Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Creator: Norman Mailer

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie or a creator. This week’s Spotlight Creator is Norman Mailer:

Here he is interviewed by the conservative icon, William F. Buckley. It’s too bad we can’t have such a respectful discussion between liberals and conservatives these days.

In the 1950s, many proclaimed Norman Mailer as the great American novelist, the successor of Ernest Hemingway. His career began with The Naked and the Dead (1948). During the 1950s, he struggled to write a successor that would live up to that first novel’s potential. But still the critics hoped. Unfortunately he was not Hemingway. He was Norman Mailer.

Then he took on the establishment and his persona grew and grew until he seemed to be everywhere. It made some wonder when he had time to write. It got to the point where it seemed that when Norman Mailer farted, the world stood up and applauded. Then he turned to non-fiction and journalism.

His Armies of the Night (1968) won the Pulitzer Prize. Between that book and his masterpiece, The Executioner’s Song (1979), for which he won his second Pulitzer, he wrote several journalistic works like Of A Fire on the Moon (1971) and The Fight (1975). He seemed to have found his subject, American society in the last half of the twentieth century as seen by Norman Mailer.

Norman Mailer was accused of being a misogynist. He found it easy to get into a fight. His personality was that of a brawler. Of all the writers who came out of the World War II generation, Norman Mailer seems to have the potential to become that which he dreamed of most, the great American novelist. With only a few exceptions, he fell short. It seemed like much of his life he was in search of a subject. And such a struggle it was. But always there was his ego.

For writers and artists, Mailer can be a warning. Never let your ego get in the way of your art. But one thing that Mailer reminds all of us about. Words matter, and writers matter. We forget that at our own risk. They tell us things we don’t want to hear. They tell us the truth. If for no other reason, that’s why Norman Mailer matters.

And here is Mailer’s legacy to his fellow writers:

Half breed

I am a half breed and it’s only recently that I realized it. What do I mean ‘halfbreed”? I mean that I have one foot in one world and the other in another world. It was Rick Bragg’s “The Prince of Frogtown” that brought me that revelation, thank you very much.

You see, Rick Bragg hails from the same corner of Northern Alabama that I do. And many of the same kind of kin that make up one world. Blue collar folks who worked in the cotton mills and the steel mills, the garages and in the cotton fields and on the farms of that patch of earth. Hard working, good hearted, quick tempered, hard drinking, plain-speaking, deep-in-the-heart-of-the-South people who would give the shirt off their backs if you needed it.

Folks who are saved by the Blood of Jesus kind of people. People who work with their hands and not their minds. People who dig their hands in the dirt and come up empty way too often and who are without two dimes to rub together way too much. Folks who are as common as dirt and damned proud of it. People who take pride in their great granddaddy and spend much time looking backward into the past as if it was sacred. People who believe the South didn’t lose the War. Appomattox was only a truce. People who are deeply patriotic and won’t allow nobody to say a mean thing about these United States within their ear shot, but don’t believe the government is worth a damn thing. People who are described in the song “I am a Way Faring Pilgrim” and who have a natural poetry about them if you look deep.

It is from this side of the mountain that I take my love of a good story and have a y’all vernacular. It is from these folk that I first came to love the Bible and its stories and its language, much like Eudora Welty describes in her memoir “One Writer’s Beginnings”. It’s from this side of the mountain that I have seen how hard life can be for the least of God’s children. It is from these folks that I acquired my sense of justice. And the belief that if Jesus was around he’d be on the working folk side of things.

Then there’s the other foot that seems to have very little in common with the first foot. It is a world where creativity and the mind matters. Where education matters and where there’s a whole big world out there to love and to see. The future is all filled with hope. It is a world where the government is a part of the solution. It is a world where science matters. It is a world of literature and art and music, not just country and gospel, but jazz and classical and rock and roll, and it’s a world of dance and theater.

Most of my life I have made my best effort to escape the first world and move completely into the second. It’s been a long, hard struggle. But there’s no fighting it. I am beginning to understand that both worlds make up the who I am. Somehow I think that this was much of the struggle D. H. Lawrence went through. He would always have that coal dust in his bones and there was never any getting away from it.

So my job is to bring these two halves together and make them into one whole, unique human being. Can I do it? I don’t think it’s done overnight and who knows the work may never be complete. But here’s to trying.

Have you ever felt you were apart of two different worlds?