Mailer’s Ghost

Photo: Harvey L. Silver/Corbis

MAY 5, 1969
“I Run to Win,” by Jimmy Breslin, Mailer’s running mate in the mayoral race.
“Mailer began to talk about the right and the left mixing their flames together and forming a great coalition of orange flame with a hot center… I was uneasy about Mailer’s political theories. Then I … said something about there being nine candidates for mayor and if New York tradition was upheld, the one who got in front in the race would be indicted. When I saw Norman Mailer laughing … I decided that he was very smart at politics.”

AUGUST 16, 1976
“A Harlot High and Low,” a post-Watergate essay on the CIA.
“It is against the background of this mammoth of shuffled identities, concealed fortunes, fever-hot enclaves, secret killers, paranoid visions, osmotic bureaucratic walls, pervasive unaccountability, double agents, infiltrated capers, and cross capers that we attempt to look at Watergate … we are blind and can only try, through the distorted reverberation of the echo, to improve our knowledge of the mood. Of course, that is the true perception of the blind.”

NOVEMBER 10, 1980
“Before the Literary Bar,” a self-interview in defense of his Marilyn Monroe quasi memoir.
Prosecutor: Would you say this work presents itself as an autobiography by Marilyn Monroe?
Mailer: Originally, I wished to title it On Women and Their Elegance, by Marilyn Monroe as told to Norman Mailer, but it was decided the title could prove misleading to the public, who might think the interview had actually taken place …
Prosecutor: It is made up.
Mailer: More or less.

MARCH 28, 1983
“Mailer Goes Egyptian,” a profile of Mailer by Marie Brenner; he’d just published the novel Ancient Evenings.
“The beautiful young girl just out of Princeton … asks whether he’s read a recent interview with William Styron … ‘When Bill and I were young, fiction was everything. The novel, the big novel, the driving force. We all wanted to be Hemingway; he was the clear influence.’ Mailer pauses and his voice becomes sad. ‘I don’t think the same thing can be said anymore. I don’t think my work has inspired any writer, not the way Hemingway inspired me.’”

OCTOBER 16, 1995
“Black and White Justice,” a long Q&A about the O.J. Simpson acquittal. “The verdict was good for black emotion but terrible for whites. They now feel that black reactions are totally irresponsible. How can you live and work, whites will claim, with people who have no regard for the facts, and don’t live emotionally in our society, don’t understand our feelings? Of course, blacks feel the same way about whites… If we can’t find some way for blacks and whites to come together, this country is going to head for fascism.”

AUGUST 9, 2004
“Father to Son: What I’ve Learned About Rage,” a dialogue, with his son John, about President Bush.
“It could be that the most incisive personal crime committed by George Bush is that he probably never said to himself, ‘I don’t deserve to be president.’ You just can’t trust a man who’s never been embarrassed by himself. The vanity of George W. stands out with every smirk. He literally cannot control that vanity. It seeps out of every movement of his lips, it squeezes through every tight-lipped grimace. Every grin is a study in smugmanship.”

OCTOBER 15, 2007
“The Rise of Mailerism,” a conversation between Mailer and J. Michael Lennon that’s drawn from his final book, On God.
Lennon: You did remark that not all souls are recycled.
Mailer: I believe the soul is a gift from God. Of course, you can abuse any living gift. Any number of people may end by saying, ‘All I want is a little peace. Let me sleep forever.’ They may be given just that.

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Mailer’s Ghost