Acclaimed author and nonfiction novelist Norman Mailer spoke about literature and the upcoming presidential election to about 250 people in Sudler Hall Thursday night.
“I have the rather uneasy feeling that you’d like me to talk about politics for the next hour, but we’re not going to because this is an endowed lecture,” he said. “So like it or not, you’re going to hear about literature tonight.”
Although Mailer lambasted President George W. Bush ’68, he focused his remarks on writing, including his early experiences as a writer. He spoke about “the worst single moment [he] had in a writing class,” when his English professor at Harvard criticized one of his pieces in front of his fellow students.
“I can’t tell you how my back was scalded by that laughter,” Mailer said. “You can go through hell in a writing class — real, true hell.”
He also spoke about what he perceives as the respective advantages of writing in the first-person and the third-person. He described his thought process in writing his work “The Gospel According to the Son,” a first-person account of the Gospel through Jesus’ viewpoint.
“I thought to myself [the New Testament] might be the greatest thing ever written, but it was abominably written,” Mailer said. “I knew the first person would have everyone saying I was an egomaniac — but I finally decided, ‘Damn the torpedos, I’m going to do it in the first-person,’ and I did.”
During a question-and-answer session, he spoke about the current state of American politics and the upcoming election, which he called the “most important election of my lifetime.”
“This is a mysterious election,” he said. “They impeached Clinton because he had an interaction with a lovely woman which was relatively modest, [but] Bush is screwing half of the world.”
Mailer said he has concluded that the war on Iraq was not about Saddam Hussein or bringing democracy to the Middle East but about oil.
“The fact is they went to war because they had to,” he said. “They had to capture the Middle East and the oil. They never had any intention to bring democracy; they were just going to use the language.”
Mailer concluded with a discussion of what he characterized as a potentially grim future.
“Kerry may end up having to do the same whether he likes it or not,” Mailer said. “My fear is that we are living in the last days of a democracy.”
Molly Swartz ’06 said she enjoyed Mailer’s speech and his speaking style in particular.
“I thought he was brilliant, and I was very impressed by his reading of his writing and his ability to draw you into his stories,” Swartz said.
William Garneau ’05 said he was particularly impressed by Mailer’s commentary on the American political climate.
“It was great when — he was very candid about his opinion on how the world was going to hell in a hand-basket,” William Garneau ’05 said. “It was really refreshing.”
But other audience members said they were upset that Mailer brought in his personal political views.
“This is a literary evening and he has no right to speak from his pedestal of authority to students the way he did,” a woman who identified herself only as Nadya said.
Mailer is the author of many works, including “The Naked and the Dead,” “The Deer Park” and “The Presidential Papers.”
The presentation was sponsored by the Christophe Schlesinger Visiting Writer Fund and Timothy Dwight College.