Lipton’s Journal/Editors’ Note

From Project Mailer
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Mailer began this journal on December 1, 1954, two months before his 32nd birthday. His intention was to record the effects of marijuana, which he had been smoking regularly for a few years, on the other activities of his life at the time—writing and his literary ambitions, sex, jazz, and his interactions with his colleagues at Dissent magazine, the leftist journal edited by Irving Howe, and with friends and family. One of the most important figures in his life at the time was Dr. Robert Lindner, a well-known psychiatrist and author of popular psychology books, including Must You Conform and Rebel without a Cause. Rinehart published the work of both men, and they had corresponded since the fall of 1952. After Mailer had completed a series of entries (he numbered them 1–689), perhaps ten pages worth, he would mail a carbon copy to Lindner, who then responded in letters, telephone calls and meetings in New York or Baltimore, where Lindner and his wife Johnnie lived.

Mailer asked Lindner to analyze him, but Lindner said it would destroy their warm and supportive friendship. Mailer then decided to use the journal to self-analyze himself, although Lindner’s running commentary made their relationship as close as the traditional one between analyst and analysand. Mailer quotes Lindner for the length of the journal, arguing with, joshing, provoking and confiding with the older man—Lindner was about nine years older than Mailer. Lindner was Mailer’s closest male friend (James Jones was a close second), and during this period they were in regular communication. He likened their intellectual relationship to an imaginary one between Marx (the outer world of politics, society realism and economics), and Freud (the inner world of dreams, the unconscious, narcissism and repression), but was not willing to say which roles he and Lindner played.

As the journal proceeded, Mailer took on many other topics and issues: language and its unconscious roots, bi-sexuality, societal repression and the necessary revolt against it, race, hipsters, the atomic bomb, laughter, family and two prototypes he invented and exfoliated on for the length of the journal: the saint and the psychopath. He also explored his burgeoning belief in his own genius, and laid down an artistic manifesto about the role of the artist in a coercive, constraining society. Some of his entries are rants, others are whimsical, still others are mini-essays that run for several pages. Ultimately, the journal led to Mailer’s role as an antagonistic columnist at the weekly newspaper he named and co-founded in 1956, the Village Voice, and a year later to his seminal essay, “The White Negro,” one of the most reprinted essays after WWII.

About two weeks before Mailer began “Lipton’s,” Stanley Rinehart, the head of Rinehart publishing, broke the firm’s contract with Mailer for his third novel, set in Hollywood, The Deer Park, which was already scheduled for publication. Between writing journal entries, Mailer tried and failed to find a new publisher. After six more rejections, in late January 1955, the novel was picked up by Putnam’s. The journal, therefore, is crammed with Mailer’s dismay and anger about Rinehart’s spineless action, one resulting from Mailer refusing to drop a description of oral sex.

As described in Lennon’s biography of Mailer, “Lipton’s” is simultaneously a

collection of ruminations and meditations on societal repression, postscripts to his first three novels, a brutally honest self-analysis, and candid portraits of family members and friends that comprise a web of carefully considered calibrations of his relationships with people, events and ideas, set down in preparation for his forthcoming artistic mission. We can in fairness call the journal an examination of conscience and consciousness, but perhaps more than anything else it is an urgent summoning of his powers. He termed it a “great adventure,” adding “I don’t think I have ever been so frightened in my life.”[1]

I would only add that the journal is also a wellspring of ideas and stances that Mailer drew on—without ever quoting directly from it—for the rest of his life, and the closest thing to a genuine psychoanalysis he ever undertook. He made his final entries on March 4, 1955. Estimated total length: 112,000 words.

Like Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Mailer was nothing if not intellectually ambitious and similarly desired to find a way to reconcile the demands and insights of science, religion and politics. He failed of course, not only because the quest has not advanced very far since Aristotle, but also because he insisted on an oppositional thrust to all he did. He sought to make one out of two, but not until he was sure that he was not abandoning his critique of a repressive society too quickly, too easily. The grand synthesis might take a lifetime, or several, and he feared declaring a premature victory until he had explored all aspects of human existence. He had a voracious curiosity.

Note

  1. Lennon, J. Michael (2013). Norman Mailer: A Double Life. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 187.