RIP Norman Mailer, 31 Jan. 1923 – 10 Nov. 2007

Iconic and stridently opinionated American author Norman Mailer died early this morning of kidney failure, about a month after surgery to remove scar tissue around his lungs. He became famous for The Naked And The Dead, published in 1948, a “World War II tale [that] is universally recognized as one of the best war novels to emerge from that conflict.” He won Pulitzers in 1968 for an account of the 1967 Vietnam War protest march on the Pentagon, The Armies of the Night, and in 1979 for The Executioner’s Song, a novel about self-confessed murderer Gary Gilmore. Mailer published dozens of novels — his latest, The Castle in the Forest, a fictionalised account of Hitler’s childhood told by an underling of Satan’s, came out this year — as well as stories, essays, and newspaper articles, and he co-founded The Village Voice, an alternative newspaper in New York.

USA Today captures much of Mailer’s outlook:

“Mailer remained opinionated even as he aged. In his 80s, he fiercely criticized President Bush and the Iraq war, as reflected in his last book, On God, published in October. … Mailer lambasted Bush as ‘one of the Devil’s clients. And every time he feels that Jesus is talking to him, count on it, Satan is in his ear.’

“He found much of American culture, from publishing to architecture, ‘much less agreeable’ than it was when he was young. The country is uglier, he said, decrying how towns and cities look alike and ‘measure themselves by the size of their shopping malls.’

“He recalled when ‘corporations used to have some pride in their products. Now they have pride in their marketing.. .. Anyone can sell a good product, but to sell a piece of crap, now that takes real talent.’

“The women’s movement may have ‘opened up life for young women,’ but he called it ‘a middle-class revolution’ that benefits ‘corporate angels in their tailored suits.’ It was ‘welcomed by the corporation that now hires women at every level but the very top and pays them 80% or so of what it pays men.’ …

“He told USA Today that ‘every woman, unlike every man — and this is where I get in trouble with the feminists — is like a culture unto herself, with all the roots and tendrils that make up a culture.’ Being married six times, ‘is like living in six different countries, six cultures. So if you’ve spent eight years in Paris, then moved on, you don’t say, “I hate Paris.”‘

And from the lengthy New York magazine interview:

“For the average person in the average developed country, life, if seen in terms of comfort, is better than it was in the middle of the nineteenth century, but by the measure of our human development as ethical, spiritual, responsible, and creative human beings, it may be worse. Reason, ultimately, looks to strip us of the notion that there is a Creator. The moment you have a society built on reason alone, then individual power begins to substitute for the concept of a Creator.

“Progressivism has yet to prove itself. We live in a more diffuse state of general anxiety than people did in 1900. I don’t want to be a bore about this, but nuclear warfare also came along. The argument: Did we really improve anything spiritually?”

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Obituaries and Remembrances:

(Photo: Johannes Kroemer/Getty Images)

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