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Excerpt from “Mailer’s Radical Bridge”

Published in Narrative 7 (Fall 1977), 170-88.

“What is life but the angle of vision? A man is measured by the angle at which he looks at objects.” Emerson, “Natural History of Intellect”

Norman Mailer’s development as a writer parallels at every point his growing awareness of the difficulty, and doubtful wisdom, of attempting to separate his personal and artistic worlds. His desire to build “the radical bridge from Marx to Freud,” to link public event and private sensibility, was not announced until 1958. Before that time, incredible as it may seem given his ubiquitous presence in our literary life over the past ten or fifteen years, Mailer attempted to segregate his personal and artistic worlds. . . .

After writing and then fighting for the publication of The Deer Park, Mailer reconsidered the experience in a long essay later published in his omnibus volume, Advertisements for Myself (1959). By now, his perspective had begun to shift. The fact that he referred to Advertisements as “this muted autobiography”, and explained that he had “decided to use my personality as the armature of this work,” shows just how much his conception of the relationship between the artist and his work had begun to change. From the time of Flaubert on, writers began to see themselves more and more as aesthetic artificers and less as purveyors of the egotistical sublime. The role of the novelist as detached craftsman was refined and transmitted to the twentieth century by Conrad and James, and then further exalted by Joyce. As a young writer Mailer accepted implicitly the tradition of the novelist as a detached creator whose method was “objective” or “dramatic,” as René Wellek and Austin Warren define it, rather than the opposed tradition that Wellek and Warren call the “romantic-ironic mode.” Mailer has more in common with Rousseau than Flaubert.

Mailer’s battle with the American publishing industry over the supposed obscenity of The Deer Park was the event that punctured what he calls his “nineteenth century naïveté” and made him “a psychic outlaw.” Mailer now raked through the “personal affectations and nervous susceptibilities” that Flaubert believed the artist should transcend. Essays like “The White Negro,” “The Last Draft of The Deer Park, the “Quickly” columns from the Village Voice, and most of the “Advertisements” that connected these and other short pieces in Advertisements were direct expressions of Mailer’s latest ideas and experience. He later defined experience as “the church of one’s acquired knowledge.”

On Courage

The Influence of Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner

Berkeley Audience

DID YOU KNOW? Mailer’s largest live audience was approximately 10,000. On May 21, 1965, he spoke at a Teach-in at the University of California, Berkeley, which was organized by Jerry Rubin and others. He began his speech by noting that the citizenry’s “buried unvoiced faith that the nature of America” had over the past months “taken a pistol whipping.” The cause: the most advanced nation in the world was “shedding the blood and burning the flesh of Asian peasants it has never seen.” This was being done, officially, to keep the nations of the Far East from falling under the Communist yoke. The Communists could only flounder in the nations they conquered, he argued. The real reason for the Vietnam War, he continued, was that the president needed to get the country’s mind off the civil rights movement at home. His fear, he said, is that President Johnson, this “bully with an Air Force,” was “close to insanity” brought on by “his need for action.” He ended his one-hour speech by urging everyone to attach photos and drawings of Johnson’s face, on every surface, on walls and phone booths and billboards. “You, Lyndon Johnson, will see those pictures everywhere upside down, four inches high and forty feet high; you, Lyndon Baines Johnson, will be coming up for air everywhere upside down. Everywhere, upside down. Everywhere. Everywhere.”

Mailer’s speech was broadcast live on radio station KPFA. Later, portions of the speeches of Mailer and several others who spoke at the teach-in—including Dick Gregory, Mario Savio, Dr. Spock, and Senator Ernest Gruening of Alaska—were transferred to two LP records and issued by Folkways (No. 5765). Mailer wrote to a friend after the teach-in and said that for the first time in his life he had received “a standing ovation which went on for many minutes.” It was most welcome, he said, because that at this stage of his career he was caught between “counter-waves,” of approval and disapproval, and “I am being bounced like a cork at the confluence.”

On Repetition

DID YOU KNOW? Asked to name his favorite word by the New York Times, Mailer said: “Improvisational.”

The Fiction of Nonfiction

Mike Introduces the Biography

Slideshow of Mailer’s Provincetown Home

Bio: British Cover

Norman Mailer_A Doubl#70BE4 (2)_2_2

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