Tweeting Backwards

Paris Review No. 181 Cover-Norman Mailer

Paris Review No. 181 Cover-Norman Mailer

Some criticize Twitter for being too brief and even superficial. However, those critics lack an understanding of what Twitter is often best at–aggregating news and other information.

Five minutes on Twitter Sunday morning allowed me to read a tweet linking to a terrific interview with the late literary icon, Norman Mailer. The interview with Mailer, from 2007, was one of The Art of Fiction series, No. 193, from The Paris Review, conducted by Andrew O’Hagan.

I became taken with Mailer’s writing and his role as a literary giant mainly after a visit to Provincetown last Spring. That’s when I discovered Dwight Raymond’s wonderful memoir, Mornings With Mailer: A Recollection of Friendship. After reading Raymond’s book, I dove into Mailer’s work, including what was considered a groundbreaking book at the time, Armies of the Night: History as a Novel/The Novel As History. After I finished it, I penned “Writing from Another Time,” a blog post about Mailer, referencing Raymond’s introduction of Mailer to me.

Back to the O’Hagan interview with Mailer; the iconic American author, then 84 and months before he’d pass away from renal failure that fall.

I’m guessing that he knew his time was short. I was particularly struck by his sense about aging as a writer and shared that wisdom with his interviewer. He spoke volumes about why seniors have so much to offer, famous novelist, or not.

Well, I think if you get old and you’re not full of objectivity you’re in trouble. The thing that makes old age powerful is objectivity. If you say to yourself, My karma is more balanced now that I have fewer things than I’ve ever had in my life, that can give you sustenance. You end up with a keen sense of what you still have as a writer, and also of what you don’t have any longer. As you grow older, there’s no reason why you can’t be wiser as a novelist than you ever were before. You should know more about human nature every year of your life. Do you write about it quite as well or as brilliantly as you once did? No, not quite. You’re down a peg or two there.

Objectivity and wisdom comes with age. In fact, wisdom is impossible without a certain measure of life lived, filtered through consideration, and rumination about those experiences, as well as an awareness of the legacy of others that came before.

A writer like Mailer is a good place to start mining wisdom and great writing from a prior era. Add a book or two of his to your 2014 reading plans.

3 thoughts on “Tweeting Backwards

  1. Have you read “Executioner’s Song” by Norman Mailer? It is one of the top three books I have ever read along with “Hiroshima” by John Hersey and “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” by Wallace (can’t remember her first name).

    • Sally, I have not read two of those three. I did read “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” way back when I was in school. I’m a late arrival on Mailer’s writing and “Executioner’s Song” gets mentioned often, so I must read it at some point in 2014. As they say (and you know this as well as anyone), “so many books; so little time.”

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