Norman Mailer might well place Ockham's adage above his desk: "Entities are not to be multiplied unless necessary." For in his latest collection of journalistic pieces "written in the years of the plague," and of "poems called short hairs," there is little which is not ultimately repetitive, fustian, muddy. Johnson, the Kennedys, Vietnam, Lindsay, Mary McCarthy, Hemingway, even the celebrated Republican Convention coverage printed in Esquire--each essay has its brilliant moments, each is pulverized in a carnage of highbrow cliches, ringside rhetoric, the indulgence of an invincible ego. Lodge "looked like they had been beating him in the kidneys with his own liver." "Goldwater had all the homely assurance of a filthy sock." In these strained pages we are admonished that "we live in a time which has created the art of the absurd." Mailer riffles every contemporary nerve, from psychic ills and existential dread to the obligatory apocalyptic vision, the release of limitless emotional possibilities. Orating on Mount Pisgah, Mailer comes to us as rebel, prophet, conscience of the age, "gentleman gangster." But more than the self-inflation, it is the self-befuddlement which is so truly saddening. The tastlessness of the verse ("One cannot give a funeral service to the fart/and yet there are broken winds which walk the plank in pride") rivals the imaginary interviews, Mailer's dialogue with his mirror, rubbish about mood (in the Heideggerian sense) or about the philosophic aspect of ingestion and elimination. The wisest, strongest comments are on literary matters; alas, they seem marginal to Mailer's concerns. His response to life is increasingly theatrical. Humorlessly striving for a mystic orgy, wasting a huge talent, Mailer reads like some middle-aged volcano spewing burning issues for the young.