Chapter 5: Man the Machine
One year after his book on the Republican and Democratic Conventions of 1968 Mailer was at work on still another book—this time he was in Houston and in Cape Canaveral, musing about the odyssey to the moon and the cultural and philosophical significance underlying this journey. It was obvious that Mailer had abandoned himself to his great passion of deciphering the meaning of America, no longer only by novelistic means, but also by being a witness at seminal events and by devising a hybrid narrative comprising the philosophical essay, the historical chronicle, and the techniques of the novel. However, not only did Mailer’s newfound role of the grand interpreter of America further evolve, but also his understanding of his role as an artist.
Of a Fire on the Moon (1970) begins with Mailer’s reflections on Hemingway’s death, which is a curious prologue to a book on the moon flight. The fact that Mailer’s response is directly experienced as a personal catastrophe suggests that more than the passing of a great writer is being felt. More likely, it was the passing of a great tradition, since of all the pre-war American writers, Hemingway epitomized the ethos of Modernism more brilliantly than any other. Hemingway had been at the fount of Modernism, had hobnobbed with its progenitors, among others, Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein and Ford Madox Ford. It was Hemingway who carried these ideas further, popularising the modernist notions of language and style. More importantly, Hemingway...
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