Magazine article The Spectator

Mailer and Me

Magazine article The Spectator

Mailer and Me

Article excerpt

New York

Three months before the Americans committed their greatest foreign policy blunder ever, I had gone up to Cape Cod to interview Norman Mailer. Towards the end of his life, Norman called himself a left-conservative, and went as far as to agree that losing one's culture through immigration was not a good thing. But he remained adamant about the evils of American corporations. He blamed them for making America an uglier place to live in since the second world war, a country full of '50-storey high-rise architecture as inspired in form as a Kleenex box, shopping malls encircled by low-level condominiums, superhighways that homogenise our landscapes, and plastic, ubiquitous plastic, there to numb an infant's tactile senses'.

He told me he was opposed to the notion of an American empire because of the allpervasive aesthetic emptiness of the most powerful Americans corporations. 'There are no cathedrals left for the poor -- only 16-storey urban-renewal housing projects that sit on the soul like jail. Sometimes I am tempted to think that I am not so much a left-conservative as a left-medievalist.' Being a left-conservative, he told me, is an oxymoron, 'but there are elements in the remains of left-wing philosophy that are worth maintaining'. Such as? I asked him.

'Such as the idea that a very rich man should not make 4,000 times as much in a year as a poor man.' I remember sitting outdoors in the brilliant sunshine with him, and, after he said that, I told him that my father, who employed some 5,000 to 10,000 workers, made sure the disparity was never enormous because that is what breeds not only communism but also hatred for the haves.

'Try telling that to Henry Kravis, ' he snorted. We then discussed God. 'If you start to talk about God with the average good liberal, he looks at you as if you are more than a little off. But I do believe there is a Creator who is active in human affairs and is endangered. I also believe there is a Devil who is equally active in our existence and is all too often successful.' This was back in 2002. In the five years he had left, Mailer wrote The Spooky Art, on writing, The Castle in the Forest, a novel about Hitler (or the Devil), The Gospel According to the Son, a novel about how Jesus discovers his divinity, and the painful and powerful journey that ensues, and finally a book on God which made mincemeat of all those atheists and publicity-seekers whose names will never appear in this column. His ability to write both fiction and non-fiction, essays and journalism, plays and films singled him out as a very brave writer who was not afraid of risk. …

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