Thursday, March 27, 2008

The White Negro--Part 3
This one should be short. With authors of one's own country, particularly one's own general native region, there are always so many little points or flourishes, even trivial ones, that one notices and wishes to comment on.
There are a few more sentences in this essay of which the ultimate sense is questionable but that are nonetheless remarkable in their conception, execution and bombast:

"It is this adoration of the present which contains the affirmation of Hip, because its ultimate logic surpasses even the unforgettable solution of the Marquis de Sade to sex, private property, and the family, that all men and women have absolute but temporary rights over the bodies of all other men and women--the nihilism of Hip proposes as its final tendency that every social restraint and category be removed, and the affirmation implicit in the proposal is that man would then prove to be more creative than murderous and so would not destroy himself."

I am not terribly intimate with the writings of the Marquis de Sade, but my impression is that he is mainly considered remarkable for the singularity of his character in contrast to anyone's usual conception of what is standard, which I take to be the appeal of "Hipsters" also, rather than for the actual desirability of implementing any of his ideas on a broad scale. There is too great a portion of humanity--most old people and children for beginners--to whom the obsessions of essentially oversexed people--of whom, don't get me wrong, I am deeply envious at some moment almost every day of my life--just don't apply.

"...the organic growth of Hip depends on whether the Negro emerges as a dominating force in American life. Since the Negro knows more about the ugliness and danger of life than the white, it is probable that if the Negro can win his equality, he will possess a potential superiority...Like all conservative political fear it is the fear of unforeseeable consequences, for the Negro's equality would tear a profound shift into the psychology, the sexuality, and the moral imagination of every white alive." I believe "shift" in this sentence is used in the sense of a faultline in an earthquake, which is a usage I don't believe I have ever employed myself (hence the note).

Some ideas along these lines, or close variations of them, were very influential when I was growing up, even for me, though in any case I was certainly slow to get my head around them or adapt to their implications. The idea, frequently proclaimed, of the outsized influence, and even superiority, of blacks in serious American artistic and cultural matters, and the implied hopelessness of whites, or at least dead-normal whites like me, in the same, was of especial interest to me, since I had hopes of contributing something to the national life in this area from a fairly early age. I am pretty sure I believed that this superiority, if it did indeed exist, must be in large part the result of this greater knowledge of the ugliness and danger of life, and if I was not so desperate to have or give the appearance of having a great deal of this same knowledge as other kids from my background were, I did spend a not infinitessimal amount of time brooding over having been so ignominiously cut off from any serious hope of attaining it, if it was that important. This was, no doubt, the wrong approach to take. The idea, especially if one was white, I think, was that one ought to free oneself from racial self-consciousness and ideally open one's mind and senses to the extraordinary alternative talents and understandings that people from different backgrounds, culture, etc, had to offer without, for once, trying to compete with them or worse, insist on asserting one's, and by extension one's group's, own primacy. This will to assertion of course is hard to smother unless a person's ego is completely shattered, and will simply seek some other means of manifesting itself, unconsciously and even with the best intentions of not provoking or offending other people. As to the shift being torn "in the psychology, sexuality and moral imagination of every white alive" by black equality, I think "every white alive" while making for a grand gesture, is obviously an exaggeration. This may well happen in instances where people with large emotional investments in white supremacy are struck all of a sudden with some visceral, undeniable awareness that they are not by mere virtue of being white greater than "blacks" are, and are actually pscyhologically, sexually, morally, etc inferior to many of them; I guess this sort of thing did happen on a pretty wide scale in the 1960s and 70s. There does seem even now with many middle to working class white people to be a gigantic hole where some kind of personality or joie de vivre ought to be, but I cannot believe it is all attributable to some lost sense of racial superiority.

In a section about the intellectual antecedents of the current (1950s) generation, Mailer gave us a list of figures--I love these kinds of things--that included Hemingway, D.H. Lawrence, Henry Miller and Wilhelm Reich. I had never heard of Wilhelm Reich, but I deduced that he must have something to do with sex, albeit in some twisted Mitteleuropean sense that would probably be unhealthy for Americans raised on chewing gum and Tarzan movies to try to dive into too much. I was not going to pursue the matter further but, in one of those weird coincidences that happens in life the very next time I got in my car the radio station that was on happened to be doing a profile on this very Wilhelm Reich. There is even a Wilhelm Reich museum in Maine in the Rangeley Lakes area, the centerpiece of which is the Orgone Energy Observatory, where I guess one observes orgone, a physical, biological energy in all living matter that Reich is said to have discovered in the 1930s. There are cabins you can stay in for as low as $525 a week if you are seriously into this program.

This essay is included the collection titled Advertisements For Myself, which is essentially like reading Norman Mailer's blog from the 1950s, including reader comments (i.e. letters), most of which appeared in the Village Voice. There was one somewhat amusing page that had two columns Hip and Square, with various items underneath, i.e Hip: wild, Square: practical, etc. Other examples include Hip: Heidegger/Square: Sartre, H-Catholic/S-Protestant (?), H-call girls/S-psychoanalysts, H-T-formation/S-Single Wing (ironically a variation of the Single Wing, in the form of the Spread Offense, has been making a comeback in college football in recent years), H-Thelonius Monk/S-Dave Brubeck. This one really slayed me. I knew a guy in college who as much of a real jazz aficiondo as I am who used to break out Thelonius Monk's Straight, No Chaser whenever it was time to clinch some romantic deal--we would stand out in the hall and lay bets as to how long it would be before the Thelonius Monk started up whenever a girl went in there. I think it was the only jazz record the guy even had but of course it worked 80-90% of the time because most suburban girls don't know enough either to call you out on it; they want action and they want to feel cool, maybe a little light danger but nothing violent or criminal above a misdemeanor. I didn't get this of course until much later and imagined that when I had amassed a music and liquor and picture and bar glass collection above middlebrow criticism--a moment which never arrived--that then I would be ready to go into action. This is one of the lessons I hope to impart to my sons.

All right. This is the end of Norman Mailer for the time being, I promise.

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