Norman Mailer, Miami Book Fair International, 1988
Ah, Norman Mailer. What a rarity on the writing scene. His style resides alongside only a handful of other men, hailing from a bygone literary era, who managed to mix the delicate craft of writing with a brash brand of masculinity. When he passed in 2007, the talented writer and co-progenitor of New Journalism had, according to an obituary in The Independent, a "relentless machismo [that] seemed out of place in a man who was actually quite small – though perhaps that was where the aggression originated."
His at-times abrasive personality and frequent scuffles with Gore Vidal notwithstanding, Norman Mailer proved himself to be a formidable intellectual and stalwart of creative writing as seen through his Pulitzer-prize winning fiction (The Executioner's Song), Pulitzer-prize winning nonfiction (The Armies of the Night) and his wealth of essays. Or, withstanding, perhaps Norman Mailer was at his best when he embraced his fiery self -- fully aware of his own chest-pounding, in on the joke that was his outsized ego -- and only then, after readily acknowledging his biases to the reader, would his prose reach its enlightened potential.
Evidence for the latter can be seen in the 1956 Village Voice articles excerpted below. In them he references his well-known "megalomania," talks down to his readers ("And of course the wise man— if there is one among you— would answer..."), expounds on politics of which he was only peripherally familiar ("I have not voted since 1948, and I doubt if I will vote in 1956...") and proceeds to explain why Ernest Hemingway would make for a great President.
Part 1 and 2 of these letters -- lengthy but worth the read -- comprise the whole nine yards of Mailer's persona: his grouchy charm, his presumptuous nature, his love for hyphenated adjectives, and ultimately his persuasive and spellbinding style and sense of composition. Enjoy, herewith, Norman Mailer on why Ernest Hemingway should be President of the Unites States of America.
Mind of an Outlaw written by Norman Mailer, Edited by Phillip Sipiora
Nomination of Ernest Hemingway for President: Part I (1956)
U N T I L N O W , I believe I have been fairly regular about covering some facet of what I promised to deliver the week before. This once, however, I would like to beg my readers’ all-but-nonexistent indulgence and postpone the fateful nomination of Democratic candidate until next week. There are various reasons for this, but the most direct is the news-box which appeared on page 1 of the Voice last week. It went:
Who’s Norman Mailer’s candidate for president? Those readers who turn to page 5 and read “Quickly” slowly, might find some clue. In any case there’s a $10 prize for the first correct solution received at this office. (His choice, by the way, is in a sealed envelope pasted on to the center of the Village Voice window. You can see it there from the street.)
Now this was a trifle misleading, since there were no portentous clues in last week’s column. I had said to the gentleman who wrote the news-box that there might be a few hints in all my columns taken together, but this was unfortunately garbled a bit in transmission. So, as an apology for neglecting to look at the news box in galleys, I will double the ante to $20, and give a few more pointed suggestions.
The greatest clues of course are buried in those parts of my character which have been revealed week by week. What it comes down to is who, by God, would that megalomaniac Mailer nominate besides himself? And of course the wise man— if there is one among you— would answer: “Why, even a bigger megalomaniac.”
Clue #2. Last week I had a line in answer to Dr. Y. which went: “Sleep is wisdom for gladiators like yourself.” So your columnist demonstrated indirectly that in his cold bitter soul, he has respect for gladiators who are on their feet. Therefore, Candidate X must fulfill this condition as well.
Clue #3. Candidate X would approve of slow readers.
Clue #4. Candidate X must of course be Hip, and yet not display himself unduly as a hipster. Perhaps we can assume that he was one of the germinal influences in the birth of the hipster.
Clue #5. (And this should be enough.) My passion, as a few slow readers may have realized by now, is to destroy stereotypes, categories, and labels. So Candidate X, who has never been considered (to my knowledge) as a political candidate for anything, by either party— as indeed was once true of Eisenhower— is nonetheless an important figure in American life. To a degree he has affected the style of American manners. If he were drafted as a candidate, the emanations of his personality might loosen the lugubrious rhetorical daisy chains of liberal argument which so deaden the air about all these Demo- bureaucratic candidates.
The rest of this column I wish to give over to a little talk about politics, most of which will be, as usual, in the first person. I have not voted since 1948, and I doubt if I will vote in 1956 even if, by some fantastic mischance, Candidate X would be drafted. (My sole motive in all this is to look for a good time. I want the next presidential campaign to be an interesting circus, rather than the dreary set of opposed commercials it now promises to be.) In my time I have been consecutively a sort of fellow traveler (as was fitting for my earnest youth), a radical-at-liberty, disenchanted by the USSR on closer study, yet never quite enthusiastic about our own glorious fatherland and flag; and at present I have ended temporarily as what I have always been by temperament, an anarchist, or perhaps more accurately, a rebel. So it is obvious to anyone who knows me well that for me to write about a Democratic candidate is pretty much a tongue-in-cheek performance.
Still, most of you will be taking your vote seriously, and to go on like this is only to off end you further. Most people, given their massage by propaganda, believe that a man who doesn’t vote is a little lower than a man who beats his mother, or, to be more psychically exact, a son who strikes his father. And perhaps even the Mailer would come off his mountain long enough to vote, if he felt any confidence that the Republican or Democratic Party was relatively the least bit more effective — for a given year— at going in historical directions one might think to be encouraging. But the curious contradictions of power and party politics are such that if I were to vote on this principle, I would be forced ever so slightly toward the Republicans. Not because I like them, mind you— I rather dislike them, they are such unconscionable hypocrites. Yet the disagreeable fact of power in these politically depressed years— like it or leave it— is that the Republican Party is a little more free to act, precisely because it does not have to be afraid of the Republicans, whereas the Democrats do. If the Democrats had the presidency, any relatively happy political action would be attacked by the Republicans as Communist inspired; in power themselves, the Republicans find the objective situation (that is, the passive logic of events) pushes the same action and legislation upon them. So, reluctantly, they introduce what is necessary, and the predominantly Republican press and mass media accept it. (As an example, think of the end of the war in Korea, or the antisegregation efforts: I believe quite seriously that we would still be at war in Korea if the Democrats had won in ’52, for one can only begin to imagine the Republican fury at making peace— the hearty howling cries that for the first time in America’s proud history we had lost a war, and so forth, and so forth. So, too, with antisegregation. If the Democrats had tried to carry it through, the Republicans would have been rather pleased to collect the various little Democratic parties in the South.)
I know this is unpleasant to all of you who believe that truth and untruth are separate, but then I have no particular desire to bring you pleasure. The antitheses of power are such today that I believe the party in power must adopt the opposite in office of what it announced as its desires when it was out of power. It is metaphorically similar to the change in personality which you may have noticed in some of your friends who came to marriage after living together for years.
NEXT WEEK: CANDIDATE X WILL BE NAMED, AND THE PRIZEWINNER, IF THERE SHOULD BE ONE, WILL BE GIVEN HIS OR HER $20.
To read "Nomination of Ernest Hemingway Part II," visit the next page.