MAILER: That walk was delightful–don’t get around much anymore. Ha!
ME: So, in its own way this interview has been a relief?
MAILER: In some ways, yes. It’s good to get out once in a while. But in other ways not at all. I’m terribly angry about this country’s direction.
ME: Not the first time is it?
MAILER: You’re talking about John Kennedy, aren’t you?
ME: Impossible not to. At first you loved the guy. I remember what you wrote about the 1960 Democratic convention: “Yes, this candidate for all his record; his good, sound, conventional liberal record has a patina of that other life, the second American life, the long electric night with the fires of neon leading down the highway to the murmur of jazz.” In fact, you called him “an existential hero.”
MAILER: Well, in looking back I was wrong about many things. That was one of them. His secret war on Cuba, the Vietnam war. His snarky little brother, Bobby. So I did what was called for. Joined organizations and protests about their policies and leadership. Now I look around and see virtually the same thing. A Black President. A man who seemed as a flame to moths and had the potential of becoming a transformational figure for real change. But nothing is different. America continues its horrific downward slide.
ME: I don’t disagree, but which slide are YOU talking about?
MAILER: Where should I start? Well, any war that requires the suspension of reason as a necessity for support is a bad war. Right now, we’re in several. And I include the one on our liberty in the name of security. Talk about the suspension of reason! Also, one only has to look at the stranglehold the corporate world and their media has on the American people. My god, they bought themselves a Supreme Court that allows the ruling class to own any candidate they choose. And finally, we have an ideological schism that is tearing the nation apart.
ME: On the last page of Miami and the Siege of Chicago, you predicted the cultural divide. “We will be fighting for forty years…” And we have been.
MAILER: A fight we have apparently lost. As well as losing any semblance of a middle class. It’s quickly becoming a society of those that have and those who don’t.
ME: In Oswald’s Tale you wrote, “If a figure as large as Kennedy is cheated abruptly of his life, we feel better, inexplicably better, if his killer is also not without size. Then, to some degree, we can also mourn the loss of possibility in the man who did the deed. Tragedy is vastly preferable to absurdity.” So you believe we are living in the absurd?
Mailer shook his head and rubbed his eyes. He was growing tired.
MAILER: It’s much worse. That quotation was about individuals and their lives. Now we’re talking about an entire empire disintegrating and I have no faith that we won’t take the rest of the world with us. Throughout my entire career people always talked about “Mailer’s ego.” But, if the world perishes, it will occur because of America’s ego. Rather than absurdity, we’re mired in tragedy.
ME: I’m surprised that you’re as pessimistic as this. You spent much of your life “boxing” for causes in which you believed. Was it your death that changed your attitude?
MAILER, reaching for the bottle and pouring the remains into his glass: Abbot. Jack Abbot. The letters that flew between us while he was in jail convinced me he was rehabilitated. After his parole I had it in my power to help him by getting IN THE BELLY OF THE BEAST published. I think something changed in me after he fatally stabbed that waiter six weeks after parole. I never realized how deeply I was affected until after my own death. Now I understand my role in that will stick with me for eternity.
ME: Well, your political outlook was much more upbeat in 1969 when you ran for Mayor of New York City.
MAILER: Whose wasn’t? Of course I was hopeful. It was also 15 years before Abbot.
ME: Hopefulness or an ego trip?
MAILER: That’s certainly how they portrayed it at the time. But tell me New York City wouldn’t be better off as its own state? In 1969 citizens of New York City paid approximately $22 billion in income taxes to the federal government and New Yorkers only received about $6 billion from federal coffers. If the city kept that $22 billion in their own hands every neighborhood would get a lot more bang for its buck.
ME: Perhaps, but your slogan, “THROW THE RASCALS IN,” made the campaign kind of a joke, don’t you think? Isn’t that why it was called an ego trip?
MAILER: I liked the slogan they wouldn’t print: “NO MORE BULLSHIT!” And where is it written that campaigns have to be dull and serious? Certainly not at that moment in time. Even though the press focused on my succession plan, I took positions on a wide range of issues. I opposed compulsory fluoridation of the water supply. I advocated for the release of Black Panther Party leader Huey Newton. I saw the city, its independence secured, splintering into townships and neighborhoods, each with their own school systems, police departments, housing programs, and governing philosophies.
And no one seems to recall that I was endorsed by libertarian economist Murray Rothbard, who said, “smashing the urban government apparatus and fragmenting it into a myriad of constituent fragments’ offered the only answer to the ills plaguing American cities.” And finally no less a political journalist and historian, Theodore White, called it, “one of the most serious campaigns run in the United States in the last five years… [H]is campaign was considered and thoughtful, the beginning of an attempt to apply ideas to a political situation.” Not entirely an ego trip was it?
ME: You do remember that you came in fourth out of five candidates?
MAILER, yawning: I was ahead of my time. Always have been. You didn’t pound on my grave-site because I was a “know-nothing.”
ME: I pounded on your grave because I think you are one of the most important and creative writers this country has ever produced.
MAILER, rising somewhat wobbly to his feet: Well, we certainly agree about that. But right now I’m a bit tired. Not as alive as I once was. And, as for my giant ego, would you mind helping me home?
“I don’t think life is absurd. I think we are all here for a huge purpose. I think we shrink from the immensity of the purpose we are here for.” Norman Mailer
A PARTIAL BIBLIOGRAPHY OF NORMAN MAILER’S WORK:
The Naked and the Dead. New York: Rinehart, 1948.
Barbary Shore. New York: Rinehart, 1951.
The Deer Park. New York: Putnam’s, 1955.
An American Dream. New York: Dial, 1965.
Why Are We in Vietnam? New York: Putnam’s, 1967.
The Executioner’s Song Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1979.
Of Women and Their Elegance. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1980.
Ancient Evenings. Boston: Little, Brown, 1983.
Tough Guys Don’t Dance. New York: Random House, 1984.
Harlot’s Ghost. New York: Random House, 1991.
The Gospel According to the Son. New York: Random House, 1997.
The Castle in the Forest. New York: Random House, 2007.
The Deer Park: A Play. New York: Dial, 1967.
The Short Fiction of Norman Mailer. New York: Dell, 1967.
The Armies of the Night. New York: New American Library, 1968.
Miami and the Siege of Chicago: An Informal History of the Republican and Democratic Conventions of 1968. New York: New American Library, 1968.
Of a Fire on the Moon. Boston: Little, Brown, 1970.
The Prisoner of Sex. Boston: Little, Brown, 1971.
St. George and The Godfather. New York: Signet Classics, 1972.
The Faith of Graffiti. New York: Praeger, 1974.
The Fight. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1975.
Of a Small and Modest Malignancy, Wicked and Bristling with Dots. Northridge, CA: Lord John Press, 1980.
Why Are We At War?. New York: Random House, 2003 ISBN 978-0-8129-7111-8
The Spooky Art: Some Thoughts on Writing. New York: Random House, 2003.
The Big Empty: Dialogues on Politics, Sex, God, Boxing, Morality, Myth, Poker and Bad Conscience in America. New York: Nation Books, 2006
On God: An Uncommon Conversation. New York: Random House, 2007
Advertisements for Myself. New York: Putnam’s, 1959.
The Presidential Papers.New York: Putnam, 1963.
Cannibals and Christians. New York: Dial, 1966.
Pieces and Pontifications. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1982.
Marilyn: A Biography.[a] New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1973.
Portrait of Picasso as a Young Man: An Interpretive Biography. Atlantic Monthly Press, 1995.
Oswald’s Tale: An American Mystery. New York: Random House, 1996
Famous essays and articles
“The White Negro”. San Francisco: City Lights, 1957.
Decorations and Awards
1969: Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for The Armies of the Night
1980: Pulitzer Prize for The Executioner’s Song
2002: Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art, 1st class
2005: National Book Award for Lifetime Achievement
2006: Knight of the Legion of Honour (France)
Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France)