Saturday, November 10, 2007

In Homage and Appreciation of Norman Mailer: A Re-Posting of an NYSWIblog: Norman Mailer Visits the Institute on May Day: A Note by William Kennedy

A Re-Posting of a blog item from May 3 07 [In Memoriam Norman Mailer]

A note by Donald Faulkner to precede a note by William Kennedy:

To re-state a phrase I have used elsewhere on this site, We had us a time.

I was intending to blog some reflections on Norman Mailer's Institute visit and asked Bill Kennedy to share some quick takes with me. His response captured the time brilliantly, so I offer a tip of my hat and post it as presented to me. And I offer due thanks to him for sharing more than random thoughts. Indeed, this more like the old fashioned Talk of the Town piece The New Yorker used to post. We welcome the the tone and spirit of the offering. We'll write some other stuff on the event and the day, but this gets it just right.

Norman Mailer in Albany.

In an Esquire magazine interview Norman gave a few months back he said that physically, he was failing. And he does walk with canes because of the punishment his knees give him (especially when he has to climb four flights to his apartment in Brooklyn). Also he developed asthma about a year or so ago, and he did have a heavy by-pass in recent years. So I asked him, What about this failing? And he said "it's only the extremities," and that was accurate. He flew up to Albany in the afternoon from New York, sat still for an hour's interview at the Hampton Inn -- on devils, god, incest in Hitler's family, the non-fiction novel, the novel as history, the novelist vs. the historian, his approach to Hitler being maybe the most challenging of all his historical undertakings. (Though Ancient Egypt consumed more years). Then he socialized at the Kennedy digs on Dove Street, tossed back a couple of rums with orange juice, headed straight for the Green Room at Page Hall where he sat in the gloom alone for maybe half an hour -- which he always does -- to sharpen his focus on the next word; and then he emerged onto Page's bright stage (after checking the size of the audience -- 600? at least, which he liked). And then he went full-tilt at the reading from his novel, 'The Castle in the Forest,' followed by forty minutes of questions, carrying it off with zest, wit, and the unveiling of his new persona (new for many in the audience). The new Norman Mailer (the old one was an atheist for 45 years) now believes in god, the devil, associate devils -- one of them narrates his novel -- and the new Norman also has less fear of death for he now accepts the concept of reincarnation; and also of God, who haunts so much of his work. He now sees God as an existentialist who fails in his creations maybe as much as he succeeds (dinosaurs were a disaster). He will do one more gig this month and then go back to Provincetown where he will focus on a new collection of essays -- on theology -- he's now reading William James and Niebuhr, among many others. Nine or so essays are already written. He will also return, most seriously, to the ongoing challenge that his research on Hitler created for him. He has a vision of following the Fuhrer through maybe 1932, but then there's the war, the holocaust, the bunker, and it could easily be a trilogy. What will he do with it all? He'll try to figure it out up on the Cape. He's very mindful of the shortening of time for him, but it hasn't stopped his imagination from moving forward as it always has -- with vitality and originality. Also, when leaving the restaurant after a late supper, he was asked would he come back to Albany. "Oh yes indeed," he said, and then with a bit of a wink, "god willing."