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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 9: “The Last Serious Novelist”

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After Ancient Evenings, Mailer, undaunted by the critical reception of his Egyptian novel, continued to pursue his theological interests. Two of his last four novels were couched in theology—The Gospel According to the Son (1997) and The Castle in the Forest (2007), and his final work, published three months before his death—On God (2007)—was an ambitious restatement of all of his theological positions expressed intermittently over the preceding decades.565 A case can even me made for Harlot’s Ghost being a variant of Mailer’s theology, since the protagonists seemed to be actuated by warring impulses of good and evil under the auspices of an imperfectly functioning bureaucracy, which he later remarked in The Castle in the Forest and On God constituted the organizational structure of heaven and hell.566

Mailer was not completely comfortable with the term theology, as he wrote in the introduction to On God: “Whenever I tried, however, to advance my notions by readings in theology, I was repelled. The works were studies, for the most part, of the unstated but dictatorial injunction to have faith. They were undernourished in their appetite for inquiry, and full of ideological dicta” (OG, xiv). In characteristic Mailerian fashion, he placed at the center of his theology a metaphor: God is a less than supreme artist:

In consequence, the conviction grew that I had a right to believe in the God I could visualize: an imperfect, existential God doing the best He (or She)...

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