Saturday, November 10, 2007

the clock, the executioner's song

Norman Mailer is dead. I am sick about it. Just sick. Having long sensed the imminent inevitability makes the twist of the blade no easier. Mailer was far and away the author I most loved to hate. I'd first encountered him when I was teaching literature at Lorton Penitentiary.

One of the books I assigned in the course was In the Belly of the Beast, the letters and acute existential ramblings of Jack Henry Abbott, a convict and aggressive self-educator. Anyone who follows the angling stream of literati chaos likely recalls how Abbott and Mailer struck up a correspondence, how Mailer championed Abbott's parole, and how Abbott subsequently stabbed a waiter within days of his release.

I sympathized for Mailer in that era, the sobering humility of choices that prove retrospectively so ill-advised. But the more I read of him, the more I learned about him, the more grandiose his ego, the more incendiary his style, the more of a blind-swing provocateur he seemed to me. And this, of course, brought out the lion in the grass in me. I have never missed an opportunity to stage derision, however humble my savanna may be.

But it all comes to nothing, I see again. The giants all fall. And the thud sets the earth shaking. And we wend our way—quiet, quiet—back to the shade another day. The sun beats down all around us. We skulk and sulk, are agitated and upset. And the invisible clock ticks again just a little louder from somewhere out of sight.