Tuesday, October 9, 2007

You Gotta Serve Somebody: Norman Mailer on God, the Devil and the Human

This past summer I caught the film Maidstone, directed written and starring Brooklyn literary legend Norman Mailer. This film, http://imdb.com/title/tt0064625/ a genuine artifact of the era of Boomer Prime was released in 1970. Mailer stars as Norman T. Kingsley, a film director, author, and charismatic figure who decides to run for President of the United States. The film which appears loosely scripted, tosses in a lot of improvisation, most notably the conclusion. Rip Torn, who appears in the film as Kingsley's younger brother, approaches Mailer wildly as the film ends. Mailer is essentially using up remaining film after the actual film wrapped. Torn approaches Mailer and says that the film has no ending unless it includes the assasination of Kingsley. Torn proceeds to either break character -- or inhabit his character and himself or perhaps dive into some other unknown void--and attacks Mailer with a hammer in front of Mailer's wife and young children.

Mailer defends himself with a remarkable fury while wife and kids panic and weep in the background. Mind you, all of this appears on film. Mailer reputedly nearly bit Torn's ear off during the tussle. When they finally stop fighting, Torn says "You know I had to do that".

The film itself mixes the real and the surreal, reflecting Mailer's ability to let it all hang out on film and get others to do the same. There is somethng of Warhol's Factory or a John Cassavettes project to the film, but it is radically different than either of these as Mailer proceeds to let us wonder if he is Mailer the Megalomaniac or just (to borrow his term) The Whitest Negro on the block. The fact that Mailer would include the fight footage at the end, which is bizarre and riveting, suggests that he had found, amid all the character play and posturing, a nugget of the Real for which he appears always on the search.

His fearless, public battles with the feminist movement of the 70s, seemed so retro, out of touch and unreal at the time (kind of like Jack Kerouac, approaching his later years, ranting on about evil hippies and the like). But in retrospect, Norman Mailer was always doing battle against what he appeared to view as the moderating, suffocating, plasticizing, and corporatizing social forces that, through politics and consumerist culture seem to work so hard to rob us of our individuality and humanity. Certainly, there would be a shortsidedness to say that women should not have the same freedoms as men. I think what Mailer railed against were the political forces of feminism that he saw as threatening to dictate the behaviors of men through political correctness and the like. Mailer's vision I think was for a freer society for everyone, not necessarily a more polite, restrained or civil society. Women themselves would have to judge all of the gains (and perhaps losses) that may have resulted from the feminist movement. For instance, in The Prisoner of Sex (1971) Mailer ponders the unacceptability of a marriage agreement which dictated his required chores and housekeeping duties. Clearly, he is Norman Mailer and in his view, Mailer's work is too important and supersedes any chores or tasks that a relationship might impose. I don't know the answer but for example would feminist theorists Kate Millett or Shulamith Firestone, or artist Judy Chicago, or writer Germaine Greer, in whatever relationships they were engaged, agree to drop everything to do the dishes for equality's sake, or was the assumption that their work was too valuable for the Movement to suffer the distraction?

Anyway, the point of all of the above, besides declaring my lifelong literary interest in that rough and tumble genius, that beautiful literary stylist and essayist (his last novel, Castle in the Forest was a mysterious work of fiction and a relentless page turner), that sometimes ludicrous, wife-stabbing, wannabe Mayor of New York, whose appearance on the Dick Cavett show in which he argued and fought with Gore Vidal was a legendary moment of the Broadcast TV era, the point is that they don't come any more complicated or contradictory than Norman Mailer.

Mailer is approaching 85, so it is remarkable that although his extra-literary exploits appear on the wain, he remains a fascinating, engaging writer. So, it is no surprise that, this week, New York Magazine published an excerpt from Mailer's forthcoming book on God. http://nymag.com/news/features/38961/ Mailer , in a long form dialogue with Michael Lennon observes many mysteries and contradictions as he speculates on God, the Devil, and humanity. Mailer recasts it all in some form of his own philsophy. The Devil is in the technology and the plastic. The Lord God Almighty may be both unknowable and at the same time not knowledgable about eveyone and everything happening in this Earthly domain. Like the artist she/he is, God may really need a good agent to pull all of the details together for her/him (on this note, Mailer doesn't judge).

I am looking for the book, as it presents another opportunity to experience, tussle with and savor the deep thoughts and fascinating prose of one of Brooklyn's -- and America's -- foremost writers.

---Brooklyn Beat

Gentrifyin' Days: "Culture Wars as Housing Boom Generates Culture Clash"(Crains NY)

Very interesting article in Crain's New York (October 8-15) regarding gentrification fallout in Williamsburgh and Greenpoint which is leading luxury coop - real estate buying parents to opt out of the public schools. Culture clashes with existing school administrations and long-time community residents over more traditional educational philosophy focusing on penmanship, test prep, with, in the words of one gentrifying parent "no room for fun", leads those parents who can afford it to send their kids to private schools or charter schools (some involving one hour commutes for the kids).

To quote from the article in Crain's New York by Erik Engquist:

"When parents come in and say a school's not good enough for their children, it's a very sensitive issue," says Kate Yourke, an activist parent who moved to Williamsburg from the Upper West Side in 1985. "Parents are quite naive about the implications."
The may 2005 rezoning of northern Brooklyn by the Bloomberg administration and the City Council has triggered a boom of luxury apartment projects. In the next few years, tens of thousands of affluent residents will plunk themselves down in what has long been a poor, heavily ethnic area.
The schoolyard fights of the last two years point to uglier times ahead for the administration's most ambitious experiment with accelerated gentrification.
Consider what happened to Brooke Park, who led an effort to increase arts education at PS 84 in Williamsburg. "I was running for the school leadership team, and I got heckled by faculty at a meeting," she says. "The faculty was trying to push out parents they didn't want."
It worked: Ms. Parker and the others pulled their kids from the school.

When we lived in Clinton Hill in the early 90s, there was a movement by some gentrifyin' parents to establish a "Gifted Program" which some of the long-term residents identified as a program for white students within schools predominently of students of color. Some of the parents behind this who were white had actually lived in the community since the time they were Pratt Institute students, having bought and renovated their homes when Clinton Hill real estate could bought for a song. Still, the program never took off. As the realtor who showed us our home said in a singsong fashion when we asked about schools in Clinton Hill at the time: "Frie-nds!"

Well, the bottom line is that although Easy Money may have made the idea of gentrification a simpler process, more like "Monopoly" than the Game of Life, moving into established less affluent neighborhoods and finding common ground can be a complex, challenging issue. However obvious it should seem, Gentrifyers may not always be welcome since they drive up prices and can serve as an unwelcome cultural wedge .

Interesting also, a recent issue of New York magazine http://nymag.com/realestate/features/37656/index3.html dealing with the bursting of the real estate bubble, observed that "Hipster Brooklyn: Williamsburgh/Greenpoint" rated 7 our of 10 (with 10 being the worst) in terms of risk in loss of real estate value. One imagines that that can only create more tension. Brownstone Brooklyn and other more traditionally established areas in the borough seem to be retaining their value, but that may remain true of areas that are currently established...moving into areas where much of the appeal is speculative and in the dreams of future perfect may quickly lose steam. That will require real vision, patience and courage, a willingness to homestead and help build the community, not count on a quick flip.

The willingness to engage in this level and type of commitment will be the real test and the determining factor on the future of surreal estate in post-Bubble Brooklyn.

--Brooklyn Beat

Current Reading

  • Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War- Tony Horwitz
  • A Sultan in Palermo - Tariq Ali
  • Hitch-22: A Memoir - Christopher Hitchens
  • Negropedia- Patrice Evans
  • Dead Funny: Humor in Nazi Germany - Rudolph Herzog
  • Exile on Main Street - Robert Greenfield
  • Among the Truthers - A Journey Among America's Growing Conspiracist Underworld - Jonathan Kay
  • Paradise Lost - John Milton
  • What Is Your Dangerous Idea? Thinking the Unthinkable - John Brockman
  • Notes from the Edge Times - Daniel Pinchbeck
  • Fringe-ology: How I Can't Explain Away the Unexplainable- Steve Volk
  • Un Juif pour l'exemple (translated as A Jew Must Die )- Jacques Cheesex
  • The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins
  • Pale King - David Foster Wallce
  • David Bowie: Starman bio - Paul Trynka
  • Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat - Andrez Bergen
  • The Future of Nostalgia -Svetlana Boym
  • Living in the End Times - Slavoj ZIzek
  • FIrst as Tragedy Next as Farce - Slavoj Zizek
  • How to Survive a Robot Uprising - Daniel Wilson
  • Where is My Jet Pack? -Daniel Wilson
  • Day of the Oprichniks - Vladimir Sorokin
  • Ice Trilogy - Vladimir Sorokin
  • First Civilizations
  • Oscar Wilde -Andre Maurois
  • The Beats - Harvey Pekar, et al
  • SDS - Harvey Pekar, et al
  • The Unfinished Animal - Theodore Roszak
  • Friends of Eddy Coyle
  • Brooklands -Emily Barton
  • Abraham Lincoln - Vampire Hunter - Seth Grahme-Smith - Entertaining and historical
  • Dictionary of the Khazars - Pavic
  • Sloth-Gilbert Hernandez
  • War and Peace- Leo Tolstoy
  • Charles Addams: An Evilution
  • Life in Ancient Greece
  • Time - Eva Hoffmann
  • Violence - S. Zizek
  • Luba - a graphic novel by Gilbert Hernandez
  • Life in Ancient Egypt
  • Great Apes - Will Self - riveting and disturbing
  • Lost Honor of Katherina Blum - Heinrich Boll - could not put it down
  • Yellow Back Radio Brokedown - Ishmael Reed (author deserving of new wide readership)
  • Living in Ancient Mesopotomia
  • Landscape in Concrete - Jakov Lind - surreal
  • 'There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried To Kill Her Neighbor's Baby'-Ludmilla Petrushevskaya - creepy stories - translation feels literarily "thin"
  • Mythologies - William Butler Yeats (re-read again & again)
  • How German Is It ? - Walter Abish
  • The Book of Genesis - illustrated by R. Crumb - visionary
  • "Flags" - an illustrated encyclopedia - wish I could remember all of these. Flag culture
  • Sirens of Titan - Kurt Vonnegut
  • Ubik - Philip K. Dick
  • Nobody's Fool - Richard Russo
  • Hitler's Empire - Mark Mazower
  • Nazi Culture - various authors
  • Master Plan: Himmler 's Scholars and the Holocaust - Heather Pringle
  • Eichmann in Jerusalem - Hannah Arendt
  • Living in Ancient Rome
  • Traveling with Herodotus -R. Kapuszynsky
  • Oblivion - David Foster Wallace - Some of his greatest work
  • Infinite Jest - David Foster Wallace - still wrestling with this great book
  • Netherland - Joseph O'Neill - staggeringly great read
  • Renegade - The Obama Campaign - Richard Wolffe
  • Mount Analogue - Rene Daumal
  • John Brown
  • Anathem - Neal Stephenson - love Stephenson but tough slogging first few chapters
  • 7 Deadly Sins
  • ALEX COX - Alex Cox
  • FIASCO by Thomas Ricks
  • I, Fellini - Charlotte Chandler & Federico Fellini
  • Best of 20th century alternative history fiction
  • Judah P. Benjamin - Eli Evans - Confederacy's Secretary of State & source of the W.C. Field's exclamation
  • Moscow 2042 - Vladimir Voinovich - Pre-1989 curiosity & entertaining sci fi read; love his portrayal of Solzhenitsyn-like character
  • Gomorrah - Roberto Saviano - Mafia without the It-Am sugar coating. Brutal & disturbing
  • The Sack of Rome - Celebrity+Media+Money=Silvio Berlusconi - Alexander Stille
  • Reporting - David Remnick - terrific journalism
  • Fassbinder
  • Indignation - Philip Roth
  • Rome
  • Let's Go Italy! 2008
  • Italian Phrases for Dummies
  • How to Pack
  • Violence - Slavoj Zizek
  • Dali: Painting & Film
  • The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight - Jimmy Breslin
  • The Good Rat - Jimmy Breslin
  • Spook Country - William Gibson
  • A Blue Hand - The Beats in India - Deborah Baker
  • The Metaphysical Club - Louis Menard
  • Coast of Utopia - Tom Stoppard
  • Physics of the Impossible - Dr. Michio Kaku
  • Managing the Unexpected - Weick & Sutcliffe
  • Wait Til The Midnight Hour - Writings on Black Power
  • Yellow Back Radio Brokedown - Ishmael Reed
  • Burning Down the Masters' House - Jayson Blair
  • Howl - Allen Ginsberg
  • Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Palace Thief - Ethan Canin
  • John Adams - David McCullough
  • The Wooden Sea - Jonathan Carroll
  • American Gangster - Mark Jacobson
  • Return of the King - J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Gawker Guide to Becoming King of All Media
  • Jews and Power - Ruth Wisse
  • Youth Without Youth - Mircea Eliade
  • A Team of Rivals - Doris Goodwin
  • Ghost Hunters -William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death - Deborah Blum
  • Dream -Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy - Stephen Duncombe
  • Love & Theft - Eric Lott
  • Exit Ghost - Philip Roth
  • Studio A - The Bob Dylan Reader

Current Listening

  • Alexi Murdoch Wait
  • Wilco Summer Teeth
  • Wilco The Album
  • Carmina Burana - Ray Manzarek (& Michael Riesmann)
  • Polyrock - Polyrock
  • 96 Tears - Garland Jeffries
  • Ghost of a Chance Garland Jeffries
  • Yellow Magic Orchestra
  • Mustang Sally Buddy Guy
  • John Lee Hooker
  • Black and White Years
  • Together Through Life - B. Dylan
  • 100 Days 100 Nites - Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings
  • DYLAN: 3 disc Greatest...
  • Glassworks - Philip Glass
  • Wild Palms - Soundtrack -Ryuichi Sakamoto
  • Dinah Washington - Best of..
  • Commander Cody& His Lost Planet Airmen Live at Armadillo