Norman Mailer A Collection Of Critical Essays

For Mailer, the mainspring of connection was personal, was face time; for all his intellectual energy and imaginative invention, Mailer was the bard of immediacy.His very conception of “experience” and its relation to art is at the core of his genius and his frustration.

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Even while a student at Harvard (he studied engineering but was already an ambitious and successful student writer), his notion of literary experience was that it wasn’t the hand one was dealt or the way one played it, it was the game that one set out to learn.

One of his college-era novels, “No Percentage,” involved a young hitchhiker—and Mailer said elsewhere that he went out hitchhiking as research; another, “A Transit to Narcissus,” was centered on his one week of work as an orderly at a mental hospital.

He sought to cultivate his image, giving a performance at Carnegie Hall and making frequent television appearances.

His sense of the modern “existential” was partly a matter of physical and moral courage, partly a matter of facing death—and partly a matter of taking on the centers of power of the sixties, which meant politics and media.

He became a celebrity, and celebrity became one of his principal subjects; he needed success, and success became one of his principal subjects.

Norman Mailer A Collection Of Critical Essays

He was only able to write about himself when he put himself in what he saw as the center of action of the times.

Lennon’s introduction to the letters begins with a wondrously high note: the revelation that in 1981, at the age of fifty-seven, Mailer was planning to write his autobiography, but ultimately shied away from it on the ground, Lennon says, that it “would effectively end his career as a novelist, biographer, and chronicler of American life; a thoroughgoing autobiography would be his tombstone.” Mailer may well be best remembered as an author of essays and, above all, of a sort of literary journalism that is one of the enduring and fertile inventions of the time, but the novel was his touchstone of artistic experience and achievement, and the letters show, both in their substance and in their style, how he got sidetracked.

One of the first hints comes from Lennon himself, who explains the enormity of his editorial task: Mailer, he says, wrote “at least forty-five thousand letters.” Many of them were, in effect, business letters; Mailer was nothing if not a dutiful correspondent, as well as a prudent one.

great writers are also great talkers, but writing begins where talking ends: in silence.

Norman Mailer is one of literature’s great talkers, and his voice—his speaking voice—is crucial to his work.


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