Saturday, August 6, 2011

Summer reading 2

 THE ARMIES OF THE NIGHT
by Norman Mailer

Anyone who has had difficulty with Norman Mailer's militant ego-- or just plain irritated with the prospect of a writer declaring himself the best scribe in the land simply because he was the only one with the temerity to reach for the crown vacated by Hemingway--won't find relief here in his award winning book 'The Armies of the Night'. Too bad for them, I say, because even though Mailer's self regard is legendary and obnoxious without redemption in lesser pundits, Mailer shrewdly uses the persona, the third person referenced 'Mailer', to engage the the collision of forces that made up the political sensibility of the 60s ; the counter culture, anti-war activist, avowed Marxist revolutionaries, feminists, black nationalists , yippees, hippees, crazies of all sorts converged on the Pentagon to protest the war in Vietnam and what was seen by many alternative life stylers as the fatally erring trajectory America had taken; all the sins of capitalism, white racism, imperialism and the like were now returning to the soil from which they came, demanding the bill be paid and the interest collected in full.

Mailer, someone who had announced early in his career, in his introduction to 'Advertisements for Myself', that he was obsessed with radically transforming the way his country came to see itself in the strange and terrifying world that was emerging in the post war period, comes off as the smartest guy in the room, someone conducting a running commentary on the tensions and contradictions that were coming from the estranged forces that composed the American Left. Much of the fun, though, certainly has to be the adventures of the swaggering, blustery, drinking and drunk Mailer as he wades through the issues and the worries that accompany movements that want to seize the future. There is an apt awareness of his own absurdity and celebrity, there is a realization that even his imagination cannot single handedly stop an a congery of policy evils already in place and being executed. What he could do, though, was maintain his sublime sense of irony and report, comment, opine and theorize with the quick witted verve that only the best stylists maintain.

This is a worthy read, an important document from a period of American which to this day refuses to be understood in retrospect. The