Academic journal article The Mailer Review

Utter Mailer

Academic journal article The Mailer Review

Utter Mailer

Article excerpt


One of the great paradoxes of Norman Mailer's career is that, in a field where literary precedent is considered essential to the understanding of a writer's creative process, there is often deeper insight to be gained through the observation of Mailer at work within the borders of his own idiosyncratic universe. Within these perimeters, the workings of Mailer's mind are made visible, and the organs and systems of his intellect become a visceral map of his philosophy.

Through this corporeal expression of his psyche, Mailer synthesizes the messages he receives through the five senses into a physiological sixth sense: an instinctive processing of the mundane into the spiritual--a transformation of the basest substances into ingenious invention. The richest examples of this talent are often evident through his emphasis on the olfactory and the profound messages he receives from odor in place of his poor eyesight. Throughout his work, Mailer sniffs out valuations of personality and intention, of creation and destruction, of good and evil.

His aural inclinations, however, are often more vested. The implications of the sounds he both receives and emanates spin the fabric of his words in a manner so flawless as to become invisible. However, the unconventional ideas inherent in his selection of consonants, vowels, and syllables inform his readers' perceptions on a subconscious level and endow them with the nerve endings required to sense his verbal synesthesia of sound and substance. Through analysis of his private research and journaling, a more concise understanding of his sonic lexicon can be achieved, and what is revealed is a system of linguistics that is utterly Mailer.

The topic of this paper was inspired by my research into Ancient Evenings at the Harry Ransom Center during the 2011 Mailer Conference in Austin, Texas. During the course of this research, I sought out "Lipton's Journal," Mailer's 1954 private treatise on numerous, developing themes that would come to characterize his oeuvre. In particular, I sought to trace the early lines of Mailer's philosophies on the mechanisms of reincarnation that define the plot and design of his Egyptian novel.

In "Lipton's" I found evidence to support the theories I had on the origins of his mysticism--but beyond that, I found a rich cache of Mailer's vitalistic perceptions as applied to, and generated by, the nature of sound itself. In essence, Mailer laid out a categorization of consonants, vowels, syllables, and the tonal inferences he perceived in their delivery. These generative ideas constitute a polyphony of point and counterpoint by which to appreciate the development of his language in Ancient Evenings.

Throughout the Egyptian novel, character names, word choice, occurrences, and even the ingredients of magic potions are influenced by Mailer's intense analysis of the hieroglyphic rendition of syllables, their meanings, and the permutations of their significance when altered by the slightest nuance of pronunciation. (1) In "Lipton's," the same intensity of analysis is applied to his perceptions of the English language. His semantics derive from a schema all his own, and do not hold up to the scientific rules of linguistics. However, his take on morphology provides one of the purest methods by which to begin to understand the complexity and synergy inherent in his particular brand of genius.

In his research archives for Ancient Evenings, the parallels Mailer draws between English and the sounds signified by hieroglyphics reveal the core synapses between his sensibilities and those of the ancient Egyptians. These affinities are at the heart of his inspiration for the novel he named as one of his most important books, if not his magnum opus, precisely because it was, as his sister Barbara Mailer Wasserman pointed out in the 2007 memorial issue of The Mailer Review, "his most autobiographical novel" (22). …

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