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If you like Norman Mailer's story, you might also like:
Nadine Gordimer,
Louise Glück,
Frank McCourt,
James Michener,
N. Scott Momaday,
Vincent Scully,
John Updike
and Gore Vidal

Norman Mailer can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

Related Links:
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Paris Review

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Norman Mailer
Norman Mailer
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Norman Mailer Interview (page: 7 / 8)

Two Pulitzer Prizes

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  Norman Mailer

You've spoken about wanting to explore every world, as a novelist. In a certain sense, you've seen fiction as more true to life than nonfiction.

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Norman Mailer: I do. I look at good fiction as much more true to life than nonfiction, for a very simple reason. Nonfiction is almost always written to a deadline, until you get up into the very finest nonfiction writers. You sign a contract to deliver a book in six months, a year, year-and-a-half, two years, and then you pretty much have to deliver it. It spoils everything if you don't deliver it on time, because one of the assumptions that's almost always made in nonfiction writing is that you are part of a living context in which this nonfiction book will have a say. You certainly don't want it to come out too late.

It's often said that it takes privacy and solitude to get much writing done, but as a young writer, the gregarious side of you was not particularly attracted to life as a literary monk. You've been incredibly prolific in both fiction and nonfiction, but you were also very much engaged with the world as an activist. You've managed to straddle both these worlds.

Norman Mailer: We all have two sides to our personality. If people think that I have two sides, they're absolutely right. I've confessed to as much in myself, a great desire for privacy, and a real need, whether I like it or not, for public life. I think we each live with two souls, not one. Or, if you will, souls is too big a word. We live with two psyches. If I'm trying to understand someone, I always try to separate out the two people that are in them. That doesn't mean they're schizophrenic any more than I would say we are all schizophrenic. I would say it is natural to have two divided sides to yourself, two sides that develop in different ways.

In other words, if two people sit side by side watching a movie and they each react to that film. One of them likes it more than the other. One of them is more amused than the other. One on the other hand, the one who likes it less, may be more moved than the first who is just enjoying himself or herself. When they go out afterwards they talk about it. They may even argue about that film, but I would say that is paradigmatic of our own natures, each of us. We are two people. We receive experience in different ways. We develop that experience. We become more and more developed in these two ways. What is mental balance? What is sanity? Sanity is the ability for these two halves of one's self to be able to speak to one another, to understand each other.

Schizophrenia is precisely when one takes over the ball game completely and dominates the other so totally that the subservient one can't speak, and so begins doing curious activities. Normally what you have is a relationship that's analogous to the American Congress, where you have Democrats on one side and Republicans on the other. Even though they have totally different notions of things, they are able to collaborate and work out bills and deeds and acts and conclusions, and so it is with us. I think I learned this early.

I take it for granted that there's a side of me that loves public action, up to a point, and there's another side of me that really wants to be alone and work and write. And, I've learned to alternate the two as matters develop. That doesn't mean that I have complete power over this. Very often events take me over, and if I want to be alone, nonetheless I have to be out front in public. Or if I want to succeed and be out front in public, the world pushes me back, and there I am. I have got to become a monk again, whether I like it or not. But, all I'm getting at is that it seems natural to me to have these two sides and to express them.

Over the years, you broke a lot of taboos in your work. "The Time of Her Time" is a short story that is still shocking, 20 years after it was written. You are credited with breaking a lot of barriers in your work, being more sexually vivid and graphic in your prose, daring to merge fiction and nonfiction.

Norman Mailer: "The Time of Her Time" was a piece of fiction, a pure piece of fiction. And I remember, at the time I wrote it, I had a brave publisher, Walter Minton, with Putnam. And he decided he wanted to try publishing it. He decided the time was right that he could do it, because most people who read it said, "Well, this is marvelous. This is wonderful. This is one of the best things you've ever written, but it's unpublishable. You can't possibly publish it. It breaks too many taboos." Nonetheless, Minton published it. A lot of people defended it at the time, because in those days we used to feel we were in a war. There were a great many of us, not only writers, but critics as well, novelists collaborated to a degree, in the sense that we were fighting the Philistines who wanted to hold literature back. So, a great many people came to my aid on that story. The net effect of it was that a book came out with the story. It was a book called Advertisements for Myself, and nothing bad happened. There was no censorship of it. Later, Minton used to love to say that one of the reasons he published Lolita was he saw he could get away with it. He could do it, because he realized that for all the brouhaha over the dangers of publishing "The Time of Her Time," nothing had happened. And so he thought, "Yes, with this wonderful book by Nabokov called Lolita, I'm going to publish that and I can get away with that too." And he did. He was a very bold publisher, the last of the Mohicans in a way.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

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This page last revised on Jun 20, 2011 11:00 EST
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