Ithaca Blog

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Brief and Less Consequential Appreciation of Norman Mailer

We suspect that Norman Mailer was read much more by men than women, with his purported enmity to (or at least genuine unappreciation for) feminism, his frequent incivility to women (which escalated at least once into criminal violence), and the general beastliness of his public persona.

We further suspect that in fact he was not really read all that much, by anyone. The majority of his books were hugely idiosyncratic both in subject and style.

But he wrote a couple of historically great ones: "The Naked and the Dead," in fiction, and "The Armies of the Night," a non-fiction account of American politics during the Vietnam War.

We read both in adolescence, which is probably the best age for appreciating Mailer, or at least for first contact.

No one else has mentioned it - why would they - but Mailer created the word "fug" (and its grammatical derivatives) in "The Naked and the Dead" to replace a word he could not get past that era's censors, that he felt was crucial to the veracity of the dialogue of the soldier characters in his book.

We were adolescents. It was the 1970's. We loved it. We loved it more when we found out it was the source of the name of one of our favorite bands, from the Lower East Side. Apparently the Fugs loved it too and found it too funny to not steal.

Audacity to the point of absurdity, frequently, was part of Mailer's style. But so were passion and intellect. He was both a patriot and an anarchist, and we will miss him for that.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

No comments: