Academic journal article The Mailer Review

Tales of the "Great Bitch": Murder and the Release of Virile Desire in an American Dream

Academic journal article The Mailer Review

Tales of the "Great Bitch": Murder and the Release of Virile Desire in an American Dream

Article excerpt

The Doors seemed unconvinced that love was brotherhood and the Kama Sutra. The Doors' music insisted that love was sex and sex was death and therein lay salvation. The Doors were the Norman Mailers of the Top Forty, missionaries of apocalyptic sex."

Joan Didion in The White Album, 1979 (21)

"I think the condition of America is close to the condition of a man who is going to go psychotic in another year or two unless he finds love."

Norman Mailer Interview (McGrady 114)

In a 1955 letter to fellow writer Don Carpenter, Mailer expresses relief in finishing An American Dream, saying,

The seventh installment's pretty good and the eighth has a bing-bang ending. You didn't think I was going to be squeezing the last drops off my cock at the end, fellow-racketeer--no, I gave them the spatty bit bit spatty be-deet from my old tommy gun. (Norman Mailer's Letters 49)

While the overt sexual nature of this comment was not uncommon for Mailer in this period-he openly discusses sex and sexuality in many interviews throughout the fifties, sixties and seventies--the way in which he equates the writing process with sexual virility is fitting for a novel as sexually graphic as An American Dream.

As early as the mid-1950s Mailer was already linking creative expression and sexual performance, using both to construct a vision of masculinity centered in virility and sexual release. In a conversation related in The Spooky Art, for example, Mailer remembers telling Gore Vidal,

   The novel is like the Great Bitch in one's life. We think we're rid
   of her, we go on to other women, we take our pulse and decide that
   finally we're enjoying ourselves, we're free of her power, we'll
   never suffer her depredations again, and then we turn a corner on a
   street, and there's the Bitch smiling at us, and we're trapped. We
   know the Bitch has still got us.

      Every novelist who has slept with the Bitch ... comes away
   bragging afterward like a G.I. tumbling out of a whorehouse
   spree--"Man, I made her moan" goes the cry of the young writer.
   But the Bitch laughs afterward in her empty bed. "He was so sweet
   in the beginning," she declares, "but by the end he just went,
   'Peep, peep, peep.' (58)

Mailer's conception of novel writing as having intercourse with a "Great Bitch" (1) reveals much about Mailer's concerns regarding his own Performances--both sexual and creative. For Mailer, creative expression, like sexual performance, involved the release of something innately true about oneself. (2)

In Mailer's early fiction, characters who attempt to escape this essential masculine self are invariably thwarted; in the end, that is, the "Great Bitch" will get him. In that sense, Mailer envisions a masculinity in which sexual performance constitute a fundamental expression of gender identity. In addition, by gendering creative expression as the relationship between a man and his "bitch," writing becomes an exclusively male activity whose result resembles a sexual orgasm. The production of that orgasm--whether he "made her moan" or just went "peep, peep, peep"--directly correlates with masculine power, and masculine empowerment becomes linked, both creatively and sexually, to virility.

An American Dream serves as a reflection of these beliefs--the culmination of a paradigm whose inception can be traced to World War II. Mailer's perception of his relationship to women parallels his relationship to the novel. Both, he eventually concludes, constitute a "great bitch" that threatens to emasculate him. At the same time, the story of Stephen Rojack becomes a symbol for the Cold War masculine condition, as Rojack undertakes a sexual quest that Mailer would argue lies in the heart of every man. Mailer offers an existential vision of masculinity. Rojack can empower his masculine identity through violent and sexual feats, but he can never really achieve the orgasmic Eden that Mailer describes in his 1956 essay, "The White Negro," where he asserts that men are always in search of "the apocalyptic orgasm" (347). …

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