Mailer on newsprint and newsprint on Boris Johnson

Monday, 24 June, 2019

A summer re-reading of The Spooky Art: Thoughts on Writing by Norman Mailer is especially relevant, considering what has happened to politics and the press and between the press and politics. The most recent example was provided at the weekend by the Guardian, which published the literal words spoken by Boris Johnson and his girlfriend Carrie Symonds in a late-night row in their own home, which it got from a recording made by a neighbour. This particular newspaper is now so determined to damage Johnson’s reputation during the Tory leadership contest that it will happily trash its own alleged commitment to ethical journalism and report verbatim an entirely private conversation. This is a new low for a low industry. Mailer:

“Centuries from now; the moral intelligence of another time may look in horror upon the history implanted into twentieth-century people by way of newsprint. A deadening of the collective brain has been one consequence. Another is the active warping of consciousness in any leader whose actions are consistently in the paper for he has been obliged to learn how to speak only in quotable and self-protective remarks.”

And who among us can deny that this has happened? As newsprint loses its power and presence, television has taken over the job of deadening the collective brain and that torch will, inevitably, be passed to social media. Many would argue that the toxic transition has already taken place.

By the way, Norman Mailer, to his credit, made no bones about his usage of “he” throughout The Spooky Art. In the preface, he writes: “By now, at least as many women as men are novelists, but the old habit of speaking of a writer as he persists. So, I’ve employed the masculine pronoun most of the time when making general remarks about writers. I do not know if the women who read this book will be all that inclined to forgive me, but the alternative was to edit many old remarks over into a style I cannot bear — the rhetorically hygienic politically correct.”

If there’s one reason to celebrate the late Norman Mailer, it’s that: his aversion to the rhetorically hygienic politically correct.


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