Sunday, January 23, 2005

The Marvelous Mr. Mailer

In, of all places, Parade magazine, Norman Mailer makes a plea this week for the elimination of commercial television. His argument is well-reasoned and supported, as well as passionate. He seeks this change for the protection of our children -- to ensure that they develop the ability to read and learn.
Notice that he is not decrying all television, just the commercial interruptions that, he argues, destroy our children's capacity to concentrate.
I have read two Norman Mailer essays in the past few years that I believe are evidence of his brilliance. One, in The New York Review of Books, provided a brief yet insightful analysis of the "masculine" impulses that led to the invasion of Iraq. The other is this piece, in the least likely of venues for an intellectual.
I have read a fair amount of Mailer's work over the years, although I will admit to major gaps. More than 20 years after I read it, I recall The Executioner's Song as one of the most trenchant literary works I have ever encountered (I'm still not sure what to call this book -- I believe "nonfiction novel" was the label given it at the time). I've read good Mailer, such as The Naked and the Dead, and bad Mailer, such as the unfinishable novel Ancient Evenings. I consider him one of the most underrated writers of the 20th century. His personal combativeness has often seemed to overshadow his writing talent.
I believe he will be well remembered by history, and I think late-career essays such as this one in Parade will contribute to his lasting reputation.