Blows and controversies by Norman Mailer

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Few contemporary writers have been as fond of scandals and polemics as Norman Mailer, the great American chronicler who would have turned 100 on January 31. One early morning in 1960, in the middle of one of his monumental sprees, his then-wife, Adele Morales, he blurted out in front of all the guests that he was no longer the man he had fallen in love with: “You no longer have balls!” He told him. Then he, full of anger and alcohol, took a knife from her pants pocket and plunged it into her abdomen. When those present tried to help her, Mailer, a wounded bull, yelled at them: “Let her die!” Adele survived, and Norman was committed for several months in a psychiatric facility.

Adventurous, macho, foul-mouthed, impulsive, excessive, violent, Norman Kingsley Mailer (1923-2007) was, also and above all, one of the great innovators of narrative journalism and of what is now known as autofiction (in addition to dabbling in essays, theater, novels, cinema, and even in politics). His experience in World War II (despite declaring himself a conscientious objector so as not to be recruited) was reflected in his book The naked and the dead, with which he won over critics and audiences by making a sharp analysis of the power that makes decisions far from the battlefield. “Mailer records every obscene thought of his characters, writes about the savagery hidden in all of us, and amazes with his ability to penetrate the hearts and minds of men,” he summed up. The New York Times and, with those words, catapulted him to fame.

The novel begins with the landing of an American regiment on Anopopei, a small island in the Pacific, with the aim of ending the Japanese. Throughout almost seven hundred pages, the author recounts the long, terrible and useless march of the soldiers through an unknown landscape, always on the edge, overwhelmed by vegetation, in an environment of violence, fear and death. In a series of leaps into the past (clearly differentiated in rhythm and introduced in italics) he tells the life and personality of these guys before joining the Army: Julio Martínez, a Chicano who claims the right to be impregnated with North American myths; Red Walsen, an anarcho-syndicalist miner from Montana; Gallagher, an Irishman from the Boston slums; Ridger, a farmer from the South; Rothstein, a Brooklyn Jew; William Brown, a very formal fellow subscribed to the magazine Reader’s Digest.

But, in reality, the book is dominated by another character: General Edward Cummings, born in the deepest North America, repressed homosexual and sympathizer of fascism, who considers that the most important thing is to fear the superior and that the priority is not to defeat Japan, but to establish a new order. All, however, are men who hate, love and envy each other at the same time. In the dark journey around the island, they question their beliefs and mistrust the ideals that American life has implanted in them and they go from generosity to cruelty without regard: “just like any American”.

Two decades after the publication of that testimonial novel, Norman Mailer turned to reality again and succeeded once more by writing the armies of the night, where he gives an account of another historical event that marked the evolution of American society (and influenced a good part of the world): the so-called March on the Pentagon, in which all the groups of the old and the new left, belonging to to the most diverse urban tribes, customs, social classes and religious beliefs. He and other stars of gringo culture saw, participated in, and suffered firsthand the repression of October 21, 1967, and his book became one of the starkest and most intelligent testimonies about the sixties, its myths, its heroes. and his demons.

The son of a Jewish family, Mailer grew up on the streets of Brooklyn. He studied aeronautical engineering at Harvard, but his vocation was eminently literary. He began writing short stories, which he was frequently rejected, and perhaps for this reason he ventured to found his own magazine with a group of friends: The Village Voice. There she wrote about violence, hysteria and crime. Then he began to alternate his chronicles with essays, novels and biographies (from marilyn monroe a Pablo Picassogoing by Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin of Kennedy). With his keen gaze and his casual analysis, always on top of the news, he established himself as one of the great chroniclers of the New Journalism. Boxing and politics were his big themes.

In 1973 he traveled to Kinshasa, in the Congo, to witness the combat between Muhammad Ali Y george foreman. The chronicle that he wrote that time has remained as one of the great examples of sports journalistic literature. His acid coverage of the national conventions of Republicans and Democrats, and his particular style to portray the great figures of the ring, earned him thousands of readers, critics and envy, while his eccentricities were the fuel of the tabloid press, such as the invitation to one of his six weddings: a penis-shaped card that stretched out as it was opened. Or his attack against the use of contraceptives, with which he would not have been able to have his nine children. Or the times that from TV or from a magazine he challenged to a duel, with a clean blow, someone who had made fun of one of his wives or had insulted one of his books.

Young or old, throughout most of his 84-year life, blows and controversy engulfed his writing. A Susan Sontag He called her a “boring cow” and a “witch” for defending the postulates of the feminist movement. when she posted The executioner’s songa masterful report on the life of the murderer gary gilmore and his sentence to death, Truman Capote He said that Mailer was a talentless writer: “just as he considers that Cold-blooded He is sorely lacking in imagination, I simply note that the two Pulitzer Prizes he won are due to a type of writing very similar to mine. That is why I am happy to have provided you with a small service, ”he dropped in an interview and… Mailer was furious but, for the first time, he did not reply and her silence was interpreted as acceptance that with The executioner’s song followed the trail marked by Capote. She went into other bickering with him (as with Tom Wolfe either Gore Vidal), but they never fought over it. The great chronicler could show off his intellectual honesty.


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