Lipton’s Journal/February 22, 1955/696

From Project Mailer

Those periods in history which mark the advance of reason are periods in which great popular artists appear, and there is rough general agreement on what is art. Periods like today where reason has exhausted itself as a valuable mode of perceiving reality are periods where the coterie artist flourishes, and there is rough general disagreement. It has to be this way, and there is no need to complain.

Reason has produced its opposite, special and often exclusive coteries of sensitivity, private languages. The lingua franca becomes progressively more non-existent. We are in a flourishing decadence, a contractive period. Out of it, if we are not destroyed, will come expansions we can barely glimpse, and new great artists.

But the trend in history—as a natural law of development—is for artists to become progressively less great in relation to the greatness of their audience. We can hardly have an Aeschylus today, nor next century for that matter. Nor probably ever again. And that is to the good. As Malaquais[1] once said—I quote him haphazardly—“The ultimate aim of art is that man himself become the work of art.”


  1. 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.