Saturday, November 10, 2007

Norman Mailer (1923-2007)

Norman Mailer was a gifted novelist and journalist (The Armies of the Night, Miami and the Siege of Chicago, The Executioner's Song), but his political views were an infuriating stew of progressive eloquence and macho, antifeminist mush. The man was not lacking in grandiose aspirations or audacity, once stating (apparently without irony) that his goal as a novelist was to "transform the moral consciousness of our times." [1]

Mailer's ambitions for a career in New York politics were likely doomed even before he stabbed Adele Morales, his second wife, at a party in 1960. But his alcohol-fueled campaign for mayor of New York in 1969 was notable in two respects.
  • Mailer remains, to this day, the only U.S. politician who (as he boasted at the time) could tender affidavits from one or more psychiatrists to verify his sanity. [1] If voters had imposed such a requirement in the national elections of 2000, the history of the last seven years might've been radically different.
  • Mailer and fellow journalist Jimmy Breslin, who ran on the same platform for city council president, adopted "No More Bullshit" as their slogan, a theme that has since been claimed repeatedly (though more politely) by mainstream politicians from Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama.
For anyone who aspires to write, Mailer's insights on technique and the writing process are invaluable. His passing comes just seven months after the death of Kurt Vonnegut, whom he deeply respected.


[1] Though I can't find the precise source of this statement, I remember it distinctly.

[2] Again, it's difficult to verify this incident, but it seems to me that Mailer offered affidavits from three psychiatrists.

PHOTO: Norman Mailer in 1948, the year that his first novel (The Naked and the Dead) was published. (Wikimedia Commons)

No comments: