Diabolos Ex Machina

Somewhere around page 60 of The Castle in the Forest, the new novel by Norman Mailer, my heart sank. Progress through the next three hundred pages or so demanded a steady effort to hoist it back into place, somehow, through sheer force of will and imagination -- to conceive some sense in which the "revelation" by the narrator about his identity could be justified, hence redeemed.

And so I tried, really I did. No reader could have been more willing to give Mailer the benefit of the doubt. A couple of times it almost seemed possible.

But by the final hours, the battle was lost. Each time we revisted the domain of Mailero-Manichean cosmological meandering, the sinking feeling would return, redoubled. (My review of the book ran this weekend in Newsday.)

When Mailer uses the essay or interview form to work out his thoughts and provocations, the result is often more artful, not to mention more cogent. The series of his miscellanious collections that began with Advertisements for Myself (1959) and ran until Pieces and Pontifications (1982) contains a lot of his best work.

So I was glad to see that John Freeman put up a short interview with Mailer yesterday at Critical Mass. Among other things, it includes one of the points he's been making over the past couple of years about democracy and eloquence -- something that strikes me as not simply interesting, but true:

Look, democracy depends -- it's very good when a democracy has a leader who speaks well. People really do take their cue from how well the leader speaks. FDR was able to turn the nation around because he spoke so beautifully. He had such command of language, such a love of language, such concern for it. The English were able to keep themselves together after losing the Empire because they had Shakespeare and they have a tradition of speaking well. And when you have a leader who speaks in dull slogans you are stupefying the mind of the country. That's his greatest sin -- even greater than Iraq. Is America is a dumber country now. The average person in America is dumber than they were in 2000.

This is overstated but he's on to something.

And now, because this is a blog -- which means total freedom from the obligation to create more than the most arbitrary transitions from one thing to another (yay! parataxis!) -- the present entry will end with a passage from Alfred Kazin that I read while doing laundry last week:

What makes this society so marvelous for the gifted rebel, and so awful, is that, lacking all standards by which to counter or question the new, it hungrily welcomes any talent that challenges it interestingly -- but then holds this talent in the mould of its own shapelessness; the writer is never free enough of his neighbors and contemporaries to be not simply agin the government but detached from it....What will become of [Mailer] God only knows, for no one can calculate what so overintense a need to dominate, to succeed, to grasp, to win, may do to that side of talent which has its own rule of being and can never be forced.

That, from an essay first published in 1959. It is reprinted in Kazin's book Contemporaries (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1962).

January 29, 2007 1:56 PM | | Comments (0)

Categories:

Leave a comment

Recent Work

Fidel Castro: My Life 
A review from Newsday
40 Years of "The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual" 
Marking the anniversary of Harold Cruse's great book
Style and Grace 
A review of a book by the late, great Grace Paley from ... sheesh, almost ten years ago.
Oh, Canada 
National identity -- going south?
The LaRouche Tabernacle Choir 
An interview with me about the LaRouche movement, on Pacifica radio in Los Angeles
Open Library 
An interview with Aaron Swartz, one of the developers....
Sailing From Ithaka 
The new report calling for a digital platform for scholarly publishing deserves a wide audience
more

Readings

Battle of the Titans 
Dinesh D'Souza and Alan Wolfe debating? Imagine a slime mold in conflict with a patch of mildew. It's just that inspiring.
To the Tehran Station 
Not about Edmund Wilson
more picks

Blogroll

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Quick Study published on January 29, 2007 1:56 PM.

Inaugural Noises was the previous entry in this blog.

The Lesser Known Heroes of Contemporary Criticism, Volume I is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

AJ Ads


AJ Blogs

AJBlogCentral | rss

culture
About Last Night
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Artful Manager
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
blog riley
rock culture approximately
critical difference
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Dewey21C
Richard Kessler on arts education
diacritical
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dog Days
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Flyover
Art from the American Outback
Life's a Pitch
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
Mind the Gap
No genre is the new genre
Performance Monkey
David Jays on theatre and dance
Plain English
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Real Clear Arts
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
Rockwell Matters
John Rockwell on the arts
Straight Up |
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude

dance
Foot in Mouth
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Seeing Things
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...

jazz
Jazz Beyond Jazz
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
ListenGood
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Rifftides
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...

media
Out There
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Serious Popcorn
Martha Bayles on Film...

classical music
Creative Destruction
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
The Future of Classical Music?
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
On the Record
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Overflow
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
PianoMorphosis
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
PostClassic
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Sandow
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Slipped Disc
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds

publishing
book/daddy
Jerome Weeks on Books
Quick Study
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera

theatre
Drama Queen
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
lies like truth
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world

visual
Aesthetic Grounds
Public Art, Public Space
Another Bouncing Ball
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
Artopia
John Perreault's art diary
CultureGrrl
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Modern Art Notes
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog
Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.