"Don't Go Away Feeling Unequal": "The Time of Her Time" and Mailer's Conciliatory Impulse

By Stubin, Enid | The Mailer Review, Fall 2016 | Go to article overview

"Don't Go Away Feeling Unequal": "The Time of Her Time" and Mailer's Conciliatory Impulse


Stubin, Enid, The Mailer Review


LET ME BEGIN WITH A CONFESSION: in November 2007, I was denied reappointment one year before tenure at the college where I had been teaching for three years. At once I began the sullen crafting of an appeal designed to tap the wellsprings of justice within my audience, a committee of four faculty and one doughty administrator who did business on a daily basis with my detractors. That letter went through close to two dozen drafts, each one longer, less fiery, more apologetic and conciliatory than the one before. This revisionary process did not make me a kinder or gentler person. The clock was "stopped," in the legalese of union jargon, while I filed my complaint with the questionable help of a grievance "counselor" clearly opposed to my position and me, and I closed out the year dwelling on the possibilities and implications of losing my job. Meanwhile, the online publication of an essay I wrote about a former boss, the soi-disant Indexing King of American publishing, arrived on a freshet of optimism: the magazine's editor, a sprightly Brit with an encyclopedic knowledge of Russian-Soviet history, a natty wardrobe, and an enduring love for the oeuvre of Bob Dylan, made much of it and me, praising my portrait and announcing in the journal's beautifully designed website my subject as the person he most wished to meet in 2008. I was suddenly somebody in a glamorous layer of the blogosphere, and in the tattered back-and-forth of professional hope and dread, I was asked to comment on the recent death of Norman Mailer.

A familiar presence in my literary--is there any other?--life, Mailer had been ensconced as eminence gris, rabbi, the father every child must oppose and defend against, for as long as I'd been reading paperbacks. I had come upon An American Dream hard on the heels of the schlocky 1966 film adaptation (which Mailer had had a hand in writing), but I discerned the vast difference between Stuart Whitman's craggy Stephen Richard Rojack and the alter-ego Mailer had created for his novelistic investigation of film noir themes. (Although in looks, background--Polish Jewish parentage and amateur boxing credentials--and demeanor, could Mailer have designed a better avatar?) Even the movie's theme song, "A Time for Love," a wispy bossa nova composed by Johnny Mandel, with predictable lyrics by Paul Francis Webster, and not so much sung as exhaled by Jackie Ward, the off-camera voice for Janet Leigh, seemed a commercialized nod to Cherry's flawed but moving interpretation of "Deep Purple" in the book. What I mean to say is that Mailer was a figure--both writer and public persona in the "double life" examined by his most thoughtful biographer, J. Michael Lennon--I absorbed the way some adolescents claim Bronte or Salinger or Lawrence, learning what I didn't understand but learning it nonetheless. And so, in a way he would doubtlessly have understood, asked to comment on his death for a stylish online literary and cultural magazine, I recalled the notorious symposium, a spectacularly disruptive "dialogue on women's liberation" held at Town Hall in 1971, dubbed "Town Bloody Hall" by Mailer's fellow panelist Germaine Greer, where Joan Didion or Jill Johnstone (does anyone remember her book of dance criticism cum memoir, Marmalade Me?) or someone who clearly hated him for the press announced, "You know, from the way Norman writes about sex, you can tell that he really isn't very good at it." Posting off my squib, I knew immediately it was a mistake; I had wished to say something else but on the occasion felt weary, defeated, and, to be sure, bereft. Don't worry--I got called out on it by the other editor who had published my work and given me the opportunity to repeat the shabby ad hominem shaft.

Coming of age with a writer anchors one in history, both literary and personal. Having read An American Dream, that indigestible but tasty homage a Hemingway and banquet of settled scores, at perhaps too early an age, I tied myself to the Colony Card Shop on Central Avenue in Far Rockaway to spin the wire rack of squashy mass-market paperbacks and find Advertisements for Myself, whose italicized instructions confounded an otherwise rapt devotee. …

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