Norman Mailer quotes

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Norman Mailer

Birthdate: 31. January 1923
Date of death: 10. November 2007

Norman Kingsley Mailer was an American novelist, journalist, essayist, playwright, film-maker, actor, and political activist. His novel The Naked and the Dead was published in 1948 and brought him renown. His best-known work is widely considered to be The Executioner's Song winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Armies of the Night won the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction and the National Book Award.

Along with Truman Capote, Joan Didion, Hunter S. Thompson, and Tom Wolfe, Mailer is considered an innovator of creative nonfiction, a genre sometimes called New Journalism, which uses the style and devices of literary fiction in fact-based journalism. Mailer was also known for his essays, the most famous and reprinted of which is "The White Negro". He was a cultural commentator and critic, expressing his views through his novels, journalism, essays, and frequent media appearances. In 1955, Mailer and three others founded The Village Voice, an arts- and politics-oriented weekly newspaper distributed in Greenwich Village. In 1969 he ran an unsuccessful campaign for the mayor of New York.

While principally known as a novelist and journalist, Mailer was not afraid to bend genres and venture outside his comfort zone; he lived a life that seemed to embody an idea that echoes throughout his work: "There was that law of life, so cruel and so just, that one must grow or else pay more for remaining the same."

Photo: Carl Van Vechten / Public domain

Works

„Writing books is the closest men ever come to childbearing.“

—  Norman Mailer

"Mr. Mailer Interviews Himself" in The New York Times Book Review (17 September 1965)

„Ultimately a hero is a man who would argue with the gods, and so awakens devils to contest his vision.“

—  Norman Mailer, book The Presidential Papers

Preface
The Presidential Papers (1963)
Context: Ultimately a hero is a man who would argue with the gods, and so awakens devils to contest his vision. The more a man can achieve, the more he may be certain that the devil will inhabit a part of his creation.

„You're a fool if you don't realize this is going to be the reactionary's century, perhaps their thousand-year reign.“

—  Norman Mailer, book The Naked and the Dead

Gen. Edward Cummings, in Pt. 1, Ch. 3
The Naked and the Dead (1948)
Context: You're a fool if you don't realize this is going to be the reactionary's century, perhaps their thousand-year reign. It's the one thing Hitler said which wasn't completely hysterical.

„Tolstoy teaches us that compassion is of value and enriches our life only when compassion is severe, which is to say when we can perceive everything that is good and bad about a character but are still able to feel that the sum of us as human beings is probably a little more good than awful“

—  Norman Mailer, book The Naked and the Dead

Mailer's Introduction to the 50th Anniversary Edition (1998)
The Naked and the Dead (1948)
Context: For that is the genius of the old man — Tolstoy teaches us that compassion is of value and enriches our life only when compassion is severe, which is to say when we can perceive everything that is good and bad about a character but are still able to feel that the sum of us as human beings is probably a little more good than awful … That fine edge in Tolstoy, the knowledge that compassion is valueless without severity (for otherwise it cannot defend itself against sentimentality), gave The Naked and the Dead whatever enduring virtue it may possess and catapulted the amateur who wrote it into the grim ranks of those successful literary men and women who are obliged to become professional in order to survive …

„I would introduce myself if it were not useless. The name I had last night will not be the same as the name I have tonight.“

—  Norman Mailer

Source: The Man Who Studied Yoga (1956), Ch. 1
Context: I would introduce myself if it were not useless. The name I had last night will not be the same as the name I have tonight. For the moment, then, let me say that I am thinking of Sam Slovoda.

„The concept of hero is antagonistic to impersonal social progress,“

—  Norman Mailer

Superman Comes to the Supermarket (1960)
Context: The concept of hero is antagonistic to impersonal social progress, to the belief that social ills can be solved by social legislating, for it sees a country as all-but-trapped in its character until it has a hero who reveals the character of the country to itself.

„One's condition on marijuana is always existential. One can feel the importance of each moment and how it is changing one.“

—  Norman Mailer

Interview in Writers at Work Third Series (1967) edited by George Plimpton
Context: One's condition on marijuana is always existential. One can feel the importance of each moment and how it is changing one. One feels one's being, one becomes aware of the enormous apparatus of nothingness — the hum of a hi-fi set, the emptiness of a pointless interruption, one becomes aware of the war between each of us, how the nothingness in each of us seeks to attack the being of others, how our being in turn is attacked by the nothingness in others.

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„I love the idea of a left conservative because it gets rid of political cant. We're stifling in it.“

—  Norman Mailer

TIME interview (1991)
Context: I love the idea of a left conservative because it gets rid of political cant. We're stifling in it. One of the diseases of the right is self-righteousness. I do believe that America's deepest political sickness is that it is a self-righteous nation.
One of the diseases of the left is political correctness. If you're out of power for too long, then you just get worse and worse about how important your own ideas are.

„I give an idea to Sam. "Destroy time, and chaos may be ordered," I say to him.“

—  Norman Mailer

Source: The Man Who Studied Yoga (1956), Ch. 5
Context: I give an idea to Sam. "Destroy time, and chaos may be ordered," I say to him.
"Destroy time, and chaos may be ordered," he repeats after me, and in desperation to seek his coma, mutters back, "I do not feel my nose, my nose is numb, my eyes are heavy, my eyes are heavy."
So Sam enters the universe of sleep, a man who seeks to live in such a way as to avoid pain, and succeeds merely in avoiding pleasure. What a dreary compromise is life!

„I don't think we're ever going to have a cheap fascism of Brownshirts and goose stepping or anything of that sort.“

—  Norman Mailer

TIME interview (1991)
Context: I don't think we're ever going to have a cheap fascism of Brownshirts and goose stepping or anything of that sort. We're too American for that. We would find that ridiculous.
But there are always traces of repression. And you can find it in a Democratic government too. People who are "right-minded," you know, are always with us. But I think so long as we can move along with the economy, we're all right. It's just if there's a smash, a crash — that's when I'm not at all optimistic about what's going to happen.

„To make an Army work you have to have every man in it fitted into a fear ladder…“

—  Norman Mailer, book The Naked and the Dead

Gen. Edward Cummings, in Pt. 1, Ch. 6
The Naked and the Dead (1948)
Context: To make an Army work you have to have every man in it fitted into a fear ladder… The Army functions best when you're frightened of the man above you, and contemptuous of your subordinates.

„We sail across dominions barely seen, washed by the swells of time.“

—  Norman Mailer, book Ancient Evenings

Ancient Evenings (1983) Last lines
Context: We sail across dominions barely seen, washed by the swells of time. We plow through fields of magnetism. Past and future come together on thunderheads and our dead hearts live with lightning in the wounds of the Gods.

„Americans have been leading a double life, and our history has moved on two rivers, one visible, the other underground;“

—  Norman Mailer

Superman Comes to the Supermarket (1960)
Context: Americans have been leading a double life, and our history has moved on two rivers, one visible, the other underground; there has been the history of politics which is concrete, factual, practical and unbelievably dull if not for the consequences of the actions of some of these men; and there is a subterranean river of untapped, ferocious, lonely and romantic desires, that concentration of ecstasy and violence which is the dream life of the nation.

„We live in a time which has created the art of the absurd. It is our art.“

—  Norman Mailer

Introducing our Argument
Cannibals and Christians (1966)
Context: We live in a time which has created the art of the absurd. It is our art. It contains happenings, Pop art, camp, a theater of the absurd … Do we have the art because the absurd is the patina of waste…? Or are we face to face with a desperate or most rational effort from the deepest resources of the unconscious of us all to rescue civilization from the pit and plague of its bedding?

„I had a great many prejudices that have since dissolved.“

—  Norman Mailer

TIME interview (1991)
Context: I had a great many prejudices that have since dissolved. But what I still hate about the women's movement is their insistence upon male piety in relation to it. I don't like bending my knee and saying I'm sorry, mea culpa. I find now that women have achieved some power and recognition they are quite the equal of men in every stupidity and vice and misjudgment that we've exercised through history.
They're narrow-minded, power seeking, incapable of recognizing the joys of a good discussion. The women's movement is filled with tyrants, just as men's political movements are equally filled.
What I've come to discover are the negative sides, that women are no better than men. I used to think — this is sexism in a way, I'll grant it — that women were better than men. Now I realize no, they're not any better.

„A hero can capture the secret imagination of a people, and so be good for the vitality of his nation;“

—  Norman Mailer

Superman Comes to the Supermarket (1960)
Context: A hero can capture the secret imagination of a people, and so be good for the vitality of his nation; a hero embodies the fantasy and so allows each private mind the liberty to consider its fantasy and find a way to grow. Each mind can become more conscious of its desire and waste less strength in hiding from itself.

„The world's not what I want it to be. But then no one ever said I had the right to design the world.“

—  Norman Mailer

TIME interview (1991)
Context: It's a misperception of me that I am a wild man — I wish I still were. I'm 68 years old. The rage now is, oh, so deep it's almost comfortable. It has even approached the point where I can live with it philosophically. The world's not what I want it to be. But then no one ever said I had the right to design the world.

„Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Etiam egestas wisi a erat. Morbi imperdiet, mauris ac auctor dictum.“

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