The Lion Has Roared

In keeping with Dizzy’s “somber Saturday” theme below, comes word that one of the last great literary lions of the 20th century has died.

“Norman Mailer, the combative, controversial and often outspoken novelist who loomed over American letters longer and larger than any writer of his generation, died today in Manhattan. He was 84.

“He died of acute renal failure at Mount Sinai Hospital early this morning, his family said.Mr. Mailer burst on the scene in 1948 with “The Naked and the Dead,” a partly autobiographical novel about World War II, and for the next six decades he was rarely far from the center stage. He published more than 30 books, including novels, biographies and works of nonfiction, and twice won the Pulitzer Prize: for “The Armies of the Night” (1968), which also won the National Book Award, and “The Executioner’s Song” (1979).”

My introduction to Mailer came with the latter book, about the execution of Gary Gilmore in Utah, back in the 80’s as part of an undergraduate 20th century lit. course. Along with Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood”, you can’t get much closer to an execution, without actually being whacked yourself, than those authors were able to take the reader.

I’ve also read “The Naked and the Dead” (one of the great WWII novels), “Barbary Shore” (capitalism v. socialism), and my personal favorite “Advertisements For Myself”.

If you’ve never read “Advertisements”, get it. Mailer not only mocks the auto-biographical “memoir” bullshit genre of today (prescient, given it was published in 1959), but he delivers the ultimate contrarian manifesto, wickedly and acerbically riffing on just about anything coming out of his pie hole at the moment. The book also includes the essay “The White Negro”, a blistering take on race relations in this country in the late 50’s.

Looking back on it, “Advertisements” was the original blog.

Of course, Mailer was hopelessly politically incorrect for our times today. No one certainly discusses him, much less admits to reading him. A hard-drinking, womanizing (6 marriages), hyper-macho “guy’s guy”, Mailer pissed off just about every group in the past 20 years with “insensitive” comments and outrageous observations. The very utterance of his name in academia today brings shudders of disgust and clucking of tongues.

But the dude was a writer’s writer. The way William Burroughs described Jack Kerouac is the same way I’d describe Norman Mailer: “He was a writer. And by that I mean, he wrote.”

As the Times notes, “Mr. Mailer belonged to the old literary school that regarded novel writing as a heroic enterprise undertaken by heroic characters with egos to match. He was the most transparently ambitious writer of his era, seeing himself in competition not just with his contemporaries but with the likes of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.”

They quite literally don’t make ’em like that anymore, so says Richard Lacayo of Time: “But make no mistake, when he died on Saturday, something important was lost. And there is no one even bidding to take his place. My favorite Mailer quote will always be this one. “How dare you scorn the explosive I employ?” Norman come back. Nothing is forgiven.”

Tonight we drink to a great one. Cross posted from AoF

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