Mailer GOLDWATER CHALLENGED ‘Once I Pointed to the Farthest Fence He lives in Greenwich Village now. He gets his mail at his sister’s place on Bleecker Street. He has no permanent address. He and his wife are not living together. We talked about how hard it is to avoid mentioning his stabbing his wife when you write a news story on him. Sitting in an arm chair, he smiled ruefully. “Yes, I guess I’m going to have to live with that the next 20 years.” We mentioned that one interview after the knifingwhich turned out to be minorhad him saying something about people not having the courage to enter new areas of consciousness, of which stabbing your wife is presumably one. “Yes,” he said mildly. “I read that somewhere. Yes, I said it.” ‘A Little Weaker’ We discussed the death of Hemingway. ‘I wonder how he and his last wife got along?” Mailer said. “He called her his vest pocket Rubens.” Brightening, Mailer said: “He did? I should be interviewing you!” Later, : soberly: “. .. I just wonder what effect his father’s killing himself had on him. You just must lose some ball from a thing like that. I guess well never know. Maybe in 30 years something will come out.” Mailer said Hemingway’s death affected him. “I feel a little weaker.” Was he on a novel now? “Yes, but I’ve got a long way to go. It’s going to be a really big one. I mean like 2-, 3,000 pages.” Does he write every day? “I believe it’s good to do that. Like a lot of people’s, my life has become complicated. Maybe I’ll write five or six days in a stretch.” But after all, he observed, it wasn’t so bad making a big hit early, and writing lesser stuff after that. It had happened before. “Look at Somerset Maugham. He wrote one big one, ‘Of Human Bondage,’ then he just kept writing and writing and writing.” Yes, he agreed, age affects a writer. “Being a writer is like being an athlete. When you get older you lose certain reflexes. . . . I always do my best work cold sober. But you can get some fantastic effects when you’re high, or have been high. Certain words burst through that wouldn’t otherwise. Then you must go back later and edit.” Mailer was a cocky Harvard man and a beginning writer when he was shipped to the Philippines in World War II. He was trained as an army artillery surveyor, but when he got to the islands he asked to be transferred to an intelligence and reconnaissance unit. \(Such a unit appears in The NakHe wanted to see action and write about it. He was 25 when his first novel established him as one of the finest talents in America. Some people don’t make it till much later than 25, we observed to Mailer. “I don’t know,” he said. “Sometimes I think it’s better to make it when you’re 40 than when you’re 25. At least when you do make it then, you’ll know what it’s all about. . . Have you ever heard of Francis Irby Gwaltning?” he asked. “Gwaltning and I were buddies in the Philippines. We went into different companies so we didn’t see exactly the same Combat. But he wrote a book about the war there called The Day the Century Ended. It’s interesting to compare the perspectives of the two books.” Mailer went to the phone. Speaking quietly to the co-ed, somewhat like a slightly older fraternity man, he said: “Yeah, Susan, sure. Well listen, how long would it take to get out there?” The University skydivers had suggested the big kick was to jump out of an airplane. ‘Other students wanted him to see a ranch. “… things have gotten a little complicated and I’ve got to have three or four hours to myself to get ready for tonight. So if we got out there and were able to spend only thirty minutes or so then that wouldn’t be so good, would it? … All right, Sue.” Standing at the door, Mailer said, “I was really gonna jump!” He gestured, a slight-boned man with large light eyes that peer out from under a he’avy shelf of brow. He is getting puffy around the middle, and at times gives the appearance of a gentle clothier. “What the heck,” he said, “why not jump? All you could do is break your ankle.” Avenue of the Mad At the Texas Union, a thousand students were there to hear him. They filled the ballroom and strained to catch his words over a p.a. system that didn’t carry. For one reason or another over half had drifted away by the time he had read from his Esquire piece on the Democratic convention and had answered questions on national heroes and the Kennedy welfare state and architecture. But there was an unflagging staccato performance of readings, comments, poemswith time out between phases to light cigarette. after cigarette. The tide was in, here in the big smoky hall where students came with dates and with books in their hands: Mailer was part of the stream of voices piped imperfectly from the outside world. The list this year has included Shirer, Bill Moyer, Yarborough; William Buckley due in January, Vincent Price, Hubert ‘Humphrey, Goldwater, Martin Luther King to come. The voice was passionate but level, detached, analytical: Liberal Totalitarianism. Curiosity of the age! The concentration camps exist in the jargon of our souls, one’s first whiff of the gas chamber in the nausea of cancer’s hour, the storm troopers wore tortoise-shell glasses, and carry attache cases to the cubicles in which they work on the Avenue of the Mad.” Mailer was reading “On The Blacks,” words which he had first given the Village Voice, which from there had been found in Canada by Exchange, a review which noted “in spite of all his to create the most telling and most explicit picture of the present day life of North America. In our humble opinion, he is greatest living American writer.” Mailer read on to the students from his comments elicited by the Genet play, in which the blacks other blacks, who perform their ritual murders and then turn on the jury and condemn it to die. In his call for a left and a right as opposed to dead center he read: “The liberal tenets of the Center are central; all people are alike if we suppress the ugliness in each of us; all sadism is evil, all masochism is sick, all spontaneity is suspect, all individuality is infantile, and the salvation of the world must come from social manipulation of human material. That is why people must tend to become the samea bulldozer does not work at its best in rocks or forest. Small accident many of the Negro leaders are as colorless as our white leaders and all too many of the Negroes one knows have a dull militancy compared to the curve and art of personality their counterparts had even 10 years ago. The misapprehension on which they march is that time is on the side of the Negro. If his hatred is contained, and his individuality reduced, the logic of the age must advance him first to equality and then to power \(goes ter makes its dull shifts through guilt and through need. Since the Negro has finally succeeded in penetrating the conscience of the best whites, and since the worst whites are muzzled by our need to grant the Negro his equality or sink a little faster into the icy bogs of the Cold War, the Negro knows he need merely ape the hypocrisies of the white bourgeoisie, and he will win. It is a partial misapprehension. In the act of concealing himself, the Negro does not hasten his victory so much as he deadens the taste of it.” Then he tossed the light flies and skinners to his audience. Two lines of verse here, four there, pitched with a smile, with an occasional show of the warning hand. This one might sting a little. Then he had a small extra, just arrived. John Henry Faulk had told J. Frank Dobie a few days before what Hemingway told the Paris Review what the good writer’s greatest gift was. Dobie was moved to write a hearty piece of endorsement. Therefore, did anyone abject to his reading a little obscenity? Not one single person here objects to obscenity? OK! ‘Mano a Mano’ Mailer was last seen by most of us in Austin as he stood in the front room at Roger Shattuck’s and talked like an amiable champ. It was a sort of anti-Goldwater party. “I challenge Barry Goldwater to a mano a mano across Texas,” said Mailer. “You can’t win every time it depends on the audience. That’s why I want it mano a mano. … But I don’t think he’ll accept. I feel about this like Sonny Liston does about Floyd Patterson.” He bent down. and tweaked the girl with a toe twist in her back. A writer in the crowd said he would like to send Mailer something he wrote. “I’ve got it!” he claimed. Mailer shot him a quick green glance. “We’ll see,” he.replied. Standing with his .feet planted, glass in his hand, Mailer had taken on a belligerent, humorous, sly, light eyed look, a squat, curlyhaired, Russian look. As you listened to Mailer ‘then and as you were to do long after he had goneyou kept getting the shock wave of standards, of impatience for excellence, precision, personal dignity, the thrusting aside of even the half good or the good crust and the rotten center; the feeling of a hard and classical discrimination that derives from the academic and brains and courage and goes past “guts” and “balls.” You thought, it is excellent to be generous with yourself, if you are not just feeding your ego; it is excellent to stir, to cause ideas to begin to squirm under a fatty tissue of getting along. One would almost think if a writer did this he had done enough, had done all anyone could be expected to do. A Hard Question The only thing is, as you thought of the inflamed endless, all-embracing talk like thislike Dylan Thomas’s, like Agee’syou have the impulse, not to be defended by logic, but by something else: What is he doing talking, why isn’t he writing? It is a hard question for a writer to settle, whether he is going to be a popular and sought after conversationalist, a self-revealer and a social critic who writes, or an artist. It is probable that a writer lives on, and wants only to live on, through what he shapes on paper. The scene at Shattuck’s reminded you that Mailer has considered the issue of the artist in his middle span in Advertisements For Myself, where Mailer has considered the problem with the hon esty, the familiar, plain-talking lucid bitter self evaluation that comes sooner or late from all good American writers: “Some of us will probably be launched on a second wave of recognition . . . but what a waste than we ought to be, ten years used up in two or three years of war, and another twenty spent in the fourteen years since. When I come to assess myself and try to measure what chance I have of writing that big book I have again in me, I do not know in all simple bitterness if I can make it. For you have to care about other people to share your perception with them, especially if it is a perception which can give them life, and now there are too many times when I no longer give a good goddamn for most of the human race. I had the freak of luck to start high on the mountain, and go down sharp while others were passing me. So I saw their faces as they learned to climb, and what faces they were . . . Still! There is the fault of others, and the fault of oneself, and I have my debts to pay. Fitzgerald was an indifferent caretaker of his talent, and I have been a cheap gambler with mine. “… I spent my first thirty years abusing my body, and the last six in forced marches on my brain, and so I am more stupid today that I ought to be, my memory is half gone, and my mind is slow; from fear and vanity, I paid out too much for what I managed to learn. When I sit down . . . to pick up again on my novel, I do not know if I can do it, for if the first sixty pages are not at all bad, I may still have wasted too much of myself, and if I have what a loss. How poor to go to death with no more than the notes of good intention. It is the actions of men and not their sentiments which make historythe best sentence I’ve ever writtenbut I would hate to face eternity with that for my flag, since I am still at this formal middle of my life a creator of sentiments larger than my work. In closing the section, Mailer added: “the book will be fired to its fuse by the rumor that once I pointed to the farthest fence and said that within ten years I would try to hit the longest ball ever to go up into the accelerated hurricane of our American letters. For if I have one ambition above all others, it is to write a novel which Dostoevsky, and Marx; Joyce and Freud; Stendahl, Tolstoy, Proust and Spengler; Faulkner, and even old moldering Hemingway might come to read; for it would carry what they had to tell another part of the way.” The next morning after the party he got on a plane and went back to New York. HUMANISM The movement which attracts Independent Thinkers! Ethical, humanitarian; nonpolitical, non-supernatural. Interested ? American Humanist Association welcomes you; local chapters, publications. Send $1 for 3month Trial Membership or $5, for a year: American Humanist Association, Dept. TO-2, Yellow Springs, Ohio. MARTIN ELFANT Sun Life of Canada Houston, Texas CA 4-0686
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