Norman Mailer

By: Anthony Miller
January 31, 2014


NORMAN MAILER (1923–2007) lived and thrived in the flux of his own impulses. A correspondent of his own psyche who assumed various authorial aliases, Mailer delved into the deep recesses of the American Dream. He was a furious rhapsodist of the zeitgeist — a proselytizer of Hip (before the word “hipster” lost its frisson of danger), a co-founder of The Village Voice, and an analyst of the presidential campaign, the boxing ring, and the lion’s den of sexual liberation. As both chronicler and character, he investigated the rites of public scrutiny. The Naked and the Dead made the 25-year-old Mailer an author. Advertisements for Myself, his incorrigibly self-regarding compendium of stories, articles, and cultural pronouncements, made him an oracle. His acute and idiosyncratic reportage in The Armies of the Night, Miami and the Siege of Chicago, and Of a Fire on the Moon ushered in an age of writing that remains with us. Alongside Advertisements and Armies, readers of Mailer should drink deep from The Executioner’s Song, Harlot’s Ghost, and his sixteen-years-in-the-excavation novel Ancient Evenings. (In Armies Mailer mused on Egyptian architecture before deciding “he was not an Egyptologist, no sir” but Ancient Evenings delivered him back to Egypt with a vengeance.) Mailer’s scope was vast, his language exhilarating. Being a novelist was for him the most authoritative of aesthetic vocations, one that also gave him sanction to be a filmmaker and New York City mayoral candidate. Prophetic and preposterous (sometimes in the same paragraph), his prose entwined the historical with the metaphysical, the technological with the theological. When asked in 1955 about the artist’s role in society, Mailer maintained: “I think it is to be as disturbing, as adventurous, as penetrating, as his energy and courage make possible.” Mailer tested limits, courted demons, and thrashed it all out on the page.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: John Lydon, Carol Channing, Grant Morrison, Alan Lomax, Derek Jarman, Freya Stark, Jackie Robinson.

READ MORE about men and women born on the cusp between the New God (1914-23) and Postmodernist (1924-33) Generations.