RIP, Norman Mailer


”Crude thoughts and fierce forces are my state. I do not know who I am. Nor what I was.”

Norman Mailer, Ancient Evenings

The White Negro is dead. Norman Kingsley Mailer, the archetypal Brooklyn hipster and Village Voice founder died this morning at Mount Sinai Hospital at 84.

Born January 31, 1923 at Monmouth Memorial Hospital, Mailer grew up in Brooklyn. After Brooklyn he studied at Harvard and was drafted after graduation into the Pacific theater in the army’s 112th battalion during World War II. From his wartime experiences came his first novel, The Naked and the Dead.

As luck would have it, The Naked and the dead became a bestseller and was hailed as ”the great war novel.” Gore Vidal never forgave him for that (Vidal, on the other hand, outlives Mailer, if that counts for anything in the realm of literary combat). Launched in the late 1940’s, Mailer moved back to FishbowlNY territory from a postwar sojourn in Paris and played the role of enfant terrible par excellence.

In the spring of 1955 Mailer founded The Village Voice with several partners. Although he eschewed getting entangled in the daily management of the radical weekly, Mailer’s marijuana-infused columns — hailed as examples of The New Journalism — in many ways anticipated the pompous and aloof strem-of-consciousness ranting style of blogs.

Mailer’s meditations during the 1950s into The Hip, jazz, sex, race and violence culminated in his most celebrated essay ”The White Negro.” The essay was published in 1957 in Dissent magazine. ”The White Negro’s” glorification of violence anticipated the great social upheavals of the latter half of the 60s as well as Mailer’s sadistic stabbing of his then-wife, Adele, three years after the essay was published. James Baldwin, a friend of both Mailers, criticized the naive race reductiveness and distinct lack of cool in his classic 1961 article in Esquire called ”The Black Boy Looks at The White Boy.”

Mailer’s most blog-like essay ran in Advertisements for Myself, a rambling goulash of a tome. That book featured the combative essay ”Evaluations: Quick and Expensive Comments on the Talent in the Room” trashed such literary lights as Truman Capote, Gore Vidal and Anatole Broyard. During his lifetime Mailer was a frequent contributor to Esquire, Playboy and Commentary, among other magazines.

After Hemmingway’s death Mailer fancied himself the ”Heavyweight champiton of American letters.” Who now will take up that weighty mantle?


(image via achievement)