Norman Mailer, psychologist

From today’s New York Times:

Norman Mailer, the combative, controversial and often outspoken novelist who loomed over American letters longer and larger than any writer of his generation, died on Nov. 10, 2007 at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York. He was 84.

Like many a great novelist, Mailer was a great psychologist. It might be worth reminding readers, though, that Mailer did make the several forays into psychoanalytic theory itself. Perhaps the most ingeniously outrageous instance occurs in ‘Advertisements for Myself’. Here he took a paragraph from Freud’s ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’ and replaced depth psychological terms with economic. Then he took a paragraph from Marx’s ‘Capital‘ and replaced economic terms with depth psychological. A couple of sentences will be enough to show the startling effect:

In the pages which follow I shall bring forward proof that there is a psychological technique which makes it possible to interpret the unconscious undercurrents of society, and that, if that procedure is employed, every society revels itself as a psychical structure which has an unconscious direction which can be detected at any assignable point in the overt activities of social life.

Another one:

The unconscious life of those people in whom the conventionally accepted mode of sexual relations prevails, presents itself as an immense accumulation od unsatisfied desires, its unit being a single unrequited desire.

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3 Responses

  1. It would worth someone’s while to go through all of Mailer’s writing and public utterances in order to elaborate his psychological theory. He was obviously very influenced by Freud (though he wouldn’t touch psychoanalysis himself). And, of course, existentialism. There’s something there which is, I believe, a philosophy of what it is to be a man, a man of courage. Something we need today.
    Unfortunately many people will laugh such a model off because of the well-known screw-ups in Mailer’s personal life (the many wives, stabbing one of them, the part he played in getting a murderer released only for him to kill again, running for mayor of New York, the anti-feminism…).

  2. Arthur – right on both scores. 1) it would be so worthwhile to write something on Mailer’s psychological theory. (I won’t promise that, but I’m going to start re-reading him and this will doubtless lead to thoughts for blogposts.) 2. That’s the fallacy of confusing the biography of the writer with the writer’s art. Even the New Yorker fell into that recently in an interview with Philip Roth. Actually, thanks for that, I’m going to write a post on that right now!

  3. […] comment from Arthur reminds me of one of my pet hates – the fallacy of confusing the life events of an artist, scholar, […]

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