Farewell to a giant of US literature: Tributes pour in for Norman Mailer

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The Independent Culture

Tributes continued to pour in for the Pulitzer-Prize winning author Norman Mailer, who died on Saturday of renal failure at the age of 84.

The prolific writer was as well-known for his strident political views as for his literary contributions. His essays and novels provided commentary on most of the major events of the past 60 years, from feminism to the Iraq war.

Although the American author's homeland was the focus for much of his writing, the scope and influence of Mailer's work was such that national leaders and prominent artists from around the world paid homage to him over the weekend.

Mailer's debut novel, The Naked and the Dead, based on his experiences as an infantry soldier in the Philippines and published in 1948 while he was still a post-graduate student, was regarded as one of the best American novels of the post-war period.

Born in 1923 in New Jersey, the author was awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize twice, for The Armies of the Night in 1969, and for The Executioner's Song in 1980.

Six-times married and with nine children, the writer's private life was as dramatic as his public persona – Mailer famously stabbed his second wife while drunk at a party. And he repeatedly annoyed the feminist movement. In an NBC interview, Mailer voiced his concerns that "women are going to take over the world".

Mailer on white people adopting black culture, from his 1957 essay The White Negro

"In this wedding of the white and the black it was the Negro who brought the cultural dowry.... in his music he gave voice to the character and quality of his existence, to his rage and the infinite variations of joy, lust, languor, growl, cramp, pinch, scream and despair of his orgasm. For jazz is orgasm, it is the music of orgasm, good orgasm and bad, and so it spoke across a nation, it had the communication of art even where it was watered, perverted, corrupted, and almost killed, it spoke in no matter what laundered popular way of instantaneous existential states to which some whites could respond, it was indeed a communication by art because it said, "I feel this, and now you do too."

On the Second World War, from his 1957 essay The White Negro

"The Second World War presented a mirror to the human condition which blinded anyone who looked into it. For if tens of millions were killed in concentration camps out of the inexorable agonies and contractions of super-states founded upon the always insoluble contradictions of injustice, one was then obliged also to see that no matter how crippled and perverted an image of man was the society he had created, it was nonetheless his creation, his collective creation (at least his collective creation from the past) and if society was so murderous, then who could ignore the most hideous of questions about his own nature?"

From the book 'The Fight', written in 1975

"He was all alone in the ring; the Challenger on call for the Champion, the Prince waiting for the Pretender ... Ali seems to be taking royal pleasure in his undisputed possession of the space. He looked unafraid and almost on the edge of happiness ... His body had a shine like the flanks of a thoroughbred."

On Vietnam, from an essay published in The New York Review of Books in 1975

"The resistance of the left in America broke the will of the establishment to wage a serious war. One by one, influential members of the military-industrial complex and the higher enclaves of finance came to decide that the war would wreck America morally, economically, and finally technologically."

On Bush and Iraq, 2003

"Part of my animus against President Bush is to do with his use of the word 'evil' ... There's no respect for the word. Evil is one of the great mysteries. It's hard for philosophers to define the good. It may be even more difficult to define the evil. But Bush uses it as a push-button, to get all the ignorami lined up behind him. The perfect proof of it is his syllogism: 9/11 was evil. Saddam is evil. All evil is connected. Ergo, Iraq."

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