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November 12, 2007


Well said. I can never understand the people who get all exercised about the fact that great writers often have less than admirable personalities and lives. Get over it, and appreciate the writing for what it is. If you somehow found out that Homer was a jerk, would that diminish the Iliad?

I've been doing research about the 1968 Democratic Convention, and Mailer's account is by far the most readable. "Miami and the Siege of Chicago" is well worth reading. I sometimes cringe when I read Mailer--his boasting of sucker-punching Gore Vidal before their appearance on Dick Cavett, for example. But he wrote beautifully.

Beth, I'll miss him too and I can't help remembering the time I had lunch with him at the Algonquin Hotel aeons ago. He gave me a copy of his "Barbary Shore" (the novel that flopped) and signed it to me. Can you believe I LOST IT?
There have been some quite vituperative articles, along with all the posthumous homages, calling him a male chauvinist, sexist, homophobic pig etc. (all of which is pretty much true) but I agree with you and the Hat and Steve that the work still stands even if the personality fails.

Wow. Perhaps I should read Mailer after all. I've never managed to get more than a page or two into one of his books, so most of my impression of him comes from interviews and so forth, where he certainly didn't strike me as someone whose acquaintance, even on paper, I would want to cultivate. In my own iconography of American writers, I've always thought of him as the very center of lovelessness, the perfect example of what an inability to pray does to someone over the long haul. But that's mostly based on the persona, and on one particularly loathsome short story I read -- the story of a marriage in which the partners not only had no affection for each other, but seemed never to have entertained the idea that perhaps they should have affection for each other. I assumed it was because their creator had never entertained the idea either: maybe that was unfair. If you think highly of his writing, I'm sure there's something admirable about it.

LH, thanks for the affirmation of my opinion!

Steve, I liked Mailer's account too - I think he was often at his best when writing about politics, with outrage.

If I were to recommend one book to you, Dale, it might be "Armies of the Night." I never read Mailer's later more gruesome books; his fascination with violence didn't entice me at all. But I do want to read the God book. In some ways what I admire is his risk-taking.

Natalie - no I can't believe you lost it, but how great that you have that memory! I'm glad you feel the work stands, even though you had personal experiecne of some of the less savory sides of his personality.

Arianna Huffington wrote a good piece about Mailer on her blog, also from personal experience - worth reading.

I liked when Mailer had Abbots letters published, championing a disgusting human being, listening to him, because he DID have something to say and he COULD say it well. One needn't be "professional", or even a decent human being, to have something to say and the ability to say it well. OTOH, being able to write, or even being able to make one's living on writing, doesn't actually give one anything at all of importance to say. In its own way it encourages me to write and to disregard the ones who would protect their own turf by dismissing other voices.

Hi CG - thank a lot for commenting and for these thoughts on Mailer and on the rest of us. I certainly agree with you.

It's good to know about your blog, and read your evocative writing. Thanks for letting me know you're there.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.