Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The White Negro--Part 2
I am writing more about this essay because the author in the course of it eventually got around to offering some definitions of "cool"; and as gaining some insight into the mysteries of this almost unimaginably exalted state of existence is one of the raison d'etres of my entire literary career, I thought I could not let these pass without commentary.

I am however going to pass over the lengthy section in which it is determined that the hipster "is a psychopath, and yet not a psychopath but the negation of the psychopath, for he possesses the narcissistic detachment of the philosopher", all of which however is distinguished from the psychotic, who is a different beast altogether (not surprisingly, I determined from this essay that I am much more psychotic than psychopathic, psychopathy being presented as the much more desirable condition). Later in this same he section he lambastes psychoanalysis as "no more than a psychic blood-letting" that leaves the patient "worn out--less bad, less good, less bright, less willfull, less destructive, less creative," as well as "able to conform to that contradictory and unbearable society which first created his neurosis". This is one of the clearer descriptions in the whole piece, and as such suggests itself as being at least plausibly accurate depending on one's particular point of view regarding the case. That human beings are only realized insofar as they live as constantly as possible at the extremes that their thought, consciousness, instinct, sensation and so on will allow them, free from all restraint, while not the most reassuring prospect to someone like me, is not one that I can easily dismiss either; this certainly seems to be Norman Mailer's peculiar vision of life's potentiality, as well the source of both his energy and his fairly vigorous following.

"What makes Hip a special language is that it cannot really be taught--if one shares none of the experiences of elation and exhaustion which it is equipped to describe...For example, there is a real difficulty in trying to find a Hip substitute for 'stubborn'. The best possibility I can come up with is: 'That cat will never come off his groove, dad.' But groove implies movement...There is really no way to describe someone who does not move at all. Even a creep does move--if at a pace exasperatingly more slow than the pace of the cool cats...To be cool is to be equipped, and if you are equipped it is more difficult for the next cat who comes along to put you down." It seems like it should be easy either to make fun of all this or take offense at it--as pure idea even apart from its surface absurdity it is a shallow conception of life, having nothing of a sustaining quality, let alone the foundation of anything really meaningful. The bit about elation was interesting --exhaustion less clear as a source of unique experience; exhaustion from living at the extremes, and in constant opposition to the oppressive pressures of square society I suppose. I never feel even viscerally that I want to "be" Norman Mailer, in the sense of occupying his exact position in the intellectual, literary, even sexual world, as often happens to me with prominent figures, but I am always aware that he has in many areas of existence, and writing actually perhaps the least of them, succeeded where I have failed. At least where real life, social life, was concerned, Norman Mailer seems to have caught on at a pretty early age--which more earnest people never do--that generally no one, especially Bohemian intellectual types, cares whether anything you say is actually correct, or about the depth and thoroughness of your knowledge on general topics of conversation, so much as that you speak about them in a provocative and exciting manner. Most people don't know or care about anything much more than anyone else does, but they want to believe in the importance of certain things nonetheless. When Mailer died recently, all the obituaries lamented that he "had made literature seem important, and there is no one like that left." This seemed rather silly to me, but apparently a lot of people felt this way.

I don't how popular Norman Mailer is among black people who care about things like essays written for alternative newspapers while smoking marijuana but my general impression is that this piece is regarded with at least as much bemusement as disdain. Mailer seems to have hung out in Harlem at certain points seeking certain experiences and conducted himself in such a manner at these times as to procure him a certain low-level degree of credibility among at least some of the natives. There is something to admire in this, I think, though I am not certain it can be proven that any noble issue was actually involved in the case.

I am just too tired to write these essays. I have to stop.

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