One Idea Essay By Norman Mailer

 

 

In an October 1957 letter to a friend who had recommended he read Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, Hunter S. Thompson wrote, “Although I don’t feel that it’s at all necessary to tell you how I feel about the principle of individuality, I know that I’m going to have to spend the rest of my life expressing it one way or another, and I think that I’ll accomplish more by expressing it on the keys of a typewriter than by letting it express itself in sudden outbursts of frustrated violence. . . .”

Thompson carved out his niche early. He was born in 1937, in Louisville, Kentucky, where his fiction and poetry earned him induction into the local Athenaeum Literary Association while he was still in high school. Thompson continued his literary pursuits in the United States Air Force, writing a weekly sports column for the base newspaper. After two years of service, Thompson endured a series of newspaper jobs—all of which ended badly—before he took to freelancing from Puerto Rico and South America for a variety of publications. The vocation quickly developed into a compulsion.

Thompson completed The Rum Diary, his only novel to date, before he turned twenty-five; bought by Ballantine Books, it finally was published—to glowing reviews—in 1998. In 1967, Thompson published his first nonfiction book, Hell’s Angels, a harsh and incisive firsthand investigation into the infamous motorcycle gang then making the heartland of America nervous.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which first appeared in Rolling Stone in November 1971, sealed Thompson’s reputation as an outlandish stylist successfully straddling the line between journalism and fiction writing. As the subtitle warns, the book tells of “a savage journey to the heart of the American Dream” in full-tilt gonzo style—Thompson’s hilarious first-person approach—and is accented by British illustrator Ralph Steadman’s appropriate drawings.

His next book, Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72, was a brutally perceptive take on the 1972 Nixon-McGovern presidential campaign. A self-confessed political junkie, Thompson chronicled the 1992 presidential campaign in Better than Sex (1994). Thompson’s other books include The Curse of Lono (1983), a bizarre South Seas tale, and three collections of Gonzo Papers: The Great Shark Hunt (1979), Generation of Swine (1988) and Songs of the Doomed (1990).

In 1997, The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967, the first volume of Thompson’s correspondence with everyone from his mother to Lyndon Johnson, was published. The second volume of letters, Fear and Loathing in America: The Brutal Odyssey of an Outlaw Journalist, 1968-1976, has just been released.

Located in the mostly posh neighborhood of western Colorado’s Woody Creek Canyon, ten miles or so down-valley from Aspen, Owl Farm is a rustic ranch with an old-fashioned Wild West charm. Although Thompson’s beloved peacocks roam his property freely, it’s the flowers blooming around the ranch house that provide an unexpected high-country tranquility. Jimmy Carter, George McGovern and Keith Richards, among dozens of others, have shot clay pigeons and stationary targets on the property, which is a designated Rod and Gun Club and shares a border with the White River National Forest. Almost daily, Thompson leaves Owl Farm in either his Great Red Shark Convertible or Jeep Grand Cherokee to mingle at the nearby Woody Creek Tavern.

Visitors to Thompson’s house are greeted by a variety of sculptures, weapons, boxes of books and a bicycle before entering the nerve center of Owl Farm, Thompson’s obvious command post on the kitchen side of a peninsula counter that separates him from a lounge area dominated by an always-on Panasonic TV, always tuned to news or sports. An antique upright piano is piled high and deep enough with books to engulf any reader for a decade. Above the piano hangs a large Ralph Steadman portrait of “Belinda”—the Slut Goddess of Polo. On another wall covered with political buttons hangs a Che Guevara banner acquired on Thompson’s last tour of Cuba. On the counter sits an IBM Selectric typewriter—a Macintosh computer is set up in an office in the back wing of the house.

The most striking thing about Thompson’s house is that it isn’t the weirdness one notices first: it’s the words. They’re everywhere—handwritten in his elegant lettering, mostly in fading red Sharpie on the blizzard of bits of paper festooning every wall and surface: stuck to the sleek black leather refrigerator, taped to the giant TV, tacked up on the lampshades; inscribed by others on framed photos with lines like, “For Hunter, who saw not only fear and loathing, but hope and joy in ’72—George McGovern”; typed in IBM Selectric on reams of originals and copies in fat manila folders that slide in piles off every counter and table top; and noted in many hands and inks across the endless flurry of pages.

Thompson extricates his large frame from his ergonomically correct office chair facing the TV and lumbers over graciously to administer a hearty handshake or kiss to each caller according to gender, all with an easy effortlessness and unexpectedly old-world way that somehow underscores just who is in charge.

We talked with Thompson for twelve hours straight. This was nothing out of the ordinary for the host: Owl Farm operates like an eighteenth-century salon, where people from all walks of life congregate in the wee hours for free exchanges about everything from theoretical physics to local water rights, depending on who’s there. Walter Isaacson, managing editor of Time, was present during parts of this interview, as were a steady stream of friends. Given the very late hours Thompson keeps, it is fitting that the most prominently posted quote in the room, in Thompson’s hand, twists the last line of Dylan Thomas’s poem “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night”: “Rage, rage against the coming of the light.”

For most of the half-day that we talked, Thompson sat at his command post, chain-smoking red Dunhills through a German-made gold-tipped cigarette filter and rocking back and forth in his swivel chair. Behind Thompson’s sui generis personality lurks a trenchant humorist with a sharp moral sensibility. His exaggerated style may defy easy categorization, but his career-long autopsy on the death of the American dream places him among the twentieth century’s most exciting writers. The comic savagery of his best work will continue to electrify readers for generations to come.

. . . I have stolen more quotes and thoughts and purely elegant little starbursts of writing from the Book of Revelation than from anything else in the English Language—and it is not because I am a biblical scholar, or because of any religious faith, but because I love the wild power of the language and the purity of the madness that governs it and makes it music.

 

HUNTER S. THOMPSON

Well, wanting to and having to are two different things. Originally I hadn’t thought about writing as a solution to my problems. But I had a good grounding in literature in high school. We’d cut school and go down to a café on Bardstown Road where we would drink beer and read and discuss Plato’s parable of the cave. We had a literary society in town, the Athenaeum; we met in coat and tie on Saturday nights. I hadn’t adjusted too well to society—I was in jail for the night of my high school graduation—but I learned at the age of fifteen that to get by you had to find the one thing you can do better than anybody else . . . at least this was so in my case. I figured that out early. It was writing. It was the rock in my sock. Easier than algebra. It was always work, but it was always worthwhile work. I was fascinated early by seeing my byline in print. It was a rush. Still is.

When I got to the Air Force, writing got me out of trouble. I was assigned to pilot training at Eglin Air Force Base near Pensacola in northwest Florida, but I was shifted to electronics . . . advanced, very intense, eight-month school with bright guys . . . I enjoyed it but I wanted to get back to pilot training. Besides, I’m afraid of electricity. So I went up there to the base education office one day and signed up for some classes at Florida State. I got along well with a guy named Ed and I asked him about literary possibilities. He asked me if I knew anything about sports, and I said that I had been the editor of my high-school paper. He said, “Well, we might be in luck.” It turned out that the sports editor of the base newspaper, a staff sergeant, had been arrested in Pensacola and put in jail for public drunkenness, pissing against the side of a building; it was the third time and they wouldn’t let him out.

So I went to the base library and found three books on journalism. I stayed there reading them until it closed. Basic journalism. I learned about headlines, leads: who, when, what, where, that sort of thing. I barely slept that night. This was my ticket to ride, my ticket to get out of that damn place. So I started as an editor. Boy, what a joy. I wrote long Grantland Rice-type stories. The sports editor of my hometown Louisville Courier Journal always had a column, left-hand side of the page. So I started a column.

By the second week I had the whole thing down. I could work at night. I wore civilian clothes, worked off base, had no hours, but I worked constantly. I wrote not only for the base paper, The Command Courier, but also the local paper, The Playground News. I’d put things in the local paper that I couldn’t put in the base paper. Really inflammatory shit. I wrote for a professional wrestling newsletter. The Air Force got very angry about it. I was constantly doing things that violated regulations. I wrote a critical column about how Arthur Godfrey, who’d been invited to the base to be the master of ceremonies at a firepower demonstration, had been busted for shooting animals from the air in Alaska. The base commander told me: “Goddamn it, son, why did you have to write about Arthur Godfrey that way?”

When I left the Air Force I knew I could get by as a journalist. So I went to apply for a job at Sports Illustrated. I had my clippings, my bylines, and I thought that was magic . . . my passport. The personnel director just laughed at me. I said, “Wait a minute. I’ve been sports editor for two papers.” He told me that their writers were judged not by the work they’d done, but where they’d done it. He said, “Our writers are all Pulitzer Prize winners from The New York Times. This is a helluva place for you to start. Go out into the boondocks and improve yourself.”

I was shocked. After all, I’d broken the Bart Starr story.

INTERVIEWER

What was that?

THOMPSON

At Eglin Air Force Base we always had these great football teams. The Eagles. Championship teams. We could beat up on the University of Virginia. Our bird-colonel Sparks wasn’t just any yo-yo coach. We recruited. We had these great players serving their military time in ROTC. We had Zeke Bratkowski, the Green Bay quarterback. We had Max McGee of the Packers. Violent, wild, wonderful drunk. At the start of the season McGee went AWOL, appeared at the Green Bay camp and he never came back. I was somehow blamed for his leaving. The sun fell out of the firmament. Then the word came that we were getting Bart Starr, the All-American from Alabama. The Eagles were going to roll! But then the staff sergeant across the street came in and said, “I’ve got a terrible story for you. Bart Starr’s not coming.” I managed to break into an office and get out his files. I printed the order that showed he was being discharged medically. Very serious leak.

INTERVIEWER

The Bart Starr story was not enough to impress Sports Illustrated?

THOMPSON

The personnel guy there said, “Well, we do have this trainee program.” So I became a kind of copy boy.

INTERVIEWER

You eventually ended up in San Francisco. With the publication in 1967 of Hell’s Angels, your life must have taken an upward spin.

THOMPSON

All of a sudden I had a book out. At the time I was twenty-nine years old and I couldn’t even get a job driving a cab in San Francisco, much less writing. Sure, I had written important articles for The Nation and The Observer, but only a few good journalists really knew my byline. The book enabled me to buy a brand new BSA 650 Lightning, the fastest motorcycle ever tested by Hot Rod magazine. It validated everything I had been working toward. If Hell’s Angels hadn’t happened I never would have been able to write Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or anything else. To be able to earn a living as a freelance writer in this country is damned hard; there are very few people who can do that. Hell’s Angels all of a sudden proved to me that, Holy Jesus, maybe I can do this. I knew I was a good journalist. I knew I was a good writer, but I felt like I got through a door just as it was closing.

INTERVIEWER

With the swell of creative energy flowing throughout the San Francisco scene at the time, did you interact with or were you influenced by any other writers?

THOMPSON

Ken Kesey for one. His novels One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion had quite an impact on me. I looked up to him hugely. One day I went down to the television station to do a roundtable show with other writers, like Kay Boyle, and Kesey was there. Afterwards we went across the street to a local tavern and had several beers together. I told him about the Angels, who I planned to meet later that day, and I said, “Well, why don’t you come along?” He said, “Whoa, I’d like to meet these guys.” Then I got second thoughts, because it’s never a good idea to take strangers along to meet the Angels. But I figured that this was Ken Kesey, so I’d try. By the end of the night Kesey had invited them all down to La Honda, his woodsy retreat outside of San Francisco. It was a time of extreme turbulence—riots in Berkeley. He was always under assault by the police—day in and day out, so La Honda was like a war zone. But he had a lot of the literary, intellectual crowd down there, Stanford people also, visiting editors, and Hell’s Angels. Kesey’s place was a real cultural vortex.

 

This article is about Norman Mailer's essay, "The White Negro". For white people who "emulate black people", see Wigger.

(publ. City Lights)

AuthorNorman Mailer
CountryUSA
LanguageEnglish
GenreEssay
PublisherCity Lights

Publication date

1957
Media typePrint

The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster, a 9,000-word essay by Norman Mailer, connects the "psychic havoc" wrought by holocaust and the atomic bomb to the aftermath of slavery in America in the figuration of the Hipster, or the "white negro". It is a call to disassociate from Eisenhower liberalism and a numbing culture of conformity and psychoanalysis to embrace a rebellious, personal violence and emancipating sexuality that Mailer associates with marginalized black culture.[2] The essay was first published in the 1957 special issue of Dissent, before being published separately by City Lights. While Mailer's essay was controversial upon its release, winning praise, for example, from Eldridge Cleaver and equal criticism from James Baldwin, it remains perhaps his most famous and reprinted essay and "established Mailer's reputation as a philosopher of hip".

Background[edit]

The origins of The White Negro (WN) date from the mid-1950s. Louis Menand, in his history of The Village Voice directly links Mailer's 17-article column "Quickly: A Column for Slow Readers" to Mailer's development of his philosophy of hip, or "American existentialism".[7]

"Lipton's Journal", Mailer's unpublished 105,000-word diary of self-analysis written over four months while smoking marijuana, also figures into the essay's genesis. It documents "his insights [that] challenge some of the dominant ideas of Western thought", specifically the dualisms that Mailer saw within every individual, like the saint and the psychopath. Mailer had planned to use the insights from Lipton's in a series of novels which never happened, but he did incorporate some of the journal's ideas into WN. He sums these up in one of the last entries in Lipton's:

Generally speaking we have come to the point in history—in this country anyway—where the middle class and upper middle class is composed primarily of the neurotic-conformists, and the saint-psychos are found in some of the activities of the workingclass (as opposed to the workingclass itself), in the Negro people, in Bohemians, in the illiterates, among the reactionaries, a few of the radicals, some of the prison population, and of course in the mass communication media.

Other influences on both "Lipton's" and The White Negro include the psycho-sexual theories of Sigmund Freud and Wilhelm Reich, the writings of Karl Marx, and the work of Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie and other bebop jazz artists. Dearborn avers that Mailer saw these great men of jazz as quintessential figures of Hip; Miles Davis, for example, "was the avatar of Hip, and, with his lean, chiseled good looks and his ultracool manner he was distinctly a sex symbol as well, appealing to white women as well as black."

Essay summary[edit]

Section 1[edit]

Mailer begins the essay by stating:

"Probably, we will never be able to determine the psychic havoc of the concentration camps and the atom bomb upon the unconscious mind of almost everyone alive in these years."

Using the context of a post-World War II society, Mailer asserts that the atrocities of the war have forced humanity to recognize the possibility of a "death by 'deus ex machina' in a gas chamber or in a radioactive city." He feels as if this reality has stifled dissent and that we live in years of "conformity and depression". He observes that "a stench of fear has come out of every pore of American life, and we suffer from a collective failure of nerve," asserting that acts of courage have been isolated.

Section 2[edit]

The primary topic of this section is the hipster and the Hip mentality. After his initial exposition, Mailer begins the second section by observing that:

"It is on this bleak scene that a phenomenon has appeared: the American existentialist—the hipster."

The "hipster" knows that contemporary society must live under the threat of "instant death by atomic war, relatively quick death by the State as l’univers concentrationnaire, or with a slow death by conformity with every creative and rebellious instinct stifled." This realization has led the hipster to accept that:

"the only life-giving answer is to accept the terms of death, to live with death as immediate danger, to divorce oneself from society, to exist without roots, to set out on that uncharted journey into the rebellious imperatives of the self."

The lifestyle of the hipster, the American-existentialist, is one that operates in "the enormous present"; he must "be with it or doomed not to swing." There is a distinction between being Hip and being Square, one that draws a parallel to rebellion and conformity.

Mailer goes on to explain that "the source of Hip is the Negro for he has been living on the margin between totalitarianism and democracy for two centuries." He attributes the proliferation of the hip mentality to the "knifelike entrance" of jazz into culture, explaining that the post-war generation shared a "collective disbelief in the words of men who had too much money and controlled too many things." Mailer suggests that the thought processes of this generation can be traced to D.H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, and Wilhelm Reich, claiming that the philosophy of Ernest Hemingway is also applicable to the reality of the hipsters.

Returning to the role of African-American culture on this phenomenon, Mailer explains that hipsters "absorbed the existentialist synapses of the Negro, and for practical purposes could be considered a white Negro," giving the essay its title. Smoking marijuana was the "wedding ring" of this relationship and language was "the child." The "language of Hip ... gave expression to abstract states of feeling which all could share, at least all those who were Hip." The Negro, unable to "saunter down a street with any real certainty that violence will not visit him," has "kept for his survival the art of the primitive ... relinquishing the pleasures of the mind for the more obligatory pleasures of the body." So, the hipster, the white Negro, uses the "black man’s code" to live their life.

Their existentialism allows them to "feel" themselves. According to Mailer, this existentialism requires a sort of religion; it gives them purpose. He refers to them as mystics who have "chosen to live with death." Death is their "logic"; living with it is their religion. They live is search for their next orgasm, good or bad.

Section 3[edit]

Mailer uses the 3rd section of "The White Negro" to discuss and dissect the psychology of the hipster. He appropriately starts the section by saying:

"It may be fruitful to consider the hipster a philosophicalpsychopath, a man interested not only in the dangerous imperatives of his psychopathy but in codifying, at least for himself, the suppositions on which his inner universe is constructed (343)."

In what seems to be a paradox Mailer explains that the hipster "is a psychopath, and yet not a psychopath but the negation of the psychopath (343)." He explains this understanding by pointing out that the hipster, the philosophical psychopath, is self-aware, a trait that the "unreasoning drive" of the psychopath does not possess. To Mailer "Hip is the sophistication of the wise primitive in a giant jungle"; the hipster’s "intense view of existence matches their experience and their desire to rebel (343)."

He goes on to explain the difference between the psychopath and the psychotic; the "psychotic is legally insane, the psychopath is not (344)." Mailer draws from Sheldon Glueck (& his wife Eleanor) along with Robert M. Lindner in observing that the psychopath is anti-social only interested in satisfying himself (344). He then distances himself from Lindler, stating that Lindler:

"was not ready to project himself into the essential sympathy-which is that the psychopath may indeed be the perverted and dangerous front-runner of a new kind of personality which could become the central expression of human nature before the twentieth century is over (345)."

Mailer’s reasoning for this prediction is that the psychopath "is better adapted to dominate those mutually contradictory inhibitions upon violence and love which civilization has exacted of us (345)," referencing one of his earlier observations that, in contemporary America, "sex is sin and yet sex is paradise (343)." This new personality is a reaction against psychoanalysis and conformity; one that is free from the inhibitions of the "inefficient and often antiquated nervous circuits of the past (345)." He explains that old "circuits" limit human potentials that "might be exciting for our individual growth."

Elaborating on the reaction against psychoanalysis, Mailer states that in "a crisis of accelerated historical tempo and deteriorated values, neurosis tends to be replaced by psychopathy, and the success of psychoanalysis diminishes (345-46)." The analysts are becoming less complex and less experienced compared to their patients, turning psychoanalysis into nothing more than "psychic blood-letting (346)." Psychopaths are difficult to psychoanalyze because their nature leads them to an attempt at living the "infantile fantasy," something Mailer claims may have "a certain instinctive wisdom." The psychopath wants to "grow up a second time" and knows that "to express a forbidden impulse actively is far more beneficial to him than merely" telling a doctor that he wants to (346).

Returning to the source of much of his thought, Mailer observes that the Negro is most familiar with this type of existence; he explores what the Square condemns. Not being privileged with conventional gratification, the Negro has "discovered and elaborated the morality of the bottom (348)." Mailer concludes this section by explaining that the language of Hip is special and "cannot really be taught (348)."

Section 4[edit]

One of the definitive characteristics of the hipster is their language, adopted in large part from the African-American vernacular. Their language is a language with much energy; without this energy the same message would not be delivered. Their vocabulary is semantically so flexible that a single word, such as "dig," can mean hundreds of things depending upon everything from context to tone and rhythm. Mailer speaks of what he calls the Mecca, the apocalyptic orgasm, in which the hipster experiences. He says:

"If everyone in the civilized world is at least in some small degree cripple, the hipster lives with the knowledge of how he is sexually crippled and where he is sexually alive, and the faces of experience which life presents to him each day are engaged, dismissed or avoided as his need directs and his lifemanship makes possible."

According to Mailer, being so disenfranchised by mainstream American society, the African-American views everyday life in the terms of war, which the hipster adopts as his model for the rejection of conformity.

Section 5[edit]

Mailer begins section five of "The White Negro" by stating that a new philosophy, in this case Hip, must have a new language, though the language does not necessarily show its philosophy. He then asks what is "unique in the life-view of Hip," to which he says:

"The answer would be in the psychopathic element of Hip which has almost no interest in viewing human nature, or better, in judging human nature, from a set of standards conceived a priori to the experience, standards inherited from the past (353)."

Hip, being an existential philosophy of the enormous present, rejects much of the paradigm of former systems; it focuses "on complexity rather than simplicity." In the Hip life-view "each man is glimpsed as a collection of possibilities." According to Mailer, context dominates man, "because his character is less significant than the context in which he must function (353)." Truth is "what one feels at each instant in the perpetual climax of the present (354)."

Mailer explains that,

"Hip morality is to do what one feels whenever and wherever it is possible, and – this is how the war of the Hip and the Square begins- to be engaged in one primal battle: to open the limits of the possible for oneself, for oneself alone, because that is one's need. Yet in widening the arena of the possible, one widens it reciprocally for others as well, so that the nihilistic fulfillment of each man’s desire contains its antithesis of human co-operation (354)."

He goes on to state that "Hip ethic is immoderation, childlike in its adoration of the present," and that it "proposes as its final tendency that every social restraint and category be removed (354)."

Mailer then explains that the main woe of the mid-twentieth century is that "faith in man has been lost," something that has allowed for the rise of authoritarian powers to "restrain us from ourselves." Hip, which Mailer suggests "would return us to ourselves," believes that "individual acts of violence are always to be preferred to the collective violence of the State (355)."

Moving into speculation about the future of the hipster, Mailer admits that it is "not very possible to speculate with sharp focus." That being said, he moves back into the role of the Negro, explaining that "the organic growth of Hip depends on whether the Negro emerges as a dominating force in American life (356)." The Negro is more familiar with the dark side of life than the white, which could give him a "potential superiority". This superiority is "so feared that the fear itself has become the underground drama of domestic politics"; it is the traditionally conservative fear of "unforeseeable consequences."

Mailer then suggests that:

"With this possible emergence of the Negro, Hip may erupt as a physically armed rebellion whose sexual impetus may rebound against the antisexual foundation of every organized power in America, and bring into the air such animosities, antipathies, and new conflicts of interest that the mean empty hypocrisies of mass conformity will no longer work (356)."

He goes on to explain that when the Negro does win his equality much will depend on the response of liberals, pointing out the dichotomy between a peaceful transition and an anarchical political system. He concludes by stating that "given such hatred, [society] must either vent itself nihilistically or become turned into the cold murderous liquidations of the totalitarian state (357).

Section 6[edit]

In the last section of Mailer's essay, he suggests the Negro may hold knowledge based on his own position in life and his experiences and a more comprehensive way of thinking may be worthy, even though it may be frightening.

Analysis[edit]

In his biography on Mailer, J. Michael Lennon suggests that The White Negro was Mailer's attempt to "will into being an army of hipster revolutionaries who could bring about an urban utopia." It embraces violence, but makes a distinction between violence by the state and individual violence; the former leads to concentration camps and pogroms, while the latter could lead to freedom. For Mailer, adds Maggie McKinley, violence seems to be an essential part of the masculinity of the Hipster—helping to oppose collectivizing and numbing social forces. In a 1957 letter to a publicly-critical Jean Malaquais, Mailer clarifies his intentions: (1) that barbarism could be an alternative to totalitarianism, and (2) that human energy should not be sublimated at the expense of the individual.

The so-called white Negroes adopted black clothing styles, black jive language, and black music. They mainly associated with black people, distancing themselves from white society. One of the early figures in the white negro phenomenon was jazz musician Mezz Mezzrow, an American Jew born in 1899 who had declared himself a "voluntary Negro" by the 1920s.[22] This movement influenced the hipsters of the 1940s and the beats of the 1950s.

Although the essay considers a subcultural phenomenon, it represents a localized synthesis of Marx and Freud, and thus presages the New Left movement and the birth of the counterculture in the United States. Probably the most prominent academic exponent of the New Left in the US was Herbert Marcuse. The essay is also very prescient because it anticipates the pejorative use of the word wigger in contemporary society to refer to white people who emulate the manner of speech, the fashion styles, or other aspects of the expressive culture of African Americans.

Publication[edit]

The White Negro first appeared in a special issue of Dissent in 1957. It triggered a "great orgasm debate" in subsequent issues, touching on the zeitgeist of the fifties and the effects of psychoanalysis in general. Sorin observes that the board of Dissent published the essay without apparent debate, temporarily tripling the periodical's subscriptions. It was only later, relates then-editor Irving Howe, that they realized publishing the essay as-written was "unprincipled". Despite the initial controversy, Lennon notes, WN became the most reprinted essay of an era. It was reprinted with rebuttals from Ned Polsky and Jean Malaquais, followed by Mailer’s rebuttal, as "Reflections on Hip", in his 1959 miscellany, Advertisements for Myself. The essay and "Reflections on Hip" were reprinted the same year in pamphlet form by City Light Press, and again by this press several times over the next 15 years. Most recently it appears in Mind of an Outlaw (2014). Young enthusiasts of Mailer's essay, states Lennon, carried their copies of the City Light's reprint proudly as a "trumpet of defiance" throughout an awakening nation.

Reception[edit]

Reception to The White Negro was mixed and has been controversial since its publication: it has, according to Lennon, been "the most discussed American essay in the quarter century after World War II."

In a letter to Albert Murray, Ralph Ellison called the essay "The same old primitivism crap in a new package."[27]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Citations

Bibliography

  • Adams, Laura (1976). Existential Battles: The Growth of Norman Mailer. Athens, OH: Ohio UP. ISBN 0821401823. 
  • Adams, Laura, ed. (1974). Will the Real Norman Mailer Please Stand Up?. Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press. ISBN 0804690669. 
  • Baldwin, James (1961). "The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy". Esquire. 55 (5): 102–06. 
  • Bishop, Sarah (2012). "The Life and Death of the Celebrity Hero in Maidstone". The Mailer Review. 6 (1): 288–308. OCLC 86175502. 
  • Dahlby, Tracy (2011). "'The White Negro' Revisited: The Demise of the Indispensable Hipster". The Mailer Review. 5 (1): 218–230. OCLC 86175502. Retrieved 2017-09-18. 
  • Dearborn, Mary V. (1999). Mailer: A Biography. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0395736552. 
  • Ehrlich, Robert (1978). Norman Mailer: The Radical as Hipster. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 081081160X. 
  • Gutman, Stanley T. (1975). Mankind in Barbary: The Individual and Society in the Novels of Norman Mailer. Hanover, NH: The University Press of New England. OCLC 255515793. 
  • Holmes, John Clellon (February 1958). "The Philosophy of the Beat Generation". Esquire. 49 (2): 35–47. 
  • Lennon, J. Michael, ed. (1988). Conversations with Norman Mailer. Jackson and London: U of Mississippi P. ISBN 0878053522. 
  • Lennon, J. Michael (2013). Norman Mailer: A Double Life. New York: Simon and Schuster. OCLC 873006264. 
  • Lennon, J. Michael; Lennon, Donna Pedro (2014). Lucas, Gerald R., ed. "57.1". Norman Mailer: Works & Days. Project Mailer. Retrieved 2017-08-03. 
  • Lennon, J. Michael (2014). The Selected Letters of Norman Mailer. New York: Random House. ISBN 0812986091. 
  • Mailer, Norman (1992) [1959]. Advertisements for Myself. Cambridge: Harvard UP. ISBN 0674005902. OCLC 771096402. 
  • Mailer, Norman (2014). Sipiora, Phillip, ed. Mind of an Outlaw. New York: Random House. OCLC 862097015. 
  • Malaquais, Jean. "Reflections on Hip". In Mailer, Norman. Advertisements for Myself. pp. 359–62. 
  • McKinley, Maggie (2017). Understanding Norman Mailer. Understanding Contemporary American Literature. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 1611178053. 
  • Menand, Louis (January 5, 2009). "It Took a Village". The New Yorker. Critic at Large. pp. 36–45. Retrieved 2017-09-16. 
  • O'Neil, Paul (November 30, 1959). "The Only Rebellion Around". Life Magazine. 47 (22): 115+. 
  • Podhoretz, Norman (Spring 1958). "The Know-Nothing Bohemians". Partisan Review. 25 (2): 305+. 
  • Polsky, Ned. "Reflections on Hip". In Mailer, Norman. Advertisements for Myself. pp. 365–69. 
  • Sorin, Gerald (2005). Irving Howe: A Life of Passionate Dissent. New York: NYU Press. ISBN 0814740200. 
  • Wenke, Joe (2013). Mailer's America. Stamford, CT: Trans Uber LLC. ISBN 098590027X. 

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