Academic journal article The Mailer Review

Conceptualizing Lived E Xperience: Mailer as an Intellectual

Academic journal article The Mailer Review

Conceptualizing Lived E Xperience: Mailer as an Intellectual

Article excerpt

If a writer really wants to be serious he has to become an intellectual, and yet nothing is harder.               --Norman Mailer, qtd. in Norman Mailer a Double Life (128)  This need for redemption on the part of past epochs who have directed their expectations to us is reminiscent of the figure familiar in both the Jewish and Protestant mysticism of man's responsibility for the fate of a God who, in the act of creation, relinquished his omnipotence in favor of human freedom, putting us on an equal footing with himself.                                     --Jurgen Habermas, The Philosophical 

Discourse of Modernity (14)


My intention in this essay is twofold. To begin with, I would like to provide a brief account of what being an intellectual has signified for nearly two centuries. Then I will articulate how Mailer as an intellectual raises day-to-day experiences in the lifeworld to conceptual and symbolic levels. This articulation shall constitute the framework for an intellectual within the parameters of an existential phenomenology, as I understand it. Ultimately, I believe, this proposed intuitive process will constitute an intellectual methodology and its inherent discourse, which in turn endows our world with theoretical and symbolic dimensions of universality. I see these dimensions evolve at the intersection of our human subjective-objective lived experiences in the interstices of the lifeworld we inhabit. In this fashion, the lifeworld distinguishes itself from naive realism and solipsism by absorbing both within itself in an intellectual vision of human existence. This somewhat modified definition of the so-called "classical intellectual" will allow me to explore how Norman Mailer partakes of his own intricate existential phenomenology as the framework of his own endeavors as an intellectual in various subtle and complex ways.

My definitional search should make apparent how Mailer raised his concrete particular experiences by his educational formation and exceptional imagination onto the plane of intellectual discourse. This intellectual transformation of his lived instinctual experiences enabled Mailer to establish strategies to offer heuristic and hermeneutic approaches to his work as a writer. Such strategies led to Mailer's highly novel and distinctive responses to problems of yearning to open up an unlimited space of acquiring knowledge.

Consequently, in his essays and in his fiction, Mailer's practices reveal his idiosyncratic imaginative vision as a primal but unusually intellectual vision of the lifeworld. His imagination often propels itself forward by seemingly raw instinctual energies, seeking explosive fulfillment of sexual desires that constitute the powerful if repressed unconscious forces of the id for Freud. In this regard, in spite of his progressive modernist time-consciousness, one might call Mailer's sense of time as an essayist and novelist regressive-progressive. Here again, Mailer remains faithful to his significant intellectual pattern of dialectical integration of opposites, which here weds the determinacy of the instincts and the progressive indeterminacy of creative imagination within the framework of the "mind of an outlaw."

I would say that Mailer's creative vision of the human existence surfaces from the depth of the lifeworld. Hence, his theoretical concerns issue forth from an experiential perspective of the lifeworld. My proposed definition of Mailer as intellectual derives from the ability of our consciousness to double on itself as it were and offer its constituting intended objects of the life-world in their absence as conceptual and symbolic images.

In this sense, concepts and symbols will make evident Mailer's immersion in the specificity and particularity of objects of our perception on the one hand and the subjective conceptual and symbolic generality of concepts on the other. Mailer goes beyond the subject-object dichotomies toward a Hegelian dialectical synthesis of opposites. …

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