11 November 2007

In Memoriam

"Once one enters the land of massive social communication, of network communication, once one becomes attached to the machine-belt of the mass media -- specifically, in our case, the assembly line of the columnist -- there is no desire to retain even the father's ghost of a thought. There is only power for the sake of power, and it is cowardly power for it masquerades in coy and winsome forms. On the surface there is only the attempt to entertain in a conventional way.

* * *
"Therefore, I propose to try something I do not believe I can accomplish. I will try to write for you (this column to the contrary) as if I were talking in my living room, or in yours. So my opinions will be half-formed, if not totally inarticulate, but at least they can be awkwardly close to the questions I am really thinking about."
Mailer wrote the above in 1955, as he was embarking on a short career as a weekly writer for the Village Voice, a paper he co-founded. On the strength of it, let's declare him a patron saint of bloggers, because he seems to be aiming at what most bloggers aspire to, consciously or not. In the same column, he went on to complain that the Voice would not let him use obscenities, a handicap many bloggers have long since transcended, sharing Mailer's belief that "obscenities communicate a great deal in the living room and indeed in other places as well," and that "they awake, no matter how uneasily many of the questions, riddles, aches and pleasures which surround the enigma of life."
I got these quotes from Advertisements For Myself, a self-compiled compendium of Mailer's writings from the 1950s. In my view, he really came into his own as a prose stylist in the 1960s, and from that point could be fairly called the greatest American essayist of the latter half of the 20th century. I like his welding of an erudite vocabulary and an anarchic, aggressive sensibility, and in spite of his ultimate failure to reconcile a belief in social justice with a personal doctrine of perpetual rebellion and ambition. The more I read his work from 40 or 50 years ago, the more he strikes me as a prophet in many ways. I find may of his ideas congenial, and some repugnant, but I think he fares well in the balance. Here's one of the good ideas, again from his Voice columns:
"The glimmer of hope on all our murky horizons is that civilization may be coming to the point where we will return to voting for individual men (or individual women) rather than for political ideas, those political ideas which eventually are cemented into the social network of life as a betrayal of the individual desires which gave birth to them."
I picked up Advertisements after hearing of Mailer's death yesterday. Over the next week I intend to go back to some of my earlier readings and post more of his opinions that stand my test of time.


hobbyfan said...

In reading of Mailer's passing, I was made aware that at one point in the 60's, he'd run for Mayor of NYC, with Jimmy Breslin as his running-mate. That would be filed under, "I did not know that". In your opinion, do you believe that he might've made a run for President during this era as well?

Samuel Wilson said...

In Advertisements For Myself Mailer wrote: "Like many another vain, empty and bullying body of our time, I have been running for President these last ten years in the privacy of my mind." In this instance, I don't think he meant it literally, but as a metaphor for his feeling of boundless ambition. In 1956, he actually proposed nominating Ernest Hemingway for President, which led to the comment I quoted on Sunday.