"Immersion in the life of the world, a willingness to be inhabited by and to speak for others, including those beyond the realm of the human, these are the practices not just of the bodhisattva but of the writer." --Jane Hirshfield

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Over-Rated and the Dead

When the world speaks with one voice, it almost invariably gets it wrong. Thus, Norman Mailer, who died at the weekend, has been hailed as a great, if flawed, American writer, a pre-eminent chronicler of the 20th century. But it would be closer to the truth to characterise him as an arch-conservative who pulled off a stunning confidence trick.

Mailer hated authority, homosexuality, women and almost certainly himself, producing fiction and essays that would be comically bad if they did not display addictions to violence and abusive sex.
Then as now, few on the left cared that he was a hysterical opponent of contraception and abortion: "I hate contraception ... it's an abomination." It was left to one or two feminist writers, notably Kate Millett in Sexual Politics, to point out the contradictions that disfigured his work. Millett regarded Mailer as "a prisoner of the virility cult", a man whose "powerful intellectual comprehension of what is most dangerous in the masculine sensibility is exceeded only by his attachment to the malaise."

My feelings exactly. Read the rest.


Kay Sexton said...

You know, I am inclined to agree - I've always found Mailer's attitude to women to be an offence and an outrage.

Zen of Writing said...

I think his major talent was in self-promotion. He gave 'em what they wanted, and Millett's observation, that he was as much a prisoner as a chronicler, was very apt.