“But cultural history — well, that’s a whole other kettle of white whales, you might say. From figuratively tussling with Hemingway’s ghost and literally arm-wrestling Muhammad Ali to playing bull in the arena to women’s lib, Mailer conflated the roles of spectator and set-upon gladiator in a way that made him, for a while, the literary world’s answer to Bob Dylan. That Mailer saw no point in staying on the sidelines whenever he could scramble onstage is, presumably, what Lennon means to convey with his A Double Life subtitle — Norman as observer versus Norman as participant.”
Tom Carson reviews J. Michael Lennon’s Norman Mailer: A Double Life. I love reading about Mailer, which, for a long time now, has struck me as the central (if not the entire) point of Mailer. I have more books on my shelf by Norman Mailer than by anyone else save a couple critics I probably don’t even need to mention here, and I can claim to have read exactly one of those books front to back. It’s not like it was an agenda item to spend a bunch of years scooping up used Norman Mailer books (mostly those which fall plainly in the “non-fiction” realm) then not actually reading (or anyway, reading very little of) them, but it somehow doesn’t strike me as an inappropriate response. (I feel like I’m ending up in a similar place with Zappa, actually — I probably think about his work more than I’m willing to actually delve into it.) Mailer’s value is more as someone who has played at being a great writer than as an actual Great Writer (though through his “conflating of roles,” he in a way helped decimate, or push people past, the very notion of Great… oh whatever, anyway, I just dig the guy, okay? Flaws, hypocrisies, prejudices and all).
(God I love the Undertones.)