MANY READERS FORGET that The Greanville Post is not only a political animal; it is actually a politico-cultural animal, as culture, the grand matrix of society, forged on the submerged anvil of economic power relations, largely determines the permissible choices people can take. In this interview, originally published by The Paris Review, Steven Marcus tackles one of America’s postwar literary lions, the unclassifiable (by design) Norman Mailer, a man who, like other highly gifted megalomaniacs, unapologetically manufactured his own legend as the pre-eminent enfant terrible of his age. “I think of myself in the third person singular,” he once blurted rather superfluously to a friend in the Village. Mailer was one of a kind indeed, one of the great writers America has produced, and Steven Marcus has done a fine job capturing his fast-moving idiosyncrasies. —PG
Norman Mailer, The Art of Fiction No. 32
Interviewed by Steven Marcus
This material is protected by copyright The Paris Review, to whom we express our thanks.
The interview took place on the afternoon of Saturday, July 6, 1963. The setting was Norman Mailer’s Brooklyn Heights apartment, whose living room commands a panoramic view of lower Manhattan, the East River, and the New York harbor. The living room is fitted out with nautical or maritime furnishings and decorations, and Mailer, his curls unshorn, seemed at odd moments during the afternoon the novelist-as-ship-captain, though less Ahab than Captain Vere, and less both than Captain Shotover in ripe middle age. Mailer had recently stopped smoking, and the absence of nicotine had caused him to put on weight, which he carries gracefully and with vigor; the new amplitude of flesh seems to have influenced his spirit in the direction of benignity.
Shortly after the interviewer arrived, Mailer excused himself for a few moments. He wanted to change, he said, into his writer’s costume. He emerged wearing faded dungarees and an open-necked sport shirt. His sharp blue eyes sparkled as he suggested that the interviewer keep this fashion note in mind. Lunch was then prepared and served by Mailer in what must be called lordly fashion. In general, he conducts himself without affectation as a kind of secular prince. The interviewer was repeatedly struck during the course of a long afternoon’s work by Mailer’s manners, which were exquisite. The role of novelist-being-interviewed suits him very well.
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