Lipton’s Journal/February 21, 1955/654

From Project Mailer

Over the weekend I took many notes, and had a host of word echoes. In the reading dingus on Omnibus[1] I noticed something with interest. They showed pages to read and gave you various times. To my pleasure I noticed that I was now a slower-than-average reader, I who as recently as two years ago had the fastest reading rate Fig Gwaltney[2] ever came across in the Nelson-Dinny test which I at the time called the Motherwell-Ginsberg test—how revealing.

Anyway, they had a dried up old prune of a schmoo talking about how to increase one’s reading speed on Omnibus and he talked about all the blocks to quick reading. One stops too often on each word, one reads words backwards, at least children do (Dr. Pruneface said so). (God and dog—which the old bugger commented on) in short one does not “absorb” rapidly. Then he talked about modern reading methods. My suspicion of them is well-founded. To grasp the word as a whole is to lose the richness of a word. Modern reading methods make experts, they do not make artists. For the expert is capable of taking the mass and giving it a name, a one—he has sublime disinterest in understanding-taking, he is interested in nomenclature-one-giving.

So my poetic insight about academicians seems to have confirmation. To become an academician, an expert, one must amass mountains of “knowledge” which means one must read quickly. But to read too quickly is to get the gist and not the orgasm—geist. (The artist has the ability to take the one and make it enormously various, the opposite of the expert, the critic, the academician. All those latter gentlemen seek answers. The artist seeks questions. This I learned from Malaquais,[3] who once said in a passion, “There are no answers. There are only questions.”) So, the academician is drawn to the subject which intrigues him least—in other words, he can read it the fastest because he finds it the least disturbing and stimulating. He takes less as he reads so he can read efficiently. Which is why editors often get little out of a book—they read too quickly.


  1. Omnibus was an educational discussion program, hosted by Alistair Cooke, on network television from 1952-1961.
  2. Francis I. Gwaltney (1921-1980) joined Mailer’s unit in Luzon and they began a close friendship that continued after the war. “Fig,” as he was called, also became a novelist and wrote a novel of Pacific combat titled The Day the Century Ended (1955). A professor at Arkansas Tech University, he introduced a local high school art teacher, Barbara Davis Norris, to Mailer in 1975. She later became his sixth wife and changed her name to Norris Church Mailer.
  3. A Polish Jew (real name Vladimir Malacki) whose parents perished in the Holocaust, Jean Malaquais (1909-98) was a veteran of the Spanish Civil War. Mailer has often said that Malaquais influenced him intellectually more than anyone else. They met in Paris in 1947 and became close friends a year later when Malaquais was translating The Naked and the Dead into French. Malaquais and his first wife Galy lived with the Mailers when they spent a year in Hollywood, 1949-50. During their time together, Malaquais, who wrote several novels, informally tutored Mailer on leftist thought and the history of the Russian Revolution. See Mailer’s “My Friend, Jean Malaquais,” an introduction to Malaquais’s 1954 novel, The Joker, rpt., Pieces and Pontifications.