Mailer, Paris Review

In his most recent, and it turned out, last interview with the Paris Review, Mailer as usual had some provocative and insightful things to say.

He discussed something I’ve noted as well, but isn’t mentioned much in the pop culture swim of experience: we are affected by the continual interruptions of commercials, to the point where we can’t concentrate. This seems obvious: commercials train us not to focus, to be shallowly engaged, and suggestible. Good marks for a consumerist agenda, our critical faculties disabled by the passivity required of the audience in pop culture products. TV producers talk about their shows as products. Box office is success in movies, regardless of the quality.

Mailer also talked about movies and the way they sabotage reflection:

You weren’t learning more about human nature from films, you were just being entertained—at some cost to your ability to learn a little more about why we’re here, which I think is one of the remaining huge questions.

(I always appreciated it that Mailer wasn’t afraid of the existential question, which can sound pompous, even adolescent, but is really, if thoughtfully considered by a mature mind, primary to our lives.)

Mailer also talks about the hypocrisy of the culture industry, via Podhoretz’s “Making It”:

In the first half, […Podhoretz’s] thesis is that the dirty little secret among the left, among artists and intellectuals, is that they really want to make it, and they want to make it big. And they conceal that from themselves and from others. But this is really the motivating factor that is never talked about. You can talk about sex but you can’t talk about ambition and desire for success.

There is a distinction here that is subtle but important. Mailer’s ambition had that unfortunate spin of wishing to “make it big,” and many in his clique did reek of the ambition he described. Mailer’s early success in particular warped his sensibility. But “making it” in the sense, not of fame or bucks, but of recognition, is not a disgrace, nor a careerist yearning for “advancement” and approval; the desire for recognition is in some sense a fundamental completion of the creative work. Any creative voice wishes not that the work is “liked,” but rather is seen as achieving a most serious level of engagement.