Tag: Norman Mailer

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.


Mailer on the money

Tuesday, 11 June, 2019

A parable from The Spooky Art: Thoughts on Writing by the late Norman Mailer:

“The story is that Robert Rauschenberg was once given the gift of a pastel from Willem de Kooning. Rauschenberg, with de Kooning’s permission, erased the pastel and then signed it ‘Pastel by de Kooning Erased by Robert Rauschenberg’, after which he sold it. The story bothered me. There was something profound there, but how to get a hold of it? Then it came to me: Rauschenberg was saying that the artist has the same right to print money as the financier: Money is nothing but authority imprinted upon emptiness.”

Willem de Kooning


Billy Crystal goes 15 Rounds with Muhammad Ali

Sunday, 5 June, 2016 0 Comments

Next Friday, in Louisville, Kentucky, Billy Crystal will go 15 Rounds with Muhammad Ali, one last time. It should be a memorable eulogy.

“Ali, gloves to his heads, elbows to his ribs, stood and swayed and was rattled and banged and shaken like a grasshopper at the top of a reed when the wind whips, and the ropes shook and swung like sheets in a storm, and Foreman would lunge with his right at Ali’s chin and Ali go flying back out of reach by a half-inch, and half out of the ring, and back in to push at Foreman’s elbow and hug his own ribs and sway, and sway just further, and lean back and come forward from the ropes and slide off a punch and fall back into the ropes with all the calm of a man swinging in the rigging. All the while, he used his eyes. They looked like stars, and he feinted Foreman out with his eyes, flashing white eyeballs of panic he did not feel which pulled Foreman through into the trick of lurching after him on a wrong move.” — Norman Mailer, The Fight (1975)


Ego fighter

Thursday, 30 April, 2015 0 Comments

Norman Mailer raised the bar high for those who write about boxing with the opening lines of King of the Hill, his take on the “Fight of the Century” between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in 1971. Snippet:

King of the HIll“It is the great word of the 20th Century. If there is a single word our century has added to the potentiality of language, it is ego. Everything we have done in this century, from monumental feats to nightmares of human destruction, has been a function of that extraordinary state of the psyche which gives us authority to declare we are sure of ourselves when we are not.

Ego is driving a point through to a conclusion you are obliged to reach without knowing too much about the ground you cross between. You suffer for a larger point. Every good prizefighter must have a large ego, then, because he is trying to demolish a man he doesn’t know too much about, he is unfeeling — which is the ground floor of the ego; and he is full of techniques — which are the wings of ego. What separates the noble ego of prizefighters from the lesser ego of authors is that the fighter goes through experiences in the ring which are occasionally immense, incommunicable except to fighters who have been as good, or to women who have gone through every minute of an anguish-filled birth, experiences which are finally mysterious.”

Floyd “Money” Mayweather Jr. has the ego thing. “All roads lead to Floyd Mayweather,” he’s fond of saying. He has filmed himself surrounded by heaps of dollars, and he likes to have $10,000 in cash in his pocket as walking-around money: “You never know when you might need a Brioni shirt.” As a child, he saw family members destroyed by drugs and he learned early on to look after Number One. HBO boxing commentator Jim Lampley called Mayweather “an often aggressively distasteful human being whose behaviors are a blight on the boxing landscape.” In the ring, though, he is one of the great defensive specialists in boxing history, as his 47-0 record shows.