14th Jun 2005

Posted in

Blog :: Norman Mailer's Strange World

So I realise I'm coming extremely late to this party... but I wanted to comment on Norman Mailer's extraordinary post over at the Huffington Post.   Mailer claims to have discovered the utility of the blog; it gives him a forum to tell others when his Spidey-Sense is tingling. Esentially he wonders if the recent (and not-so-recent) failures of MSM are due to counter-intelligence operations by the US government. 

No really.  He thinks (or suspects) that the CIA fed Newsweek the line about Koran flushing, used its assets in Afghanistan to encourage rioting, and is now gloating over the downfall of Isikoff.  Most interesting to me is Mailer's "evidence" for his theory.

Obviously, I can offer no proof of any of the above. There still resides, however, under my aging novelist's pate a volunteer intelligence agent, sadly manque. He does suggest that the outcome was too neat. It came out too effectively for one side, one special side. At the age of eighty-two I do not wish to revive old paranoia, but Lenin did leave us one valuable notion, one, at any rate. It was "Whom?" When you cannot understand a curious matter, ask yourself, "Whom? Whom does this benefit?" Dare I suggest that our Right has just gained a good deal by way of this matter?

What is most striking to me about this line of thinking is not the paranoia, not the invocation of Lenin, not even amusing divulgence of unfullfilled Secret Agent fantasies.  No, what strikes me the most is the assumed insular world view.  For Norman Mailer, there are two sides.  There is the Left (of which the Press is a member, it goes without saying) and there is the Right.  Might the riots and alleged deaths have hurt the United States' interests abroad and done damage to us as a country?  Mailer does not say; for him the left was hurt and therefore, obviously, the Right must be up to its old Dirty Tricks again.

All this is of course old news by now.  It is barely even comment worthy to note that all most (thank you Christopher Hitchens) public intellectuals seem to communicating by telegraph with this century from late 1972. But Mailer has a history of, shall we say, interesting intellectual choices.  I recently read a fascinating account by Dorothy Rabinowitz about Mailer's involvement with a murderer named Jack Henry Abbot.  Apparently, in 1981, Mailer struck up a friendship with an imprisoned murderer as part of the research he was doing for his book The Executioner's Song.  Inspired by the quality of Abbot's writing and thinking, Mailer wrote in the New York Review of Books that Abbott was "a potential leader, a man obsessed with a vision of more elevated human relations."

Abbot became a celebrity cause and was shortly paroled, given a book deal and media coverage (People Magazine and the Good Morning America).  A month after his release, Rabinowitz relates, he stabbed to death the manager of a restaurant who tried to keep him from using the Staff-only bathroom.  Abbot went back to prison and later comitted suicide.

What attracted Mailer (and others) to Abbott?  I suspect that at work is some variant of Radical Chic, hilariously described by Tom Wolfe.  As Rabinowitz describes him, Abbott was a amateur revolutionist especially fond of the writings of Mao and Stalin.  Suddenly Abbot's "vision of more elevated human relations" comes into focus, doesn't it.  Death camps, gulags, and "re-education", all in the service of the brotherhood of man, of course.  So what does this little incident tell us about Mailer?  I suspect that it is too much to expect that Mailer will side with freedom and democracy over islamofascism in the current conflict of ideas; it may be too much to expect that he even understand it.  After all, he's apparently still busy fighting the last great war of ideas, for the other side.

Posted on Jun 14th 2005, 06:03 PM