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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 3: A New Gospel

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One of the most curious comments made by Norman Mailer still early in his career appeared in a “Postscript To The Third Presidential Paper,” written, as Mailer states, in 1960. After praising, albeit ambivalently, Kennedy’s meteoric rise to power and his putative embodiment of a new cultural shift in America, Mailer suddenly changed his stance: “The night Kennedy was elected, I felt a sense of woe, as if I had made a terrible error, as if somehow I had betrayed the Left and myself. It was a spooky emotion.”162 This feeling is understandable, yet somewhat belated, since Mailer had already deserted the traditional Left in 1957 with the publication of “The White Negro.” Although it was initially published in Dissent, “The White Negro” may have well been published in an anarchist journal, since it had little to do with socializing private property and the quest for distributive justice as with the individual being compelled to sever all ties with society and pursue a life free of all socially approved norms, including the right to exercise unrestrained violence.

Something momentous occurred in Mailer’s intellectual journey: he left Marx and travelled to Nietzsche.163 Important parallels exist in the literary careers of both Mailer and Nietzsche. In one of his early works entitled Unfashionable Opinions (Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen) (1873), Nietzsche assumed the role of the cultural critic, assailing German culture for its lack of depth and originality. Obviously enjoying the role of the heretic, Nietzsche dismissed the claim...

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