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Norman Mailer and the Modernist Turn

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Jerry Schuchalter

This study is a comprehensive scholarly treatment of Norman Mailer’s entire œuvre, including not only his fiction and non-fiction, but also his correspondence, his early journal articles and his interviews. It outlines Mailer’s Entwicklungsgeschichte, illuminating the lines of continuity and discontinuity in his literary achievement and shows Mailer’s work to be firmly ensconced in the tradition of Modernism and inspired by the Pound-Eliot axis. It argues that Mailer’s literary opus is intertwined with his worldview, which, despite its inconsistencies and contradictions, contains a systematic structure.
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Chapter 2: Dissent

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Norman Mailer was officially on the editorial staff of Dissent for thirty-seven years, although he appears to have severed his ties to the magazine at the beginning of the 1960s. The actual date of his apostasy is not known, since he allowed his name to be used on the editorial board of the journal as late as spring 1991. His last publication in Dissent was in 1966. In his voluminous writings on an endless variety of themes in American life, Mailer rarely alluded to Dissent. In Advertisements for Myself he referred to his involvement with Dissent as time spent with stuffy and unimaginative Socialists.74 In the same work, he voiced the opposite sentiment, expressing his appreciation for what he called Dissent’s “polemical writing,” signalling out Irving Howe’s work as “first rate.”75 In The Armies of the Night, published nine years later, he again referred to Dissent, this time through the prism of his comic, iconoclastic narrator: “He was fond of the Editors of Dissent, although his private mixture of Marxism, conservatism, nihilism, and large parts of existentialism could no longer produce any polemical gravies for the digestive apparatus of scholarly Socialist minds.”76

Mailer’s overall reticence, however, may belie an immeasurable debt.77 When we reflect upon the formative years of Mailer’s metamorphosis from one type of writer to another, the period when The Deer Park was published in 1955 to when Advertisements for Myself appeared in 1959, we are astonished at the enormous vitality of...

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