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January 23, 2007


Ted Burke

Shrillness is not how I'd describe
Mailer's late work, since he abandoned addressing himself in the third person with "The Executioner's Song". From that book onward, Mailer's self-announcing presence has noticeably
receded and the narrative itself took priority. For something approaching "shrillness", you have to go back to "Advertisements for Myself" and "Why Are We In Vietnam?", writings filled with exuberance, ego, loud clashing verbs and careening metaphors. It was a style that worked for Mailer for a long period, and the author was smart enough to have given it up before it became that rote, breathless template that a more promiscuous writer like Joyce Carol Oates relies on. Regardless of what you think of him as person, Mailer's "The Gospel According to the Son" is not a novel inspired by any hysterical force; it is calm, simply phrased,
poetically spare, and effective as in result in it's evocation of Christ's burden of being both of heaven and of earth. Mailer's presence and his ideas are always noticeable in his later work, but there's a mature,yes, mature voice at work here which has served him well. The problem with much of the nay saying of Mailer's writing is that some act as if he hasn't changed his style. To think so is not to have read him closely at all it seems.

Richard Prouty

I've not read "The Gospel," so my inference that it's a bad novel is shaky, to be sure. But I can't help being very skeptical about its concept. By "shrillness" I was referring to Mailer's authorial overreaching in his choice of subject matter, his claim to our attention, not his authorial voice. There are good reasons why novelists with greater talent and stronger religious convictions have demurred from making Christ a main character. As for Hitler, there's already been sixty years of novels about Nazi Germany. For Mailer to ask us to believe he's got something original to say about Hitler is arrogance of a particularly banal kind. Maybe the subject matter of "The Gospels" wasn't a cheap stunt to gain publicity, but "The Castle" certainly seems like one.

My main points in the entry were to voice dissent with the whole idea of nakedness as an aesthetic value (Siegel is hardly the only one who argues for its value) and to assert that Mailer isn't a relevant writer any more. My own preference is for the Flaubertian ideal of the impersonal artist. Besides, I think the artifices people choose are far more revealing than what people want to call their own honesty, brutal or otherwise. Mailer strikes me as the exact opposite of the impersonal artist, and his choice of subject matter after "Executioner's Song" seem inauthentic, a significant flaw in a writer who so stridently and consistently lays claim to authenticity.

Ted Burke

Christ has been a character in novels and in film, so Mailer's brief recasting of the Greatest Story Over Told is hardly an exercise in ego gratification. Mailer has some well known ideas about God that he's written about over the decades, and it was rather a surprise that he could weave them into the Christ story as delicately and successfully as he had. Perhaps you should read the book before condemning it out of hand. A little less tub thumping is called for. If you don't like it, at least you'll be in position to discuss the degrees of it's flaws with authority. You'll be in the position to critique it as a novel, not an audacious act.

Flaubert's notion for the "impersonal artist" is a fine theory and works well with respect to writers with similar aesthetic values as the author of "Madame Bovary". It's not the only idea in how literature and art ought to made however, and certainly applying it to Mailer's aims as a novelist is a bit besides the point. Impersonality in writing is more a goal than anything achievable, I would say, and it's only in the reaching for the result that one might end with interesting results. Genius enters into the equation, as in not all writers have equal abilities, whatever standard they avow. Nakedness as a value in writing works only as well as the writer who decides to make it an operating
concern, and it worked well enough for Mailer in the early and middle points of his career, a projection of the self hardly more assaulting than Whitman's or the cynical rumblings of an older Mark Twain. Mailer, as I said before, left this persona behind in 1979 with the publication of his masterful "Executioner's Song",when he he realized that after a couple of decades of theorizing about violence and killers, he needed to conceal his presence and tell the spectacular and complex story in front of him.

A wise decision, and a method he's wisely maintained with each books.
"Harlot's Ghost","Oswald's Tale"
are not the spewings of an egomaniac trying to flummox his readership with hyperactive vocabularies; the books, central efforts in his late period, are carefully wrought works of historical narrative, brilliant and flawed. For Mailer's ideas, these are not the rants of a young hothead picking an argument, but of a mature artist Making A Case.

To say that there are too many books and novels about Hitler is patent nonsense. Hitler was such a monster and pall over the last century that it's at our peril that artists, writers, scholars, novelists stop trying to comprehend him. Mailer's has an eccentric take on the formations of the amoral Hitler's unblinking willingness to bring carnage , and for all the snipes and snips from naysayers ,he does evoke the mindsets of those who's self-infatuation and indifference to the results of their actions makes
the Devil's grooming of the child for future mischief seem plausible in a fictional narrative.

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What Is One-Way Street?

One-Way Street [Einbahnstrasse, 1928] was Walter Benjamin's first effort to break out of the narrow confines of the academy and apply the techniques of literary studies to life as it is currently lived. For Benjamin criticism encompasses the ordinary objects of life, the literary texts of the time, films in current release, and the fleeting concerns of the public sphere. Following Benjamin's lead, this blog is concerned with the political content of the aesthetic and representations of the political in the media. As Benjamin writes in One-Way Street, "He who cannot take sides should keep silent."