Photo: Norman Mailer in 1948 by Carl Van Vechten (Library of Congress)
“But I am fairly certain that Mailer will survive everything. Despite a nice but small gift for self-destruction, he is uncommonly adroit, with an eye to the main chance (the writer who has not this instinct is done for in America; excellence is not enough). I noted with some amusement that, despite the air of candor, he makes no new enemies in this book. He scores off those who are lost to him anyway, thus proving that essentially the work is politic. His confessions, when not too disingenuous, are often engaging, and always interesting as he tries to record his confusions. For Mailer, simply, does not begin to know what he believes or is or wants. His drive seems to be toward power of a religio-politial kind. He is a messiah without real hope of paradise on earth or in heaven and with no precise mission except that dictated by his ever-changing temperament. I am not sure, finally, that he should be a novelist at all, or even a writer, despite formidable gifts. He is too much a demagogue; he swings from one position of cant to another with an intensity that is visceral rather than intellectual. He is all fragments and pieces. He appears to be looking for an identity and often it seems that he believes crude celebrity will give it him again.”
From Gore Vidal’s “The Norman Mailer Syndrome,” The Nation, 1960.
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