Tuesday, November 13, 2007

I admired him

Norman Mailer, as you may guess from the title of this blog, is a character and a writer I admire. The root of my admiration, since I dare pack whole lives into a few sentences, is that he struggled, to our benefit, honestly and quite publicly with the demons of the human condition that no thoughtful person escapes. Its a praiseworthy stance in a world with exactly one certainty...even though no definitive answers are likely to result from the struggle. Note that my admiration is not any endorsement of the man's views on birth control, sobriety or patience in marriage. It is his courage in surrendering to his muse that gave him fleeting stature and us fleeting glimpses of the bones of our existence.

Where Didion said of Mailer's craft "His sentences do not get long or short by accident, or because he is in a hurry. ", my accidents sometimes have punctuation. Whereas Mailer sometimes seemed to know where he was going, I have bumbled and leaped from fascination to fascination. That the web puts this aimless exploration into fast forward has not been a real help to me, quite the contrary at times. That is why I am unsurprised yet unable to account for why one of the very earliest bookmarks I ever set was for a site called Caskets on Parade, a database of obituaries and a betting parlor of sorts laying odds on when the famous and infamous living may shuffle off. They were already up to date this morning with Mr. Mailer's demise, an inevitability on which they began making book as far back as 1979, a year long predating the web's existence...but then death is old news in all ages.

The New York Times is the source I have quoted or linked most often in this blog. That is one reason Saturday's bit on Mailer by Charles McGrath would be a good way to wind up this potpourri of a blog. In that piece, a fine quote from Gore Vidal [another of my hero's of reason who stand their ground and stare right through the oncoming stampede of the unreasoning]:
Mailer is forever shouting at us that he is about to tell us something we must know or has just told us something revelatory and we failed to hear him or that he will, God grant his poor abused brain and body just one more chance, get through to us so that we will know. Each time he speaks he must become more bold, more loud, put on brighter motley and shake more foolish bells. Yet of all my contemporaries I retain the greatest affection for Norman as a force and as an artist. He is a man whose faults, though many, add to rather than subtract from the sum of his natural achievements.

No one taught me to blog and it shows. Mr. Mailer is an example but not a teacher. My teachers listen to me which causes me to listen to them. Someone who did listen to me enough to say a kind word about my early efforts was Cul "ratboy" Heath. There is news, if you read the comments at his blog, that Cul is in failing health. He is robbed of even the ability to get on line by weakness and the financial evisceration that medical crises entail in a country where only the wealthy and the corporate employee can get sick without paying directly out of pocket the king's ransom proper care requires. That I wrote anything at all after my first few pages can be laid more to the encouragement of a few kind strangers like Cul than to anything else. He was literally the first blogger in the PBA to post a link here. I say "stranger" but I have read too many of the biting intros with which he prefaces his posts to feel I do not know and like his view of the world. His own plight now reteaches the views he, and most progressives, have espoused on the slow-burning disaster that is health care in the US. If Cul cannot drop by here any more to blast the dust off my complacency, one more reason to put my dust elsewhere.

I punned a title for a blog two and a half years ago that I have come to regret for every reason except the attractive collision/synergy of skimpy underwear, search engines and hit counters. I do not wish to parade further under a banner of bent wit and borrowings from the deceased. Bent wit alone will do. But there is enough Google-crawled verbiage here that my ego won't let me kill this blog. So The Executioner's Thong simply comes to a halt and various links and pointers to new enterprises will begin to festoon its rusting hulk like so many kudzu vines creeping over an abandoned pickup truck on the back acres of a failing tobacco farm. Returning from a trip to London last month, I left my spiral bound sketch book of blogging notions in the seatback. I had jotted a sentence or two nearly every day for the first year and spun some of them out into posts. Oddly, I actually feel unburdened and I think the weight was the accretion of a thousand fizzled triumphs imagined vaguely but in truth, better off forgotten. Longer essays may come in the place of this, a more book-like format perhaps, or dead silence, or since I am ruled by impulse, maybe only a name change will occur. The most addicted writing seems to have passed. The drug in addicted writing is merely the self. The little blogroll will stay up or perhaps become annotated since it represents the greatest benefit this blog has brought me: addictive reading and partying or parrying with commenters at Pandagon, Phyrangula, Crooked Timber, Agonist and all those wondrous venues where media turned with the turn of the century: we do not merely read the news, we handle it.

I leave you a pile of pages thick with the worn themes and unanswered questions with which I continue to be obsessed: are humans innately evil? Don't we spend most of our time and make most of our decisions in selfish and deluded states? Why do the world's religions have both endless talk of turning from evil and a record of historical acts written largely in blood? Here is one last observation about good and evil, and one on which minds as diverse as C.S. Lewis and Norman Mailer seem to have implicitly converged:
"Good" is a theory, a guess at what is missing based on what we do not like in our lives. "Evil" is a pervasive fact so familliar only a thoughtful writer would even think about it in a fresh way while preachers and politicians aim a feckless gale of warm worthless conventions to left and right of it. When Mr. Lewis took on the voice of the devil in The Screwtape Letters, he was expert, trenchant and enjoyable. And...
Mr. Mailer’s [last] novel, The Castle in the Forest, which came out [in 2007], was about Hitler, but the narrator was a devil, a persona he admitted he found particularly congenial. "It’s as close as a writer gets to unrequited joy," he said. "We are devils when all is said and done."

Well, that is your problem.

Friday, November 09, 2007

The work of the cursing class

Most of my adult life I have been haunted by the disparity between my high intelligence and my low wages. But if you can't fix one end of a dilemma, you can perhaps hack away at the other. I have found a solution in strong drink, the steady consumption of TV programs and the unquestioning acceptance of thoughts provided to me by politicians and preachers.