In the Blog
Norman Mailer, we’re pretending we never knew you…
On November 10th Normal Mailer died. Respected publications such as the New York Times have devoted numerous pages of adoring recollection, depicting him as a brave, heroic and tireless genius, a literary leader, a pre-eminent chronicler of the 20th century. While the pieces that reflect on his life occasionally mention his flaws, it seems these glowing tributes wilfully ignore that, put simply, Mailer was “a sexist, homophobic reactionary.”
Mailer was a violent man, and that violence coupled with his hatred of women was certainly problematic. Mailer stabbed his second wife in the neck, and his fourth wife made accusations of physical abuse. The New York Times refers to Mailer’s behaviour largely as “womanizing,” and seems to explain and excuse the stabbing by stating everyone was drunk at the time. In fact, while the paper does mention all of these abuses, the way in which they seem to “write away” Mailer’s conduct is astounding: Mr. Mailer belonged to the old literary school that regarded novel writing as a heroic enterprise undertaken by heroic characters with egos to match…
I find it interesting that we so thoroughly celebrate a man who, to everyone’s knowledge, lived a life openly endorsing his own misogyny and homophobia?
Mailer thought there were more gay men around and he blamed it on a loss of faith in the “notion of one’s self as a man”. He complained bitterly about the “womanisation of America”, revealing his pathological fear of a femininity he regarded as passive and threatening at the same time.
Our culture has a long tradition of celebrating the lives and works of those machismo artists who were known for their hatred and abuse of women, their violence often excused by the complexity of their genius. The celebration of this archaic notion of masculinity is problematic because it continues to endorse and excuse violence against women through artistic practice.
I am not here to argue against Mailer’s talent (in fact a few dissenting critics have done that for me,) nor am I here to disrepect a man who has died, I’m just here to ask the question: is it appropriate to so widely celebrate the life of someone known for and characterized by their hatred and abuse of women?