominent psychologist Robert Lindner, the author of several books, including Rebel Without a Cause (1944) and Prescription for Rebellion (1952). After reading the latter Mailer wrote to Lindner with praise and criticism, beginning a close friendship that would last until Lindner’s death in 1956. Both were competitive and often at odds with each other, but they managed to support one another’s work through candid epistles and animated conversations. Since Lindner refused to analyse Mailer, suggesting that it would end their friendship, Mailer undertook his own self-analysis in the pages of his journal, sending sections to Lindner for comment. Lindner’s work advocated rebellion over adjustment, profoundly influencing Mailer’s evolving thought.

Mailer’s journal covers all manner of topics – sex, jazz, the sounds of words, relationships, The Deer Park manuscript, existentialism, the nature of genius, social conformity, among others – and the entries are raw, inconsistent, and vary widely in scope, approach and mood. We have tried to select entries that show the breadth of this thought, but that follow his key concerns through the journal, especially his preoccupation with the individual artist/genius and his struggle with the oppressive forces of conformity. This struggle between the individual’s homeodynamism (which Mailer calls “homeostasis” and later “H” and “er”) and the external sociostatis (the “S” or later “sup” of social conformity) becomes the primary concern of the journal. The following selections from the previously unpublished journal typify Norman Mailer’s mindset during this crucial transitional period in his life.

J. Michael Lennon is the author of Norman Mailer: A double life, 2013. Gerald R. Lucas is an educator and edited Norman Mailer: Works and days, 2018. Susan Mailer is a psychoanalyst and the author of In Another Place: With and without my father Norman Mailer, 2019.

2. Lipton’s seems to open one to one’s unconscious. Perhaps its brothers do too. Last night, for an experiment, I tried an overhead press with the 45 lb. barbell. I did it seventeen times, double what I normally do, and while I could probably do as much without Lipton’s, I felt very little strain, and no stiffness this morning. Undoubtedly, our latent strength is far greater than our actual, and we become tired or drained because of anxiety. This would account for the super-human strength people exhibit in time of necessity. It is always there, but it takes the threat of death or something which is its psychological equivalent to quiet the anxiety and allow the full strength to appear. Perhaps this is why animals are always so strong for their size – their latent strength is always present.

138. My ambition remains my contact with the world, and perhaps it is not all bad – I would certainly prefer to be a genius than a saint. That is why Bob is right about the petty Hitler in me. I have to do it all, all by myself. With the others, I am competitive. Every bit of evidence I see, as in television, of hipsterism makes me worry, “My God, somebody may do it before I do it.” No fear of me becoming a saint.

140. All churches say, “Be content.” They are always opposed to change for they are the bastardization of the soul in society.

144. Anyone reading these notes would exclaim at my paranoia which rides through these notes on a wave. Three cheers for my paranoia. It is the true measure in every man of great sensitivity – one’s sensitivity to the wrath and retribution of society if one attempts to change it because one knows it is false, and does not suit the need of one’s soul. Society’s great lie is that man is evil and society protects men from one another’s evil. All evil is created by society, and man is good.

156. The homo-erotic corollary. This is for Bob Lindner. I start with the premise that all men and women are bi-sexual. I believe this is natural. It is true for animals, and it makes sense, for love is best when it’s unified (at last I find some agreement with the analyst, although what a difference) and when we love someone we would make love with them, if society did not prevent it or make it so painful. Given my premise, the pure heterosexual is a cripple – society has completely submerged one half of his nature. So, too, is the pure homosexual – and I suspect that pure homosexuals are invariably very unfleshly. People like [André] Gide have denied their bodies, and sex is invariably painful to them, although in recompense their minds have saintly qualities. (Gide and Gertrude Stein.)

162. One of the curious effects of Lipton’s is that it seems to take away my neurosis and expose me to all that is saintly and psychopathic in my character. Just enough Lipton’s, and being alone with Adele, and the psychopathy is pleasantly expressed in fucking, and afterward I feel truly saintly and love everyone and am filled with compassion for mankind. But when I take Lipton’s after being pretty strenuously fucked-out, especially if people are around, then the amount of psychopathy in me is frightening.

199. Looking at myself in the mirror, high on Lipton’s, I saw myself as follows: The left side of my face is comparatively heavy, sensual, possessor of hard masculine knowledge, strong, proud, and vain. Seen front-face I appear nervous, irresolute, tender, anxious, vulnerable, earnest, and Jewish middle-class. The right side of my face is boyish, saintly, bisexual, psychopathic, and suggests the victim.

225. My character. I have always been a philosopher masquerading as a novelist because philosophy was not a proper expression of our time. It had become the province of takers – scholars – academicians. Cut another way, I am the boy sent out by God to do a man’s job, the saint who must explore psychopathy. So I, who was one of the worst soldiers ever to go into an Army, one of the people who had the least feeling for Army life, nonetheless was the one who had to capture the psychology inside and out of the Army. I, who am timid, cowardly, and wish only friendship and security, am the one who must take on the whole world. (The small trumpet of my defiance). I, whose sexual nature is to cling to one woman like a child embracing the universe, am driven by my destiny to be the orgiast, or at least the intellectual mentor of orgasm. I, who find it essentially easier to love than to hate; I who could probably find more people to love in the world than anyone I know, am destined to write about characters who are conventionally “un-loveable.” I, who in another time would have been the contemplative spirit which filled a cathedral with love, see my soul-duty as the man in the vanguard, the assassin in the night, the demolitioneer, the rapist, the arsonist, the murderer, the great destroyer. No wonder society chose me as the man to go to the end of the night – nobody could be more unfitted for the job. Contrariwise, Bob is the psychopath sent out to become a saint. Yet, each of us takes our hard road. As I become tougher, more adventurous, more of a fighter, so Bob becomes more good.

250. The great stylist is indeed a man who relatively does not have too much to say. There are geniuses like Joyce, Proust and Mann who said an awful lot, but the difficulties of their style kept them alive so to speak – they would have been hung if people had been able to understand them. To the other side are the bad stylists like myself who are just overflowing with ideas. My sociostatic defence is that I express them so badly that nearly everyone reading this journal would take me for a crank. For years my brain was most alive when I was incapable of taking a note, or trapping the thought. And in my novels like Barbary and Deer Park where I had comparatively few ideas, I could reach them only through great pain, and the most stubborn depression and writing blocks. Yet I broke sociostatic things in myself. I have lost weight and with it depression. I am manic, alive, filled every day with the excitement and revelation of everything I see. There is that wonderful line in The Deer Park which goes: “There was that law of life, so cruel and so just, which demanded that one must grow or else pay more for remaining the same.” That is why great writers in America are not able to turn out work after work of equal value – the moment they do not continue to grow, the sociostatic defences chase them back in a rout, as indeed they have to for the great American writer is living very dangerously.

256. I did not have a deep depression when Putnam took the book [The Deer Park], I had a half relief and a half depression. Because I was gambling two ways. The bet was hedged. On the one hand I didn’t want a house to take it, because then I could have gone all the way. On the other hand I wanted a house to take it because I sensed that if I published it myself and won (as I felt I would) my life as a gambler would be established.

258. I wonder if one doesn’t choose a mate who accommodates the particular combination of our parents which the H and S need at a given time. So Bea [Beatrice Silverman, Mailer’s first wife] who was like my mother in her strength, her confidence, her bold grasp, and her lack of deeper understanding combined with that the essential non-conformism of my father. Essentially, I married my mother (who is masculine) because I felt womanly, but I chose the particular mother-substitute who could remind me of my father (who is delicately feminine), but also a rebel. I married a woman who was a feminine rebel in a masculine way. But I grew in masculinity, and our marriage became intolerable to both of us. (One subtlety of Bea is that she acts like my father in times of stress – she pulls out of the situation, she becomes passive and inert.) With Adele I found the lovely sensitive woman who was always in my father, and Adele whose sensitivity is deep like my father’s also plays the fool like my father.

261. My father was born in Russia and has pretended to be born in South Africa for so long that he believes it himself. And our name is not really Mailer but something which resembles it remotely in Russian or Jewish. Truly, there is nothing in the world like being a false Englishman. Which is what my pop has been all his life, and what I have been. That’s why I always get so nice-nelly and affected and talk with an English accent when I’m with Englishmen, American society people, or even the genteel rich.

262. Today before I started writing, I spent four hours with my father, and it was the first talk we ever had in our lives, and I was able to tell him that I love him. And for once I was able to tell him what a great guy I think he is, instead of hitting him with all kinds of shit and making him feel like a piece of dirt. In a way, for the first time I understood him, understood him from inside himself and I was close to tears of sorrow for myself and the way I had acted, and tears of pride at how marvellous he is really, and how his gambling was an expression of his artistry, and how now at the age of sixty-three he isn’t ridden with cancer or asthma or heart trouble or rheumatism, but instead looks hale and hearty and handsome, a dapper little guy who’s always been a gentleman.

264. Since I started this Journal I have been feeling happier than I have in my whole life. So much has been released and so much created – because for me release and creation are parallel expressions of the same thing. But underneath it persists a feeling that I am going to die soon which perhaps is why I entrust each instalment of the journal to [Robert Lindner] in the mail. I even caught myself thinking that perhaps I would write at this journal for the next year or two, and there would be thousands of pages, and then pop I would go – which makes me sad rather than depressed because for the first time in my life I really want to live.

272. So, modestly, I see my mission. It is to put Freud into Marx, and Marx into Freud. Put Tolstoy into Dostoyevsky and Dostoyevsky in Tolstoy. Open anarchism with its soul-sense to the understanding of complexity, and infuse complex gloom with the radiance of anarchism. As Jenny Silverman [mother-in-law] said of me once, “The little pisherke with the big ideas.” Pint-sized Hitler. Yes.

282. Reason has now become Rationalisation. Small communities refuse the fluoridation of water, although rationally fluoridation prevents tooth decay and does no known harm. [Senator Joseph] McCarthys spring up and have to be defeated at what cost to the rational nervous system of the State it is difficult to contemplate. Demagogues are on the march, painting deserts the representational – to wit, the rational. Poetry ceases to communicate to large audiences. Billy Grahams electrify the staid English; Aldous Huxley the last in line of a great intellectual family takes a drug and writes a book about it. The demagogue is everywhere. Millions give themselves to the gibberish of television. Be-bop floods America after the war, and it is the artistic expression of double-talk (ultimately the expression of many things at once). Monsters in uniform murder in the name of the state until finally the state itself is caught in contradiction. It is killing its own. It is possible that at this moment in history the irrational expressions of man are more healthy than the rational. For state-planners, and civic planners and community planners are always rattled, bewildered, rendered anxious by the totally irrational. McCarthy fucked up the confidence of the American State more completely than a million Communist Party members could have.

320. For some time I have wanted to write a note about the Negro prejudice of Southerners. I wonder if their rage at Negro advancements is due to the unconscious belief in the myth – which may well be right – that the Negro has a happy sex life, happier than the white, and so the Negro is recompensed for his low state in society by his high state in the fuck. The scales are balanced. Therefore, to the white southerner, an improvement in Negro rights is to tip the scale in the Negro’s favor. So, members of a high status group – to use that monstrous sociological jargon – feeling anxiety about a lower status group crawling up on them, are actually feeling the more intense anxiety that the lower status group is rising above them.

343. This journal is the record of my attempts to overcome my disgust for these pages. So the journal has grown, and ideas which were crude and banal in the early pages develop into more satisfying insights later. But I feel a real crisis for me as a novelist. I can never stop to expound the idea once I have it, I have to go on. And where now could I begin a novel? I have the unhappy thought that the insights of these pages have taken away from me ten years of solid novels. Ah, well, Malraux moved on, maybe I can too.

360. Power-mad men court disaster. They have to. They can never retreat. Which is why [Sen. Joseph] McCarthy went down although he was given every opportunity to compromise – indeed they finally had to squash him legislatively because they had become terrified of him – unlike other legislators he was not a social being – also true of all power-mad men.

379. A note on my Self-Analysis. I’m not doing it à la [Karen] Horney. I do it in blocks. I do it by commenting on the world, by expressing myself, by Liptoning up, by fucking, by feeling. There is no formal analysis as such, yet I believe that if nothing else happens and this were all to stop tomorrow that my relation to my parents, and my way of seeing things could never be quite the same again. So, something is definitely happening. It suggests that I am doing my analysis in the way proper for me which is through creativity – taking into the self, synthesising, and giving back. The analysand given to the conventional analyst is run through a stamping machine.

527. Adele gets furious these days when I talk about bisexuality. Why don’t you become a homosexual, she flares at me, you want to anyway. The funny thing is that I don’t – I feel less homosexual tension than I have ever felt – neither homosexual desire which for that matter I’ve never felt consciously, but more important no homosexual anxiety. The other day in a homosexual clothing store the salesman was giving me a covert feel while measuring the length of the cuffs. A year ago I would have broken out into a sweat. This time I stood there unmoved but feeling tenderly humorous toward him. Instead, I thought, “Well, my friend, congratulations”. A part of me always wanted to be a corset adjuster so I could cop quick feels (and isn’t that just the sexual quality of the cop – he always takes as a stranger) and get away with it. And you on your side of the fence have made it.

548. Hemingway’s peculiar weakness is that he’s a taker, his heroes are all takers. His idea of courage is that you can take it. It never seems to have occurred to him once that courage might also consist of giving. Which is why he probably lives in a cloudy mystical state and reads universes into every cliché and half parable he writes.

625. Saw Mutiny on the Bounty and some Keystone Chaplin films last night. What a genius Chaplin is. How he expresses all the body frustrations of sexual repression. He wipes his nose on a rag, wipes the rag on a dish, hands the dish to a whore in a dirty restaurant. He hitches his ass, he “rolls” his eyes, he strikes and is struck, and always, sex, sex, sex. We laugh in roars and waves. And the captions are incredible. In one skit, standing before his wife who dominates him completely, he grins, sheepishly struts and says, “Every day I get better and better, but every night I get worse.”

697. In the course of this journal I have been elaborating a more and more private jargon. It is necessary. For me to understand the phenomena I am trying to understand I must create my own conceptual words. To use the conceptual words of others is to maroon myself in pseudo-rational processes rather than to depend on my intuition. My capacity to do something exceptional comes from the peculiar combination of powerful instincts face to face with my exceptional detachment. I am one of the few people I know who can feel a genuinely powerful emotion, and yet be able to observe it. This is what I must depend on, instead of violating my capacities by trying to make the rational scholarly effort to illumine my understanding of other men’s jargons. Instead of poring (pouring) over all the relevant books, and there are five hundred I “ought” to start studying tomorrow, I do better to “waste” time and discover things for myself.

A redacted version of Lipton’s Journal will be published in January 2023.