Academic journal article The Mailer Review

The Writer in Opposition

Academic journal article The Mailer Review

The Writer in Opposition

Article excerpt

WHEN THE FUTURE WRITER, Norman Mailer, was seven years old, the famous novelist, Sinclair Lewis, spoke about American writing of that era.

Generous praise for young Hemingway, for Thomas Wolfe in Look Homeward, Angel. For Dos Passos, Wilder, Faulkner and others. Young writers, he said, "who refuse to be genteel and traditional and dull."

These writers gave to America, he said, "a literature worthy of her vastness."

Mailer would become such a writer, of course. In his case the vastness wasn't "mountains and endless prairies and enormous cities," in Lewis' words, but the great spill of the culture itself--the rich, crazed, spacious and dangerous times in which he lived and wrote.

A novelist is supposed to be an individual alone in a room. But Mailer seemed to be everywhere, writing everything--novels, poems, plays, stories, essays, journalism, movies and advertisements for himself.

He was the writer in opposition, the individual who confronts power, and in his case reaches for a handful himself--"running for President," he said, "in the privacy of my mind." And of course running for Mayor as well, not so privately, a spectacle in three dimensions, or maybe four or five.

In those converging tides of war, politics, protest, liberation, assassination, conspiracy, sex and death, God and the Devil, Mailer was not just a voice but a force--chronicler, participant, and provocateur. …

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