Norman Mailer on a Vagina

It was no graveyard now, no warehouse, no, more like a chapel now, a modest decent place, but its walls were snug, its odor was green, there was a sweetness in the chapel.

That description of female genitals is evidence of Mailer's "hopped-up, quasi-religious view of sex," according to the interesting long-ish essay titled The Naked and the Conflicted. It compares how Roth, Updike, Mailer, etc. prolifically and wildly deployed sex in their novels compared to today's young talents like Wallace (RIP), Eggers, and Kunkel, who cast a more skeptical eye on sexual impulses.

Here's Mailer on lust:

Lust exhibits all the attributes of junk. It dominates the mind and other habits, it appropriates loyalties, generalizes character, leaches character out, rides on the fuel of almost any emotional gas — whether hatred, affection, curiosity, even the pressures of boredom — yet it is never definable because it can alter to love or be as suddenly sealed from love.

2 comments on “Norman Mailer on a Vagina
  • “People don’t realize how much they are in the grip of ideas”, Saul Bellow once wrote. “We live among ideas much more than we live in nature.”

    In defining what is truly obscene, I think along the lines of Mark Ames, who called the Economist the world’s sleaziest magazine.

    When I read Henry Miller’s The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, I realized the subject of that savagely humorous novel was something more obscene than hairy vaginas and big sweaty dicks.

    But at age eighteen, I certainly didn’t read Miller’s Tropic of Cancer because of its stellar literary reputation– it was all about the infamous dirty parts for me.

    Although blustery Norman Mailer called it “one of the ten or twenty greatest novels of the century”, I think the great critic Edmund Wilson’s opinion– “the lowest book of any real literary merit that I remember ever to have read” was a loftier commendation.

    I had enjoyed Mailer’s muscular, hyper-masculine writing ever since I read The Naked and the Dead, but my regard for him as a man and an author was more circumspect when I learned he stabbed his wife Adele in the back and chest with a penknife while he was drunk and stoned after arguing with her at a party.

    It’s certainly understandable why Kate Millet, who made him the original “male chauvinist pig”, and the feminists deplored the sexual violence in his work:

    “I wounded her, I knew it, she thrashed beneath me like a trapped little animal, making not a sound.” “He must subdue her, absorb her, rip her apart and consume her.”

    These days, I think like Joan Smith that “he hated authority, homosexuality, women and almost certainly himself”.

    It seems glaringly obvious now, even trite, that his “fistfights, headbutts, drunken brawls, attacks on feminism” were symptoms of, and over-compensation for, his own repressed homosexuality.

    Of course I liked Katie Roiphe’s essay, even the way she lurched (in such Maileresque fashion) from his obsession with violence in sex and the urge for domination, to the castration by time of the ‘Great Male Novelists’ of the twentienth century, those young turks grown old and pathetic in their impotence.

    I felt the room temperature lower when she had the actual young lions of literature enter stage right– they with the sexual ambivalence of a new generation “too cool for sex”, and felt sorry for the sad narcissism and anemic sexuality of Eggers, Kunkel, Franzen and the rest.

    Maybe these poor neutered cats should take up surfing to get Romain Rolland’s ‘oceanic feeling’.

    Anyone who doubts that all humans are inherently bisexual should read Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents, in which “he speaks to issues of human creativity and fulfillment, the place of beauty in culture, and the effects of repression.”

    Just remember that Freud was an artist, not a scientist, and that sometimes a sausage is just a sausage.;-)

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