New York Magazine

Skip to content, or skip to search.

Skip to content, or skip to search.

Before the Literary Bar

THE COURT: Would Mr. Mailer define “wimpy”?

MAILER: Muscles like cold spaghetti might do it, Your Honor.

THE COURT: You are saying that women feel about elegance the way men feel about machismo?

MAILER: Well, sir, I would say many men decide to reject machismo. They see it as a trap that can dominate them. I expect many women feel that any undue longings toward elegance might direct them from more individual solutions to their lives. Nonetheless, I expect no man puts down machismo without a little uneasiness, and I think it is the same for women and elegance. The rejection of elegance can be haunting. Miss Monroe, having her voluptuous figure and no neck, was not free of the desire to be elegant. In fact, I think it was a major force in her life, a true source of motivation.


PROSECUTOR: Mr. Mailer is doing his best to be his eloquent best. Still, you are saying, if I may dare to summarize, that your imaginary autobiography wishes to study her desire to rise above sordid beginnings, to become elegant.

MAILER: Something of the sort.

PROSECUTOR: Please forgive these inelegant expressions of your elegant intentions.

THE COURT: Will the prosecution forgo this? The prosecution is elegant enough for all of us.

PROSECUTOR: Thank you, Your Honor. Mr. Mailer, if I understand you correctly, you are saying that every excerpt read in court until now can be justified by you, whether factual or not, as material that can reasonably have occurred in Miss Monroe’s life.


PROSECUTOR: Not literally true, but aesthetically true.

MAILER: Yessir. Well put.

PROSECUTOR: So you believe that up to here, through the exhibits cited, you have not maligned Miss Monroe’s nature nor denigrated her character.

MAILER: I believe that.

PROSECUTOR: Even though you mix the real and the fictional, you have succeeded in giving a portrait of her that, hopefully, is more true than fact itself.

MAILER: Yessir.

PROSECUTOR: Would you also agree that when a portrait cheapens a character, the portrait can hurt the reader’s mind, that is, injure his future powers of perception?

MAILER: Yessir. There are some who would say that is what the moral nature of literature is all about.

PROSECUTOR: How then would you characterize our next excerpt? Please read Exhibit B, page 88 to 91.

DEFENSE: Before Mr. Mailer begins, would the court again instruct the witness that he need only reply to the prosecutor’s questions. He does not have to expatiate on them.

THE COURT: Maybe Mr. Mailer thinks he is being paid by the word.

[The defendant reads]

We passed through several rooms, and one had knives and guns on the wall, and another with zebra stripes for wallpaper, and then a room with nothing but filthy pictures all nicely framed, and the last room was big and had a photograph and a table with drinks, and a lot of couches on which guys and girls, and guys and guys, were lying around in a very dim purple light, just enough to see that there was a lot of purple nakedness in this neck of the woods, worse—I couldn’t believe it. This was the first Hollywood party of the sort I’d grown up hearing about. I was used to walking in on a roommate who was under the covers with a fellow, but never anything like this. There were twenty people.

Then I saw our host. Bobby was naked except for cowboy boots and a Stetson hat, and he was walking a Doberman pinscher on a leash around the room, a huge female I suppose, because she had a diamond collar around her neck. But as the dog came up to one couple, it tried to mount, and I saw my mistake. She had a lot of male in the rear. Bobby was giggling like a two-year-old, because the dog kept jumping forcibly into all these lovers’ midsts, if you can say such a thing. There were screams and shouts galore—“Bobby, get Romulus away! Bobby, you’re a madman.”

I would have thought our host was horrible, but when he came up to me, he gave the sweetest smile I’d seen in a year, as if he’d spent his childhood eating nothing but berries and grapes, and when he kissed me, his mouth was tender. I couldn’t get over that, his mouth was as good as Edward’s, who had the best mouth I’d ever kissed, but Bobby was also strong. I’d never been introduced to a man who was naked before, you learn so much that way, and his skin felt smooth as a seal and terrific to the touch. I couldn’t keep my hands off. It was as if he was one boy who everybody had been rubbing love into since he was a baby. Oh, did his lower lip pout.

Current Issue
Subscribe to New York

Give a Gift