You know who’s having himself a moment is Norman Mailer. From a whopping new edition of selected essays to a whoppinger new biography, that “most celebrated and most reviled” of American writers is again in death commanding the attention he demanded in life. In this spirit of resurgence, we’ve posted below a most Mailerish of excerpts from his “First Advertisement for Myself,” from his 1959 book full of them. Say what you will—he certainly did—but the man could write.
An author’s personality can help or hurt the attention readers give to his books, and it is sometimes fatal to one’s talent not to have a public with a clear public recognition of one’s size. The way to save your work and reach more readers is to advertise yourself, steal your own favorite page out of Hemingway’s unwritten Notes From Papa On How The Working Novelist Can Get Ahead. Truman Capote did it bravely when he began, and my hat is off to him. James Jones did it, and did it well. Kerouac would deserve ears and tail if he weren’t an Eisenhower gypsy. I, in my turn, would love to be one of the colorful old-young men of American letters, but I have a changeable personality, a sullen disposition, and a calculating mind. I never have good nor accurate interviews since I always seem to get into disagreeable situations with reporters—they sense no matter how pleasant I try to be, that I do not like them—I think the psychological requirement for working on a newspaper is to be a congenital liar and a compulsive patriot. Perhaps I should hire a public relations man to grease my career, but I do not know if I can afford him (not with the size of the job he would have to do for me), and moreover I would be obliged sooner or later to spoil his work. While there would be hardly a limit to how lovable he could make me in the public eye it would be exhausting for me to pretend to be nicer than I really am. Indeed, it would be downright debilitating to the best of my creative energies. So I do not care to approach the public as a lover, nor could I succeed for that matter. I started as a generous but very spoiled boy, and I seem to have turned into a slightly punch-drunk and ugly club fighter who can fight clean and fight dirty, but likes to fight. I write this not solely out of self-pity (although self-pity is one of my vices) but also to tell the simple truth: I have not gotten nicer as I have grown older, and I suspect that what has been true for me may be true for a great many of you. I’ve burned away too much of my creative energy, and picked up too slowly on the hard, grim, and maybe manly knowledge that if I am to go on saying what my anger tells me it is true to say, I must get better at overriding the indifference which comes from the snobs, arbiters, managers and conforming maniacs who manipulate most of the world of letters and sense at the core of their unconscious that the ambition of a writer like myself is to become consecutively more disruptive, more dangerous, and more powerful. It will be fine if I can write so well and so strongly as to call my shot, but unfortunately I may have fatigued the earth of rich language beyond repair. I do not know, but it is possible. I’ve been in too many fights, I’ve been hit on the head by a hammer, and had my left eye gouged in a street fight—and of course I’m proud of this (I was a physical coward as a child), and so I’m proud I learned a bit about fighting even though the cost may end as waste. There may have been too many fights for me, too much sex, liquor, marijuana, benzedrine and seconal, much too much ridiculous and brain-blasting rage at the minuscule frustrations of a most loathsome literary world, necrophilic to the core—they murder their writers, and then decorate their graves.