125. Norman Mailer on Ernest Hemingway

Been going through a little Norman Mailer phase. I read his dispatches from the Rumble In The Jungle to get pumped for Mayweather/Pacquaio, and now that has bled into The Executioner’s Song and The Naked and the Dead.  

Today I found a Mailer edition of the Paris Review’s Art Of Fiction, and that may just be the most pretentious sentence I’ve ever typed. It’s from 2007, the year Mailer died. Here are my favorite excerpts:

On Hemingway’s style

He’s a trap. If you’re not careful you end up writing like him. It’s very dangerous to write like Hemingway, but on the other hand it’s almost like a rite of passage. I almost wouldn’t trust a young novelist—I won’t speak for the women here, but for a male novelist—who doesn’t imitate Hemingway in his youth. 

On his theory of Hemingway’s suicide

I came up with a thesis: Hemingway had learned early in life that the closer he came to daring death the healthier it was for him. He saw that as the great medicine, to dare to engage in a nearness to death. And so I had this notion that night after night when he was alone, after he said goodnight to Mary, Hemingway would go to his bedroom and he’d put his thumb on the shotgun trigger and put the barrel in his mouth and squeeze down on the trigger a little bit, and—trembling, shaking—he’d try to see how close he could come without having the thing go off. On the final night he went too far. That to me made more sense than him just deciding to blow it all to bits. However, it’s nothing but a theory. The fact of the matter is that Hemingway committed suicide. 

(God, that gives me the chills.)

On reputations

If you’ve been in five — say, five — fights in your life, the public sees it as fifty fights or one hundred and fifty. 

On competitiveness

What’s not understood sufficiently about novelists is how competitive we all are. We’re as competitive as star athletes. Particularly the ones who break through into public renown. And we don’t say, Oh, what do you all have to be so envious of each other for? Isn’t it enough that we’re all talented? Why can’t we just enjoy each other? It doesn’t work that way. We’re competitive. You can’t say to athletes, What are you all competitive for? Isn’t it marvelous that you can catch a football with great ease and run quickly? Why do you have to be in competition with the other men? Anyone who talks like that is the silliest sort of liberal. 

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