We’re not an excessively literary bunch so when we make statements about writing, writers or any contributor to the fine art of English we do so very deliberately from the perspective of pop culture consumers and not from the view point of, you know, the well read or anything. That’s why we can say with impunity things like “Jay McInerney is hot right now,” and “Carver is too.” “Shakespeare, not so relevant,” and “Joyce is kinda cold.” What we’re talking about isn’t merit but the likelihood of the dude you hate, but whom your girlfriend secretly might not, listing any one of these authors as his inspiration when he “writes.”
Another one you can add to that list is Norman Mailer. For some time now Esquire and The New Yorker have, in the eyes of someone steeped in nothing deeper than the Da Vinci Code, written deferentially about Mailer in a Warm War over who can claim him as most closely aligned with their publication. He serially published An American Dream in Esquire, but The New Yorker has his letters. Who can claim this American literary giant? Good news: all of us, for perhaps there is no better Patron Saint of the uninformed yet good-hearted than Norman K. Mailer himself.
In a letter he wrote his first wife, Beatrice Silverman, on Valentine’s eve in 1946 Mailer scribbled what could very well be the mantra of the sincere Modern Jackass.
All of what I have written is bullshit, naive bullshit. I do not believe it, for I cannot believe in anything, but if I could, that is what I would stand for. What do you say, kiddo?…
We say sign us up.
It’s no secret Mailer was a political man. In the time of this unending, mind-numbing election cycle perhaps we can find the reason for his resurgence as the must-know, must-be-emulated ingenue du jure. What better words could be given to our potential leaders and vice leaders, particularly in light of last Thursday’s Vice Presidential debate, than:
If you find that studying economics has no appeal to you, then forget about politics, I don’t mean this snidely. There are any number of other areas of activity which are far more delightful and fruitful for people. I just intend that to dabble in politics, to risk judgments on the halfway level is a completely confusing and unproductive process, and time so spent is best distributed on other things…”
– Norman Mailer to Mark Linenthal and Alice Adams, April 30, 1949 (from The New Yorker).
We imagine past times when politicians could speak on complex problems in complete sentences. We speak of an era when journalists spoke truth to power. The memory of Norman Mailer could just be another trend, or it could be a product of the times. We don’t know. We don’t know anything, but we think those who do would agree that Norman Mailer, who only died a year ago, is more Right than just “right now.”