Snarky Behavior

Thoughts on Norman Mailer

November 18, 2007 · 2 Comments

My friend Anna has noticed how manic my posts have been of late.  I admitted to her that it’s a reflection of a crisis of confidence: mostly in regards to the internship search that will dictate my career path.  You know… the whole doing well/doing good thing.

I hate that I have such anxiety over making decisions.  In many ways I hate that I feel compelled to share these anxieties, to explore them so publicly.  I’m far more functional and confident when my mind is clear and I have a path laid out ahead of me.  It’s uncertainty that forces me to run through the Byzantium maze of introspection.  And I hate that.

I’ve been reading about Norman Mailer’s life pretty obsessively ever since he died.  I find the words of his friends who survived him particularly insightful.  The guy was a lout.  He was a cocky, self-congratulatory, grade-a asshole.  But he was also a genius, and he knew it, and he’d tell you about it.  He had tremendous success at a young age (after writing The Naked and the Dead) and spent the rest of his life helping people pat him on the back for it.

Mailer’s public persona was confident and self-assured.  He could take a critical eye to current affairs, and people would listen, because he was a respected American intellectual, but mostly because he stated things in such a way that there was no possibility that he might be wrong.

But there was another side of Mailer.  There was a side that feigned a brashly affected Texan accent, to mask a Brooklyn Jewish identity.  There was a side that wrote beautifully tragic stories, and painted raw human beings and emotion.

In Mailer’s case, his identity wasn’t split:  his identity was fused.   From reading the stories about his life from his contemporaries, I get the strong impression that most people saw through Mailer’s transparent bravado.  That they easily recognized his self-assurance as undoubtedly compensating for some other insecurity or vulnerability.  But that because that was the face he presented to the world, that was the level everyone chose to engage him on.

We see the same thing with people like Donald Trump.  The guy has a ridiculous come-over that grows out his neck, but will never admit to any degree of self-doubt, and is quick to label anyone who might doubt themselves as a “loser.”

Is Trump delusional?  Was Mailer?  Or can we make our public personas function as masks that at once hide and label who we are?

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2 responses so far ↓

  • Rohit // November 18, 2007 at 3:15 pm | Reply

    I think that, to an extent, all of us choose to use external masks because it is the only mechanism by which we might define ourselves to others on our own terms. So much of who we are in a social setting is how others perceive us to be—for better or for worse. Individuals like Mailer, by virtue of their projected personalities, attempt to counteract definition on anyone’s terms but their own. I can certainly identify with that impulse.

    Also, Trump and Mailer really should not be in the same entry together; both might have had similarly brash personalities, but Mailer was awesome; Trump is a caricature of all that is wrong with America.

  • Jon // November 19, 2007 at 1:36 am | Reply

    The public perception point is an important one. The fact is ambiguities and complexities are shunned, and strength, determination and resolve are rewarded, even when the motivational ends are suspect. The extent to which this makes itself manifest when I attend recruiting events with MBA students is very telling.

    My point was Mailer somehow managed to succeed in a profession full of self-doubting pansies like Arthur Miller and F. Scott Fitzgerald, while projecting an identity of unwavering self-assurance. I respect it.

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