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

Two Pulitzer Prizes

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  Norman Mailer

You really pioneered the merging of fiction and nonfiction which seemed to be very daring at the time.

Norman Mailer Interview Photo
Norman Mailer: In America, there is such a need to be proud of one's acumen, that there's a regrettable tendency, I think, in our culture, to leap into characterizations and hold fast to them. So long as we know nonfiction is nonfiction and fiction is fiction, we feel stronger. Our acumen can function more easily. It's like a beautifully paved road.

But my feeling is that there's no such thing as nonfiction. Everything is fiction, because in the moment someone tries to relate an experience of what happened to them, it's gone. The reality that was felt at the moment is almost impossible to describe. It's one reason why there are writers, to come close to how it felt when it happened. So in that particular sense, everything that you read in the newspapers is a fiction. Most of it is an ungainly fiction, because by the nature of newspaper reporting, people have to work too quickly, and come to small conclusions long before they really know what they're sure of. So people move forward to understanding the world through a mass of disinformation. When we get into disinformation, I much prefer fiction.

Fiction is the attempt to summarize artfully a set of human experiences that might possibly happen at some time just like this. Whereas nonfiction is the attempt to include what you consider to be all the necessary elements in a story, and in the course of including them, and getting bogged down in dull prose, you destroy the reality of the story. And so, as I say, from the word go it seemed to me there's no sense in separating the two. With the best will in the world to write nonfiction, you're writing fiction. I remember when I did The Executioner's Song, I worked so hard to have every fact absolutely as nailed down as I possibly could, because I thought it was the kind of book where, since it was daring to do that much with a man who is a two-time murderer, one had to absolutely know what one was doing. And yet, at the end of it, when I had been very, very careful to capture each character that had been interviewed, one or two of them came up to me afterwards and said, "I didn't feel that was me at all."

When Picasso and Bracque worked together for a while with Cubism, it was a great relief to Bracque. He said, "Cubism is nothing. I enjoy doing it, but when you paint someone's portrait, then you get into trouble, because everybody gets upset when they see the way you've represented their mug." And in that sense, everything is fiction.

We'd like to ask, what is your sense of the American Dream?

Norman Mailer: Oh, I can't answer that. It's too large a question. There are too many American Dreams. There is no single American Dream left other than the banal one that you can come here, you sink in your roots, you have a happy family life, you work hard all your life and you're rewarded at the end. This is the American Dream that very few people believe in any longer. You have different kinds of American Dreams. George Bush believes his American Dream is for America to take over the world, pure and simple. His feeling is America is the finest country there is, and he has every right, therefore, to try to take over the rest of the world and show other people how to live. I think he's now finally getting the education that he avoided coming near all his working life -- actually his dilettantish life, not his working life. [He is] the luckiest man in America.

My American Dream is that this country has more opportunities to be extraordinary than any other country around, but it doesn't make us extraordinary. That can make us worse. Here you could be the son of the richest man on earth, and it doesn't mean you're going to be a fabulous fellow. You could end up a monster. And so, to me, my American Dream is that we just become less sentimental, less God-ridden. I mean, I happen to believe in God, but I think we are religion-ridden. So, my American Dream is that we become what we could be, which is we search deeper and deeper into the mystery of life and develop a more fabulous sense of what the real American possibilities, are rather than the notion that the corporations know how to do it all -- believing in God and the corporation is going to solve the problems of the universe. They won't. End of speech.

[ Key to Success ] The American Dream

Thank you very much. It's been fascinating.

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