Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Spooky Art (2003)

This started out pretty well—a kind of late annex to Advertisements for Myself, focused specifically on writing and reading—but grew more insular and maundering as it went. I liked Mailer's takes on contemporaneous writers in Advertisements and looked forward to an update. But that pretty much amounted here only to Jonathan Franzen, which is laughably paltry in the first place, never mind Mailer had little of interest to say about him. He's dismissive of Toni Morrison, with little insight. But when he started relitigating the battle for D.H. Lawrence with Kate Millet (possibly verbatim from one of his worst books, The Prisoner of Sex) I wanted to cry it was so pitiful. In 2003 Mailer had much more authority as a novelist, so his early pieces on the practical aspects of the life were often interesting. I liked his revelations of what went into his work even when I didn't know the work itself, such as his second and third novels Barbary Shore and The Deer Park. As a critic he is somewhat less interesting and more problematic. He talks way too much about Ernest Hemingway without any special understanding, useful or otherwise. But I appreciate Mailer's reverence for the Russians, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, the Beatles and Rolling Stones of great literature. Mailer talks a lot about Stendhal too, in nearly as glowing terms. So that makes Mailer and Al Gore who think he's one of the best. Guess I'll have to finally give him a try if I can. I like Mailer's general willingness to entertain nonsense such as magic or God or Satan, because I'm actually so willing to entertain it myself. So I looked forward to a longish piece called "The Occult." Alas, like the book itself it starts out well, but then wanders off on tangents with minimal interest, or worse, with elements of Mailer's ego-driven agenda on display too much. The same is true of the piece called "Film." He's predictably weird on movies but never really lands on anything solid. Come to the source notes at the end of the book and it's evident The Spooky Art is all cribbed from published and semi-published material—lectures, interviews, magazine pieces. Thus by definition there is nothing new here. And Mailer's old ideas were getting long in the tooth by then to say the least. So, sadly, there's not much of value to this one. It might even be his worst—although I haven't read all of them.

In case it's not at the library.

1 comment:

  1. W/ Stendhal I think you're supposed to start The Red and The Black which I remember being something of a slog. It's supposed to be the one of the first psychological novels but I learned more ab post-revolutionary France from Marx's The Civil War in France.