Norman Mailer Celebrates Writing and Himself in 'New' Collection

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 2, 2003 | Go to article overview

Norman Mailer Celebrates Writing and Himself in 'New' Collection


Byline: Rex Roberts, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Published on the occasion of his 80th birthday, "The Spooky Art" collects Norman Mailer's thoughts on writing, a festschrift to himself. The two-time Pulitzer-Prize winner ("Armies of the Night" and "The Executioner's Song") refers to himself as "author and assembler," although J. Michael Lennon, who edited "Conversations with Norman Mailer" 15 years earlier, appears to have culled the material from decades of essays, interviews and symposiums. Mr. Mailer made the final cut, supplying a gloss here and a transition there, acknowledging Mr. Lennon's contribution by dedicating the book to him.

"The Spooky Art" is repackaged goods, then, Mr. Mailer's second retrospective in five years. ("The Time of Our Time," released on his 75th birthday, is his greatest-hits collection arranged as a narrative of the last half century.) Of course, Mr. Mailer long has excelled at the art of collage, his 1959 "Advertisements for Myself" a compendium of various writings reworked as autobiography. So it's curious that he barely addresses this technique in his remarks on craft. Then again, Mr. Mailer admits he is "a bit cynical" about the whole notion of craft.

"Craft protects one from facing endless expanding realities - the terror, let us say, of losing your novel in the depths of philosophical insights you are not ready to live with," he tells us in a paragraph lifted from an interview conducted by Steven Marcus for the Paris Review in 1964. (A 10-page list of acknowledgements at the end of the book provides a key to when and where Mr. Mailer first made the remarks cobbled together for "The Spooky Art.") "I think this sort of terror so depresses us that we throw up evasions - such as craft. Indeed, I think this adoration of craft makes a church of literature for that vast number of writers who are somewhere on the bell-shaped curve between mediocrity and talent."

Point well made and well taken, but anyone who has discussed Mr. Mailer over a whisky in one of his former New York haunts eventually finds himself arguing about the practice of New Journalism and the ethics of "true-life" novels and the contributions of researcher Lawrence Schiller to "The Executioner' Song," about murderer Gary Gilmore, and "Oswald's Tale," about assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.

Mr. Schiller and Mr. Mailer share copyright on both books, yet Mr. Mailer mentions their relationship just once in "The Spooky Art," in the set-up for a self-deprecating anecdote about himself as the American Tolstoy. Wouldn't young novelists, raised in an era of sampling and pastiche, benefit from a frank discussion of the writer's relationship to his sources and his collaborators?

Mr. Mailer does comment on literary influence, noting that "The Education of Henry Adams" served as an unconscious model for "The Armies of the Night," despite that he had dismissed the book during his years at Harvard.

"I happened to pick up Moby-Dick," he continues in a paragraph gleaned from an interview in Esquire in 1991. "I hadn't thought about Melville ten times in the last thirty years, but as soon as I read the first page, I realized my later style was formed by Melville, shaped by his love of long, rolling sentences full of inversions and reverses and paradoxes and ironies and exclamation points and dashes."

He also provides guidance to writers tempted to appropriate material from their own lives - that is, writers who seek out experience in order to validate their prose. "Certain events, if they are dramatic or fundamental to us, remain afterward like crystals in our psyche," he writes in a chapter titled "Living in the World." "Those experiences should be preserved rather than written down. They are too special, too intense, too concentrated to be used head-on. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Norman Mailer Celebrates Writing and Himself in 'New' Collection
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.