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by Norman Mailer

Pub Date: May 1st, 1982
ISBN: 0316544183
Publisher: Little, Brown

Minor Mailer--at great length. The "Pontifications" are assorted interviews-with-Mailer over the decades, with reckless, occasionally amusing or shrewd comments on: masturbation; writing style; The Deer Park; Katharine Anne Porter (who "used to be respected. . .the way a cardinal is respected--weak people get to their knees when the cardinal goes by"); drugs; drink; Communism; artists vs. scientists; Manson; Mick Jagger; women's lib ("Let's face it, they're winning their war"); existentialism; karma; abortion; the Pill; homosexuality; Anne Beattie's work ("whenever fiction doesn't know where it's going, then there's a tendency to return to the novel of manners"); The New Yorker ("awful" in its out-of-touch periods, but "they hold the act together when nothing's happening"); Reagan; Borges and Marquez ("the two most important writers in the world today"); Hemingway, Freud, Muhammad Ali. Somewhat more focused and coherent, then, are the dozen short and long essays--most from magazines. There are two large-scale efforts. In "Of a Small and Modest Malignancy," Mailer (third-personing himself throughout) regards "his own wretched collaboration with the multimillion-celled nausea-machine, that Christkiller of the ages--television": he recreates all his sweaty TV talk-show appearances, offers a superb vignette of Dorothy Parker, and goes after old enemies (Capote, Vidal, Janet Flanner, the FBI) with babyish, hilarious brio. "A Harlot High and Low" is less engaging--with its disjointed, admittedly paranoid speculations on the vast web of Howard Hughes/CIA/Watergate connections. But Mailer can still be a solid literary critic--with a canny comparison of the Hemingway and Henry Miller careers (Mailer knows the Art of Reputation better than anybody). As film critic--on Last Tango in Paris--he is more flashy than thoughtful: "we have been given a bath in shit with no reward." And Mailer-the-social-critic is here with a piece on graffiti: the "excrescence" of "slum populations chilled on the one side by the bleakness of modern design, and brain-cooked on the other by comic strips and TV ads with zooming letters." No surprises, then, and rarely deep--but also rarely dull: Mailer-mania for the sizable following.