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Noman Mailer: ego as a novel

by Dave Riley
Mailer is forever shouting at us that he is about to tell us something we must know or has just told us something revelatory and we failed to hear him or that he will, God grant his poor abused brain and body just one more chance, get through to us so that we will know. Each time he speaks he must become more bold, more loud, put on brighter motley and shake more foolish bells. Yet of all my contemporaries I retain the greatest affection for Norman as a force and as an artist. He is a man whose faults, though many, add to rather than subtract from the sum of his natural achievements.” --Gore Vidal on Norman Mailer.
If you can cut through the ego, Norman Mailer was worth almost every word. Larger than fictional life, his most aptly named book has to be Advertisements for Myself.

But coming into the sixties quickening, Mailer's attempt to straddle journalese and fiction in such documentary narratives as Miami and the Siege of Chicago and Armies of the Night made politics so darn exciting and passionate. Mailer made doing it more fun than just reading about it and wanking on.

He made protest chic while keeping it serious and suggested that 'art' could indeed make a difference by being loud and aggressively angry.

Mailer's politics was always libertarianism writ large on the page -- and his engagements tended to be fickle and short lived as, in time he became more a caricatured pundit of himself. Norman Mailer had an opinion on almost anything it seems.

But the glare and brassiness of his hyper media personality obscures his status as a writer. Anyone who reads The Naked and The Dead has to concede that. Mailer penned one of the great novels to come out of the Second World War and as John Pilger has written in regard to it, Mailer could go beyond himself and lay down "solidarity with the ordinary, universal soldier”.

Now dead at 84 it's hard to relate to him the way I could in the sixties and seventies when I read all he had to offer. But for what he offered then -- true grit, gumption and super confidence buoyed by a collective arrogance, I thank him.

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