Three Ways of Looking at Norman Mailer

Categories: Transitions


Mailer on Ali's knockout of George Foreman to regain the championship: "His opponent was attacking, and there were no ropes behind the opponent. What a dislocation: the axes of his existence were reversed! He was the man on the ropes! Then a big projectile exactly the size of a fist in a glove drove into the middle of Foreman's mind, the best punch of the startled night, the blow Ali saved for a career."

In an excellent essay about Norman Mailer, the mayoral candidate, Dermot McEvoy writes in Publisher's Weekly :

The old literary lion is dead and all the kudos and laments are pouring in. Great writer, super ego. No one can deny the talent—or the combustible personality.

But for a certain generation of New Yorkers, those living and breathing in the remarkable year of 1969—the year of the Miracle Mets, the first Earth Day, the Vietnam Moratorium—there is still the vision of Norman Mailer, Democratic politician....

It was all chronicled in a book called Managing Mailer by Village Voice columnist Joe Flaherty. Flaherty was destined to be the campaign manager for the heavyweight literary ticket of the century—Mailer for Mayor; Jimmy Breslin for President of the City Council. Managing Mailer is not only a primer on the politics of the city in the last third of the 20th century, but also one of the funniest books ever written about American politics. It is The Last Hurrah for a city that no longer exists.

Tom Robbins also explores Mailer's mayoral run and other facets of his life—irascible New Yorker, imaginer of alternative newspapers, inmate of Bellevue's psych ward, passionate, head-butting, put-your-dukes-up saloon intellectual—in a tribute that recalls Robbins' own encounter with Norman Kingsley Mailer in the chaotic streets of Chicago during the Democratic Convention protests in August of 1968.

Robbins wrote:

With a police riot raging one night along Michigan Avenue, three of us had taken sanctuary in the quiet streets behind the Hilton hotel where the delegates were housed. From out of the darkness, a short, barrel-chested man with a massive head swaggered and swayed toward us. He lurched left and then right, the telltale march of the inebriated.

We stopped in our tracks as we recognized the unmistakable form of the famous writer-turned-antiwar-partisan. He halted as well, presumably conducting his ritual head-to-toe survey of potential opponents. "Mr. Mailer," one of us blurted. The ice was broken. "My troops!" he cried as he threw himself around our shoulders one by one. "You're beautiful. You're beautiful. My troops!"

And a look at Mailer, from his work. From the The Fight, Mailer's account of the legendary Ali-Foreman "Rumble in the Jungle" in Zaire in October of 1974:

"With twenty seconds left to the round, Ali attacked. For the first time in the entire fight he had cut off the ring on Foreman. Now Ali struck him with a combination of punches, fast as the punches of the first round, but harder and more consecutive, three capital rights in a row struck Foreman, then a a left and for an instant on Foreman's face appeared the knowledge that he was in danger and must start to look to his last protection. His opponent was attacking, and there were no ropes behind the opponent. What a dislocation: the axes of his existence were reversed! He was the man on the ropes! Then a big projectile exactly the size of a fist in a glove drove into the middle of Foreman's mind, the best punch of the startled night, the blow Ali saved for a career. Foreman arms flew out to the side like a man with a parachute jumping out of a plane, and in this doubled-over position he tried to wander out to the center of the ring.

"All the while his eyes were on Ali and he looked up with no anger as if Ali, indeed, was the man he knew best in the world and would see him on his dying day. Vertigo took Gorge Foreman and revolved him. Still bowing from the waist in this uncomprehending position, eyes on Muhammad Ali all the way, he started to tumble and topple and fall even as he did not wish to go down. His mind was held with magnets high as his championship and his body was seeking the ground.

"He went over like six-foot sixty-year-old butler who has just heard tragic news, yes, fell over all of a long collapsing two seconds, down came the Champion in sections and Ali revolved with him in a close circle, hand primed to hit one more time, and never the need, a wholly intimate escort to the floor."


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