Friday, November 18, 2011

J. Michael Lennon on Why Mailer Matters

J. Michael Lennon, he of long friendship with Norman Mailer and now a Mailer scholar and biographer, gave an address to the Norman Mailer Society on November 10, 2011 entitled "Why Mailer Matters: Three Reasons." The address is short, some 900 words, and brisk in the characteristically sharp and clean prose that Lennon writes.

One of Lennon's provocative assertions is that Mailer's "... actual novelistic achievements, while brilliant, sit in the second row behind his successes in the polemical essay and several kinds of nonfiction narrative  ...". Would Mailer himself agree with that? I think of Peter Matthiessen who has said that he thinks of himself as a novelist (Far Tortuga) first and foremost. How did Mailer view himself? Lennon will no doubt engage this topic in considerably more depth in his forthcoming massive Mailer biography.

The name that comes to mind when considering who else might have made it into Lennon's assertion that:
"Mailer was the most important public intellectual in the American literary world for over 30 years, and along with other figures such as William Buckley, Saul Bellow, Gore Vidal and Susan Sontag, helped establish the creative writer as important a commentator as politicians, pundits and professors." ? How about Allen Ginsberg?

Mailer, Ginsberg, Burroughs, 1983
photo by Jerry Aronson

Mailer, Ginsberg and Ashly Montagu
on the John Crosby Show, late 50s?

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