Monday, November 24, 2014

Mailer and the middle finger

Another Mailer obsessive posted in an online forum dedicated to the late writer's life and work that he was of the opinion that Advertisements for Myself was the most audacious work produced in 20th century literature. I scratched my  head, figuratively, and wondered if he meant in all languages, or in literature written exclusively in English? And if the criteria was English only, what titles did Mailer beat out to be the most audacious?

 More than Naked Lunch? Gravity's Rainbow? Ulysses? The Recognitions? Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas? Howl? Preface to a 20 Volume Suicide Note? Wise Blood? Myra Breckenridge? White Noise? The Balcony? Post Office? 

Advertisements for Myself was audacious and brilliant indeed, but claiming it as most audacious for an entire century is more audacious than factually accurate. Mailer has done better and more daring work since that book, more audacious, if you will--An American Dream, Why are We in Vietnam, Ancient Evenings. And I think any number of writers from the 20th century can have an equal claim to literary daring do. 

This is not to take Mailer down but to simply assert that he is rare company, writers with incredibly idiosyncratic lives who managed , against the odds of getting in their own way with fancy and folly, to write literature that is genius of the rarest form. Mailer had competition in that regard, making himself the center of his writing. Bukowski certainly isn't shy showing warts and all, Henry Miller was especially arrogant enough to write about himself past the point of genius to wretchedly excessive confession, and the likes of Lawrence and Genet were prone to make most of their male characters fanciful versions of their public biographies. What matters , 
is the degree of genius the writing reveals; I would agree that Mailer's track record is rather high on the scale.