He dictated many of these letters, kept carbon copies, was well aware of his own archival value and preserved them.
But the impression yielded by the correspondence is that it’s a substitute.
Even while a student at Harvard (he studied engineering but was already an ambitious and successful student writer), his notion of literary experience was that it wasn’t the hand one was dealt or the way one played it, it was the game that one set out to learn.
One of his college-era novels, “No Percentage,” involved a young hitchhiker—and Mailer said elsewhere that he went out hitchhiking as research; another, “A Transit to Narcissus,” was centered on his one week of work as an orderly at a mental hospital.
It’s as if, apart from the times and the action, he couldn’t bear to contemplate the mereness of his daily life.
public intellectual, to redefine the very notion in order to dispel the technocratic detachment and academic idealism in favor of his existential engagement with the moment, a blend of a journalist’s physical and first-hand involvement and risk, a novelist’s imagination, and the Rousseau-like confession of wins and losses in the public arena.Since the realm of media was the realm of sex and power, he needed both to take part in events and to be a celebrity, not to melt into the event but to be it, to rival it.His ideas would, in effect, be both philosophy on the wing and the country’s most popular TV show.In his novels, Mailer’s voice tended to drown out that of his characters.Though his novels have a hectic energy that seems to break the bounds of literary form and reach strange limbic depths, they also seem like dead ends, mere containers for those intermittent illuminations and shocks.His ideas, he said, were “a little too small” to follow that big novel, so he went to Hollywood to seek work as a screenwriter and to collect material for a novel.Mailer had also gone to Paris on a fellowship, and there met another writer, Jean Malaquais, who became something of his mentor in philosophy and, in particular, in Marxism.As a founding partner of a new upstart Greenwich Village weekly in the mid-nineteen-fifties, he even came up with its title: the .Perhaps no writer of his time endured such keen conflict between his personal voice and his literary voice, and that conflict is at the center of “Selected Letters of Norman Mailer,” edited by J.But the story of a young Jewish teen-ager from Brooklyn making his way at Harvard isn’t one that he wrote—he had no “This Side of Paradise” waiting to break out, no Brooklynite Nick Adams to extract from memory.His experience in the Second World War, as a machine-gunner in the Pacific theatre who saw combat in the Philippines, became the subject of his first novel, “The Naked and the Dead.” Its great instant success when it came out, in 1948, made Mailer famous and prosperous—and left him bereft of a subject for another novel.