Writings of the general word's body

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Norman Mailer - 1923-2007

"We're meaner and more competitive than athletes... No one understands that writers have personalities quite as ugly as the ugliest athlete."

In January, I began a post about Muhammad Ali with the then very much alive Norman Mailer who, when asked by Vanity Fair which living person he most admired, named 'The Greatest'. It should not have surprised, since Ali had been a hero of Mailer's since ever.

The Observer of Sunday 11 November was chock full of Norman Mailer, and I delighted in reading every word. They rehashed every glory, every failing: he drunkenly stabbed his second wife, almost fatally - she refused to press charges, angering the women's liberation movement; he bit off part of the ear of the actor Rip Torn, which brought to my mind all sorts of dark wordplays concerning the thespian's name - and which, bizarrely, made think: 'Oh, at least Mike Tyson wasn't the only one that did that, and I ought to stop feeling shamed on the uncouth boxer's account'. Who'd have thought Mailer and Tyson would have a meeting ground?

The 'ear-ripping', happily, was the only thing perhaps that Mailer shared in common with Tyson. The great writer's boxer of choice as previously noted, was Muhammad Ali. Mailer said of Ali: "There is always the shock of seeing him again. Women draw an audible breath. Men look down. They are reminded again of their lack of worth."

With all the extraordinary Mailer high-jinks recounted after his death, you felt the obituarists were almost urging you to hate the man. If you dare. But I read with awe, as I expect many people did. Norman Mailer once threw a punch at his great rival, Gore Vidal - and missed - whereupon the latter quipped: "Lost for words again, Norman?"

Nice one. But even Vidal would concede, ultimately, that words never failed the literary pugilist. My enduring image of Mailer is from the Oscar winning documentary of Ali's legendary 'Rumble in the Jungle' boxing match against George Foreman in Zaire (DR Congo). Mailer's anecdotes about his hero and the bout, delivered to the camera by an old man who beamed with the excitement of a young boy at the memory - are a joy to watch. One of the many things that make the documentary, 'When We Were Kings', special.

When all is said and done, Norman Mailer lived exactly the way he wanted. How many people live such a wildly varied life, marry 6 wives and sire 9 children and still write 'The Naked and the Dead'? What the hell, he's saying somewhere up above, now.


a very public sociologist said...

I read somewhere, with interest, that there are still 11 unpublished novels in existence.

Norman Mailer might be gone, but the publishing world won't be forgetting him in a hurry.

Waffarian said...

I saw a very interesting documentary about him, not the one you mentioned here, but he was captivating as well. So many anecdotes, I wanted so much to write them all down but could not be bothered to miss any bit of him. My favourite part was when he talked about Hemmingway. He said he admired Hemmingway for "his style" of writing, and for the fact that Hemmingway taught him to "overcome fears", but as a man....he had no respect for him. He went on to talk about the "vanity" and other flaws of Hemmingway's character, heheheh, I am telling you it was funny! He also talked about his political aspirations of those days and his "utopia" ideas he had for society.... I could go on and on... ah! he had a great personality and character!