Arnold Kemp, December 18, 1964

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NORMAN MAILER’s Letters
142 Columbia Heights
Brooklyn 1, New York
December 18, 1964

Dear Arnold,[1]

The last time I wrote to you I thought I was done with the book, but in fact the galleys came back and I saw little sentences here and there that I could improve, so I made some changes. The result: the book will not be out until March. But I’ve got you on the list, and will send you a copy as soon as they’re ready, which ought to be sometime in early February.

You know, when Sartre[2] won the Nobel Prize, it’s funny, but we have a different attitude. I think he should have taken it, and the reason I think is that it bugs the bourgeoisie more when people who are against them accept their biggest prizes rather than refuse them. For example, all these years Life magazine has been calling Jean-Paul Sartre an “apostle of despair.” Now all of a sudden, apostle of despair and Nobel Prize winner. That makes it harder for them to bullshit people. I believe in taking honors because if you use them properly they arm you. Some day if there were something really big going on and one wanted to write a letter to the New York Times, a mean stinging letter, and get it printed, there’d be just that much more leverage.

You know, another thing I disagree with you on is Goldwater’s rights stand.[3] I do think, believe it or not, that that was the main reason people voted against him. It’s not that white America loves black America, but what you’ve got to understand is that even without love there can still be guilt. There is a kind of gnawing guilt that pervades practically every white man’s attitude by now, a guilt they want to get rid of even though they fear the Negro, and I think they’ve come to the point now where they recognize that the only way to get rid of this guilt or at least begin to get rid of this guilt is to begin to give the Negro some of his basic minimal legal rights, and I think they did react against Goldwater for that reason. At any rate, this election cheered me up. For the first time I began to feel there might be something to this country, that maybe we’re a little more on the ball than not. Because secretly I felt that the first time some real slick bigot like Goldwater came along, he was going to stampede everybody. So for once it wasn’t so bad to know that I was wrong.

I know I can’t get to see your plays, because as I understand you’re not allowed to send them out, but I wish there was a way. I’d like to see the work you’re doing. Merry Christmas for now, ha ha, and happy New Year, yea, yea, yea.

Best,
Norman
This page is part of
An American Dream Expanded.

Notes

  1. Kemp met Mailer in Bellevue Hospital where Mailer was under psychiatric observation after he stabbed Adele with a penknife on 20 September 1960.
  2. The existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre interested Mailer and he wrote about it in both Advertisements for Myself and The Presidential Papers, although Sartre’s existentialism is distinguished from Mailer’s by its atheism.
  3. Mailer wrote about Barry Goldwater in his November 1964 Esquire essay “In the Red Light: A History of the Republican Convention in 1964.”