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Norman Mailer’s Dead

If someone bothered to check this, I'm sure he'd find that there's a larger body of literature dedicated to Norman Mailer than there is by Norman Mailer. Charles McGrath's obituary quotes Gore Vidal on how Mailer's ridiculousness only added to … Read More

By / November 10, 2007

If someone bothered to check this, I'm sure he'd find that there's a larger body of literature dedicated to Norman Mailer than there is by Norman Mailer. Charles McGrath's obituary quotes Gore Vidal on how Mailer's ridiculousness only added to his appeal. But then there was the time Norman punched out Gore, prompting the response: "Words fail Norman Mailer yet again." Or the time he said to the wizened wit of Ravello, "Gore, you look like an old Jew." "So do you, Norman, so do you."

However, my favorite piece of Mailierana is Dwight Macdonald's Sancho Panza-like reflection on the Naked and the Dead author's vacation in Provincetown in the late 60's. There are the usual bouts of drunkenness and a jaunt down to the local police precinct, but Macdonald's is probably the only piece of journalism on Mailer that doesn't try to keep up with its subject so much as understand him. When I find my copy of Discriminations, the collection in which this essay appears and for which Mailer wrote the introduction, I'll post some good bits.

Appropriately enough, the White Negro shuffles off the mortal coil with a savage review by Leon Wieseltier of his new religion book On God: An Uncommon Conversation. Wieseltier is manning the divine barricades against a would-be metaphysician who thinks God is a criminal accomplice:

"And I remember one night, wandering around Brooklyn through some semi-slums … not even knowing what I was looking for, but going out, drinking in a bar, sizing up the bar, looking … in those days you actually would go to a bar and look for a woman. … Anyway, I found no woman. I went into an all-night diner–because I realized I was hungry, not only drunk but hungry–and ordered a doughnut and coffee, finished it. Then a voice spoke to me. I think it's one of the very few times I felt God was speaking to me. … This voice spoke to me and said: 'Leave without paying'. It was a minor sum–twenty-five cents for coffee and a doughnut in those days. … I said: 'I can't do it.' And the voice–it was most amused–said, 'Go ahead and do it,' quietly, firmly, laughing at me. So I got up, slipped out of the restaurant, and didn't pay the quarter." This is perhaps the silliest passage I have ever read in the literature of spiritual autobiography, which is a literature of considerable silliness. Its author, the man to whom the Lord spoke from out of the doughnut, who found redemption through sin at Chock full o'Nuts, is Norman Mailer, who recalls it in his primitive new book, On God: An Uncommon Conversation. Chock full of nuts, indeed. This is a book that has a kind word for Aleister Crowley. I was not aware that Mailer has "spent the last fifty years trying to contemplate the nature of God," though I am not surprised that he wants in on the God action of the Bush years. If he has been trying, he has been failing. About the victims of the Holocaust, Mailer teaches that "most of those who desired reincarnation received it, but in unsatisfactory fashion." The fool explains: "If populations die at a steady rate with only a statistical spike here and there. … God can receive and judge incoming souls. … [But] when reincarnation is flooded with a huge number of deaths that have no meaning … then they enter reincarnation with less preparation within. … [W]hen the Creator is not functioning at His or Her best … then the choices made for reincarnation can be deemed gross–there's not enough of God to go around. It is a way of saying the Holocaust deadened God's wit."

Stefan Beck will have more on Mailer when he wakes up.

UPDATE: Read Stefan's take here.

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