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Norman Mailer and the Modernist Turn


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 8: “A World Elsewhere”


Of all the various genres that Norman Mailer devoted himself to, science fiction was well-nigh avoided. For someone who was continually pontificating about the future, this is a surprising omission. One short tale, however, does reveal Mailer’s awareness of this genre. In Cannibals and Christians the final piece, “The Last Night: A Story,” is a tale of Armageddon or apocalypse, a short story that claims not to be a short story, but a “treatment”—the raw material for a screenplay that ought to be made into a movie. Mailer’s prefatory note is, however, replete with cunning, since he disclaims at the outset any originality, any stylistic novelty—in short, any presumptions that the story bears any literary merit. What is interesting or significant about this tale is that Mailer’s apocalyptic vision has become an intrinsic part of the narrative:

The world has succeeded in poisoning itself. It is no longer fit to inhabit. The prevalent condition is fallout radiation, anomalous crops, monstrous babies who grow eyes in their navels and die screaming with hatred at the age of six weeks, plastics which emit cancerous fumes, buildings which collapse like camphor flakes, weather which is excruciatingly psychological because it is always too hot or too cold. Governments fall with the regularity of pendulums. The earth is doomed. The number of atom bombs detonated by the Americans, Russians, English, French, the Algerians, Africans, the Israelis and the Chinese, not to mention the Turks, Hindus and Yugoslavians, have so...

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