Re-reading the bulk of my work in the course of a spring and summer, one theme came to predominate-it was apparent that most of my writing was about America. How much I loved our country-that was evident-and how much I didn't love it at all!
-Norman Mailer, foreword to Time of Our Time
The first time I read anything written by Norman Mailer-it was an excerpt from the Vietnam-era Armies of the Night-I remember two things coming to my mind. The first thing that popped into my head: what an arrogant, self-righteous jerk this Mailer guy is! What kind of egotistical writer places himself in his own novel? What new-age Narcissus finds the tragic flaw of every individual he encounters? What brand of windbag slices to bits the dignity of one of the most important movements in American history, the Vietnam War protests? A child of the Enlightenment, it twisted my stomach to watch the workings of our American democracy tackled and torn to shreds by Mailer's writing. But the second thing I remember thinking? You know . . . he is kind of right. Not all Vietnam protesters were the idealistic, selfless icons American society made them out to be. Not every military guard was a heartless, conservative monkey. Not every principle and ideal of the Enlightenment's picture of "democracy" was put into practice by the United States. Confused at my latter revelation, I quietly gnawed on my double-edged conclusion. Maybe there is something to this Mailer guy, my brain murmured, and his apparently outrageous, yet often correct, opinions.
Of course, I must qualify "kind of right." At first read, Norman Mailer is unfailingly rebellious, loud, arrogant, vulgar, cruel, and, on occasion, downright offensive. But...
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.... Neither situation was perfect, but each time, Americans accepted what they had and then took steps to improve upon it. Our democracy sometimes slips into a debacle in desperate need of correction, and after we recognize that something has to be done, we as Americans need to be willing to do whatever is necessary to improve ourselves both as individuals and together as a nation. Norman Mailer writes in order to help realize our flaws as a society, and to help us realize that, although we may have lost a few battles along the way, the war is far from over.
Jefferson, Thomas. "Declaration of Independence." A World of Ideas. 5th ed. Ed. Lee A. Jacobus. Boston: Bedford, 1998. 76-79.
Mailer, Norman. Time of Our Time. New York: Random House, 1998.
Spinoza, Benedict. Tractatus Politicus et Philosophicus. Trans. A.G. Wernham. New York: Oxford, 1958.
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