Thursday, December 7, 2017

More On Mailer’s The Prisoner Of Sex: Halfway Through Part 2, The Acolyte


So some more on Norman Mailer’s The Prisoner Of Sex, as written to some friends, one of whom did his MA thesis on Mailer.

....Just to say in my on and off reading of this book, I’m in the middle of the second part, The Acolyte, some general thoughts are running  through my mind. He’s at the point of having finished with T-Grace Atkinson et al and is about to get down to brass tacks with Kate Millett.

One realization is that I’m falling nicely into the rhythm, pace and even longueurs of Mailer’s prose. I’m reading him easily as a matter of style and no longer find his writing frustrating. The obscure references and tropes that get by me have diminished though I still scratch my head over the odd one. 

I find all his talk about himself as a revolutionary and the need for revolution given his characterization of America as Moloch with its pollution, greed and machine like cannibalism of its citizens both overwrought and silly. 

OTOH, I like that he’s self derisive in questioning his status as a revolutionary owing to his growing into his creature comforts, middle age passivity and to the waning fervor of his energies, much of them sapped by his four failed marriages. (Not for nothing does PW stand for prisoner of war as well as prize winner.) 

That self deprecation reminds me of something purposefully self parodic I read by him about a writer going over all his bills, what he owes his ex wives, all the fancy dinners out, the vacations, the cost of a place on “the Vineyard,” and then finally he gets down to writing something called AMERIKA.

When Mailer gets off the revolutionary kick, I think he points to and expands wonderfully on a great theme about women as nature has them as child bearers and nurturers, that being connected to something mysterious beyond the ken of men, and how their nature works against them in wanting, for those that do, to be the ultimate equal of men in every way. That becomes for radical feminists, what critical theory calls, a “problematic.” 

Mailer is effective, I think, in skewering their fantasies about technology transforming their natures so as to obviate their need to bear children and in skewering the proposition that when liberated, including from their natures, they won’t be looked to as essential to giving birth to sustain the population. 

Yet while he does all that skewering he aptly, I feel, harkens to, and evinces, the sense of the mystery of creation that inheres In women (and not men), the beauty, the awesome naturalness and (metaphorically) the miraculousness of which contrast so profoundly with the dystopian science fiction fantasies of radical feminism. 

I remember from reading this book a half a century ago that the evincing of this sense of mystery in contrast to the mechanizing and technologizing of sex (and maybe other things) is at part of the heart of what I remember to be the marvelous literary criticism that is yet to come.    

Matching his ambiguity and self irony about his status as a revolutionary is Mailer’s contrast of the within-the-system policy reforms of Abzug and NOW with the off the wall wishes of radical feminism that even then sought to erase all biological differences between men and women, to erase all mores, conventions and taboos about sex, envisioning a kind utopia of free love, and that sought to overthrow capitalism and the class and power divides it engenders. 

The matching arises, as best as I can make it out, from Mailer lauding the policy reforms but, too, being attracted to, not the dystopian/utopian fantasies, but, rather, the more prosaic but radical feminist calls for political and social transformation of American society. 

If I’ve got the ambiguities here right, I don’t as yet know whether or how he resolves them.

On I’ll read though and in any event.

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