SQUARING OFF: Mailer versus Baldwin by W.J. Weatherby

SQUARING OFF: Mailer versus Baldwin

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Not squaring off but feinting or shadow-boxing. Weatherby seems to want a knockdown drag-out between Mailer and Baldwin, Leo and Aquarius, the homosexual black and the supermacho Jew. He first met Baldwin, then an obscure writer, in 1959 and Mailer, already notorious, in 1960. His odd preconceptions--of Baldwin as an effete New Englander and Mailer as a scrappy Irishman--were quickly shot down. From the outset Weatherby is primed for a confrontation; chatting with Mailer about violence, social and personal (""Ah! Now he had my attention!""), he is panting to ask Norman why he stabbed his wife. Was it perhaps his quest for an existential ""truly meaningful experience""? In the event, both writers talk about their craft, by turns thoughtfully and pompously. In the early 1960s Baldwin is claiming center stage as a black man and scorning Mailer's ""White Negro bullshit,"" while Mailer is patronizing Baldwin as ""too charming"" to be a major literary figure. Weatherby meets them intermittently through the years of civil rights marches, Apollo moonshots, assassinations, and Ali-Norton fights. He keeps expecting one or the other to go for the jugular. But for all his prodding they remain very distant, two irreconcilable sensibilities: Baldwin is fastidious, muted, a man liberated by a tragic European world-view; Mailer is the brash extrovert, campaigning, Mailerizing, advertising his colossal ego. It promises more than it delivers right down to the wire when Weatherby having peered at his trophies this way and that, is wondering which is now the more obsolete. No rematch, please.

Pub Date: March 7th, 1977
Publisher: Mason/Charter