Monday, 12 November 2007

NORMAN MAILER

You feel a personal connexion to writers whose writing is important to you - you have spent so much time in their company, thinking their thoughts.

I read Ancient Evenings 6 times between 1984 and 1990, and 2 of those times I finished it and then started it again straight away: I loved immersing myself in the world of that book, with its sensuality, perfumes, palm trees, dust, rituals and conspiracies. There's something OCD about its Egyptian nobles' attempts at immaculacy amid the mud of the Nile and the dust of the desert, and there's an anxiety under the ritual, prayer and protocol they use to try to keep their souls and society clean. Ancient Evenings puts you in to the heads and consciousnesses of the characters, and through their 5 - and sometimes 6 - senses Mailer lets you experience the blunt, smooth or scratchy edges of their experience of their world.

At the time I would guess I knew it as well as Mailer did, though differently. After 1990 I left it alone so that it would seem fresh when I read it again, and I might not like it now - the Battle of Kadesh seemed less good as an extract in The Time of Our Time, though that may be because it was out of context - in most good writing the words all rely on each other, woven tightly together, and separately they lose impact and emphasis.

I used to read The Last Draft of The Deer Park when ever I was scared or depressed, because it made me feel better. It is a factual piece about rejection and humiliation, and anger, depression and exhaustion - and Mailer's patient, introverted absorption in revising and refining the proofs of The Deer Park line by line and word by word - at first with excitement and then, closer to the deadline, slowly and strugglingly in a fog of sleeping pill hangovers and tiredness. Following the honest downs and ups and struggles of the piece - Mailer was always bothered about being brave and usually honest about feeling fear - always helped me; and you can learn more from it than from anything else I know of about how to write and refine your writing sentence by comma by sentence.

When famous people die they are on the news and you can be more conscious of them than you were the day before. Though this is true with Norman Mailer, I had also been watching him in the last few weeks on YouTube clips - Charlie Rose interviews and a real act of violence with Rip Torn in Maidstone - and a 2007 interview where he explained for me why most of us accept this change in our society to a system where we are all suspects who answer to the state and have to prove our innocence. "Fascism comes back to our infancy and our childhood when we were always told how to live," he said: " ... the secret of fascism is that it has this appeal to people whose later lives are not satisfactory."

1 comment:

theSue said...

if you haven't seen it, if you can find it, i highly recommend "Mailer on Mailer" a auto-documentary that was aired on PBS. it's brilliant! i wore out my video tape of it.