Saturday, November 10, 2007

Writer Norman Mailer Dead at 84

Mailer was one of the most prolific authors and artists, both loved and hated. He passed away this morning from acute renal failure at the age of 84.

Here are some of the many articles devoted to the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner.

MSNBC/AP: Writer Norman Mailer dead at 84 -- "Mailer built and nurtured an image over the years as pugnacious, streetwise and high-living. He drank, fought, smoked pot, married six times and stabbed his second wife, almost fatally, during a drunken party."

Reuters: Author Norman Mailer dies aged 84 -- "Mailer's works were often filled with violence, sexual obsession and views that angered feminists. He later reconsidered many of his old positions but never surrendered his right to speak his mind. Detractors considered him an intellectual bully and he feuded with fellow authors like Truman Capote, William Styron, Tom Wolfe and Norman Podhoretz."

CNN: Prolific, outspoken author Norman Mailer dies -- "Author of "The Naked and the Dead," "The Armies of the Night" and "The Executioner's Song," Mailer was probably the most famous of the generation of writers who came of age after World War II -- he was certainly the most colorful, and most pugnaciously so."

Critical Mass: Norman Mailer, 1923-2007 -- "There was a time when Norman Mailer used to talk about the Big Book. It prowled the interviews he gave in the 1950s like a white whale, blasting into view and then plunging back into the darkness, where it would lurk until the next publication date. With each decade, and each new book, from The American Dream to The Executioner's Song, until his novel about Jesus Christ, The Gospel According to the Son, it seemed like Mailer might yet drag his promised catch to shore. And at 84, America's most pugilistic novelist has done something unusual. He's beginning to say he may not get it."

The Nation: Norman Mailer Brawled With Bush to the Bitter End -- "There is much, much to be said of Norman Mailer, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and world-class rabble-rouser who died Saturday at age 84. But the pugilistic pensman would perhaps be most pleased to have it known that he went down swinging. The chronicler of our politics and protests in the 1960s with two of the era's definitional books--1968's Armies of the Night and Miami and the Siege of Chicago, did not rest on the laurels--and they were legion--earned for exposing the dark undersides of the presidencies of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.

Time: Why Norman Mailer Mattered -- "He was, of course, a great conundrum. It was even there in his voice, which hovered in some undisclosed location between the Brooklyn of his youth and the Harvard of his student years. That the arc of his own career was one of his perennial subjects was not just a measure of his egotism — which was boundless — but also of his certainty that the judgment upon him of public opinion was, itself, an important sign of the times. He could never stop measuring his reputation against every other writer's; he spent years waving his Brooklyn matador's cape at Hemingway, boxing with Tolstoy (and anybody else who got in his way) and always licking his own wounds. Mailer's forte was intricate readings of his own inner conditions. His mistake was to believe in them too much as a guide to the wider world. But as Mailer would have asked: What else do we have to go on?"

New York Times: Norman Mailer, Outspoken Novelist, Dies at 84 -- "Mr. Mailer belonged to the old literary school that regarded novel writing as a heroic enterprise undertaken by heroic characters with egos to match. He was the most transparently ambitious writer of his era, seeing himself in competition not just with his contemporaries but with the likes of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky."


Anonymous said...

Is it just me or was Norman Mailer a really bad writer?

I mean on the most basic, technical level, the man could not write a proper, let alone a flawless, sentence.

I have read a fair amount of Mailer and I actually enjoy his storytelling ability, but I have always felt his status as 'literary giant' was a complete sham.

He was in fact closer to a pulp writer with intense ambition and sufficient cunning to orchestrate a career for himself.

But back to his writing... Please open any one of his books at random and choose a random sentence. In my experience it is almost guaranteed there will be an obvious stylistic flaw (usually poor word choice).

Also his writings on metaphysical questions literally don't make any sense but that's another matter.

I know this may seem like bad timing but I have long wondered whether other people agree with me on this, and I don't know anyone in real life who has an opinion on Mailer.

william harryman said...

I've only read a couple of his books (and several short stories and articles), but I've never been a real fan of his writing -- like you say, he technically isn't all that good on many occasions. He can tell a good story, though.

But he was, for whatever reason (most likely his sheer force of character), one of the last "iconic" writers. It's a sad thing that we don't really have authors anymore who are widely known outside of literature circles, but he was one of those writers.

There is much to dislike about the man and his ideas. He was a brute, in many ways, and carried some mystique because of that. But there is also some good writing (never great), some iconic moments in American history that he was at the center of.

I'll miss Vonnegut much more than I'll miss Mailer. I think that says it all for me.