So Norman Mailer is dead at the age of 84.
I've always had a fancy for Norman, his zeal for being bold and audacious. Of course he's given me fodder on the Negro Hipster quest in the form of his essay "The White Negro." But more than his accomplishments and literary legacy I think I've been intrigued by his status as a living legend who ultimately failed in his quest for lasting relevance.
Looking back now, his ambition and desire outsized his talent, which is a torment I relate with far too often. But his passing feels like a burial of that ego-archetype as much as Mailer himself. Narcissism and vanity run amok in our new media era, but it's mutated from the grandiose god-complex that was, in the end, his calling card. We still have ego-warriors, but they are incapable of ruling the land and commanding our attention the way Mailer did in his prime. I wasn't around in those days, but seems he lived his life like he was in a reality show, and back then that meant you were an american hero, now we know it just means you have an american ego.
I wonder, for black people, if we appreciate someone like Mailer. I know it's hard for me to think of him as something other than an old-school caucasian who The System forced me to place on a pedestal. When I first read "The White Negro" I was like, wow. Then years later reading James Baldwin tearing the essay apart, I was like, WOW. But Mailer's still compelling, not necessarily as an author -- where you might take him or leave him -- but as a personality. How does he compare with a Kanye, or a Terrell Owens, or a Kobe Bryant, or any of our celebs/stars who have legitimate talent but have taken a road that inextricably wraps their ego with their work? Sometimes I think black people in general suffer from a higher rate of outsized ambition and desire. Or maybe we all suffer from the ego-itis, but black folks have a tougher time reconciling the reality and dealing with it. We're not as familiar with the expansive middle ground of a happy life with modest, but manageable, goals and expectations. Too often we still only see The Projects or The Superstar....
I don't know, I'm rambling now. But I wonder if we're just now getting our Norman Mailers. Is Kanye walking the same dead-end road, or is he something new and different? Mailer, like 'Ye and so many others, wanted to conquer his industry and the world through his talent. And now he's dead. And I think that model of star-celebrity might be as well.
Norman Mailer Dead at 84 [Yahoo News]