Wrestle in peace

By JAMES PARKER  |  November 14, 2007

If we must talk about his legacy, we should say that it is not likely to be literary. The Mailerian voice, the vatic meltdown trammeled through the haughty Harvard-debater’s syntax, with its odd resort — often in the midst of psycho-sensory overload — to wheezy words such as “analogous,” is easily parodied but not susceptible of imitation: it has the distinct tone of his mind and his experience. And what we might call the Mailerian field of study — pharaohs, murderers, marijuana, riots and rocket launches, God and the Devil, sex, sex, sex — seems to have sunk like Atlantis. The times, for the time being, have changed. (If they change back, we will beg for another Mailer.)

So much depended on his equivocal, electric presence: with the man gone, it becomes miserably more easy — even in the few days since his death — to undervalue or abrogate his achievement. But memory is its own current, and a montage of Mailer moments provides the imaginative charge for swashbuckling generations to come. Looking out into TV land, through the “valves of video,” and announcing that one minute in the mind of General Westmoreland was more obscene than all the banned books ever written; taking a hammer in the head from Rip Torn in the concluding (it could hardly have been other than concluding) scene of Maidstone; refusing to budge from Sonny Liston’s chair at a pre-fight press conference in 1962 and being carried out, still seated, by cops, like a mad little king on his litter.

What a man. Like a certain kind of joke, or a good night, or a victory — unrepeatable.

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