Lipton’s Journal/Introduction

From Project Mailer

The mid-1950s was a difficult time for Norman Mailer. Mailer, who had been a literary phenomenon at the age of 25 with his first novel The Naked and the Dead (1948), was now at thirty-two the author of an unsuccessful second novel which had been brutally dismissed by the critics. There was much at stake with his third novel, The Deer Park (1955), about to be published by Rinehart. Mailer felt it was his chance to redeem himself, to believe once again that he was not an impostor but a true novelist. Mailer recalled in his essay, “The Mind of an Outlaw,” how he accumulated rejections like barnacles during a month-long series of submissions to a half-dozen publishers. Titled Lipton’s (tea = marijuana), the journal was “a wild set of thoughts and outlines for huge projects.” The ideas “came so fast,” he wrote, “that sometimes I think my mind was dulled by the heat.” He began Lipton’s[a] on December 1, 1954 and made entries sporadically, usually on Mondays and Tuesdays after a weekend of smoking pot and going to Harlem jazz clubs with his new wife, Adele Morales. After 13 weeks, he put the journal aside in order to begin a final revision of The Deer Park, which Putnam’s—the seventh publisher to consider it—accepted for fall publication.

Lipton’s is Mailer’s unsparing assessment of his intellectual resources, literary abilities, personal relationships, and psycho-sexual well-being at age 32. It is also a record of the effects of marijuana, one similar to Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1822) in its celebration of the salubrious effects of a drug, and the drawbacks. Mailer drew on the cavalcade of ideas in Lipton’s, some of them only partially birthed, and many delivered via the cumbersome jargon of psychology and sociology, for the remainder of his writing career. “The White Negro,”[b] his most celebrated and debated essay, published in 1957, was the first and perhaps most important outgrowth of Lipton’s, but its influence can be seen in subsequent books as disparate as Cannibals and Christians (1966), The Armies of the Night (1968), Ancient Evenings (1983), and Harlot’s Ghost (1991).[c]

Throughout the journal Mailer points to the heaviness of his writing style, which he says is “about as sprightly as a German grammar teacher.”[1] Part of the reason for the crudity is the rush in which he wrote his entries—there is no revision, just counter-thoughts and ramifications in parentheses—and the burst of ideas. These he set down in numbered entries, jumping like a grasshopper from an insight about mystics to one on advertising, or the connections among the atomic bomb and hipsters and black sexuality (later elaborated in “The White Negro”), and then on to the Holocaust, his imitations of Marlon Brando,[d] orgies, orgasm, bi-sexuality, television, jazz, jokes, the Catholic Church, comedians, the hidden meanings of words (lots of these), the people in his life, bodily functions, literary style, and his first three novels. His relationship with Adele, and their sex life, is a constant in the journal. As the journal proceeds, the entries become longer and essay-like, reaching a crescendo in several linked ones written on his 32nd birthday, January 31, 1955. He notes that the outflow on that day, 24 pages, is the most he had written since he produced at the age of 19 the final 40 pages of his first, unpublished novel, “No Percentage.”

Until Lipton’s, Mailer’s desire to create his own literary style was a distant second to his need to “disgorge” a mass of speculations, theories, and revilements. Uttering big thoughts was his primary goal in Lipton’s, but accompanying the blockbuster ideas is a stream of autobiographical comment coupled with an emerging interest in the language of self-presentation. As Richard Poirier, his most astute critic, has noted, until the mid-1950s Mailer “had not yet created for himself a distinctive voice or contrived his own ways of moving or shifting his own personal rhythm or sense of duration and momentum.”[2][e] His distaste for personal revelation can be seen in a comment he made to an interviewer in 1948, when The Naked and the Dead topped the best seller lists: “I think it’s much better when people who read your book don’t know anything about you, even what you look like…Getting your mug in the papers is one of the shameful ways of making a living.”[f] Mailer’s later embrace of celebrity, his role as a public intellectual, is well-known, but he always had reservations about being too much in the public eye.

Lipton’s is the beginning of his recognition that voice and public presence could be crafted, manipulated. “Literary style,” he wrote in the journal, “is always the record of a war within a man.”[3] Adroitly deployed, such a style could convey his deepest concerns about a society that smothers. A personal style that reflected his bellum intestinum could also be a means of communicating stances and moods too subtle for straightforward argument of the formulaic kind essayed in scholarly journals such as Dissent.[g] He also recognized that his obsession about completing one piece of work before embarking on another was a mistake; moving from project to project as the mood seized him would permit him to be more responsive to external stimuli and to keep all his literary muscles toned. For the rest of his life, he was alert to the voice of his muse on what project to start or stop and usually had a number of works-in-progress on his desk.

The new style ripened in January 1956, three months after The Deer Park was published, when Mailer began a column for the weekly newspaper he co-founded (and named), the Village Voice. He called the column “Quickly” (he planned to write each one in less than an hour), and took a nom de plume: “General Marijuana.”[h] “Quickly,” and the equally irritable, irritating cartoons of Jules Feiffer were the tent poles of the Voice, which became the progenitor of the counter-culture press, and the proving ground for a generation of new journalists.[i] The new style was mercurial, generally sardonic, sometimes wounding, open to polyglot American parlance, or as Poirier notes, not limited to modes “sanctioned by literary decorums.”[4] What modes did Mailer employ? Obscenity, sarcasm, fulmination, pontification, and ventriloquism are the first that come to mind, but also self-revelation and mordant wit. The new style is very much in evidence the following year when “The White Negro,” an attempt to consolidate much of what was essayed in Lipton’s, came out in the summer 1957 issue of Dissent, and quickly became the most controversial essay ever to appear in this reserved leftist journal. Two years later in Advertisements for Myself the style attained its full vigor. As he noted in a 1976 preface, this collection of essays, reviews, interviews and excerpts from previous work, stitched together by “advertisements” which directly address the reader, “was the first work that I wrote with a style I could call my own.”[5] Mailer was also designing, by fits and starts, the template for a new kind of public intellectual, an independent, rambunctious, and unpredictable left-conservative (his term) who was interested, as he said in the fall of 1955, “less in politics as politics . . . than politics as a part of everything else in life.”[6]

Mailer comments in Lipton’s that “to use the conceptual words of others is to maroon myself in pseudo-rational processes rather than to depend on my intuition.”[7] He experimented with the sound of words in a way that is reminiscent of the concepts of metaphor and metonymy developed by French psychoanalysis. A new language, a “private jargon” was needed, and the journal is loaded with spontaneous coinages, some memorable, others not. The meanings of most the following can be construed: “startlings,” “crankery,” “lustility,” “wombivity,” “schlumperness,” “hardonolgy,” “limberology,” “thingification, “smally,” “viator,” “mindish,” “Liptoning up,” “loverness.” He refers to the entire journal, more than once, as a “fuckanalyis,” and suggests that in the course of human progress, eventually, “history” will become “hissoul.” Some of the more Germanic neologisms are central to the running argument in the journal that humanity is locked in a centuries-old struggle in every arena of existence between two forces, homeostasis and sociostatis. The former refers to life-giving acts and forces; the latter to society’s efforts to maintain itself, arrest change by violence (which homeostasis also employs) and coercion, but also more subtle measures such as advertising and patriotism. Mailer quickly realized that homeostasis had a contradictory suffix and changed it to homeodynamism. Soon, however, he tired of typing these long words, and shortens them to H and S, which works for a time. Then he opts, inexplicably, for “sup” and “er,” deriving from “superego.” The homeodynamism substitute, “er,” is related closely to “lerve,” which Mailer prefers to libido. Writing Lipton’s forced Mailer to become more alert to the shape and beat of his sentences. Before marijuana, he said, “I’d been someone who wrote for the sense of what I was saying, and now I began to write for the sound of what I was writing.”[8]

Lipton’s is a hodge-podge, a lumber room of intellectual feints and fancies, arguments and insights, yet it hangs together. One reason is that it is a psychoanalytic act. Another is that it is a dictionary of dualisms. The indubitable doubleness of all phenomena is the centrifugal belief that supports every exploration in the journal. All the antinomies that Mailer had pondered since his youth come tumbling out. He works through a range of commonplace oppositions such as sun-moon, conscious-unconscious, heaven-hell, as well as bodily functions—orgasms and vomiting, weeping and laughter, intercourse as giving and taking—and dozens of others: choice-habit, antacid-analgesic (which he proposes as the title of his one thousand-page “fuck novel”), expertise-intuition, revolutionary-mystic, romantic-realist, and energetic repetitions of the saint-psychopath opposition. He considers his sexuality, his addictions, his aspirations and his deepest fears, and like Rev. Dimmesdale in Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, practices vigils of self-examination.

The ultimate claim to coherence for Lipton’s is that the struggles and paradoxes of its creator are congruent with those of post-war America. The major contradictions of the nation at that time (and our own) struggle with each other in Norman Mailer.

*     *     *

Seven triggers for the journal can be delineated:


Relations with his publisher, Rinehart and Co., were tense. Late in 1954, Rinehart decided to halt the publication. They disapproved of a fellatio scene and wanted it deleted, while Mailer believed that he had made all the modifications he could without jeopardizing his novel.[j] The novel was in page proof, and an ad for it had already appeared in Publisher’s Weekly when Mailer was informed. They reached an impasse and, in late November of 1954 Stanley Rinehart, the firm’s president, overrode his editorial staff. Over the next few weeks, Random House, Knopf, Harcourt Brace, Simon and Shuster, Scribner’s, and Harper’s rejected the book. Mailer was in a rage. Aside from murdering Rinehart, there was only one way he could channel his frustration. He sat down to write, not a novel, not an essay, but a journal, that he named “Lipton’s Journal,” in reference to marijuana, which he was smoking heavily during that period. Most days, he would write whatever came to his mind unfettered by publishers or members of the literary establishment; it was personal and intimate. His wife Adele recalls in her memoir, The Last Party how during this period he would


Robert Lindner’s Prescription for Rebellion: A Reinterpretation of Psychoanalysis, his impassioned 1952 attack on the profession for encouraging patients to adjust rather than rebel.[k] Mailer felt a shock of recognition when he read Lindner’s contention that rebellion was humanity’s instinctive response to societal repression. While honoring Freud and his followers, Lindner believed that psychoanalysts had misused and blunted the tools of analysis. Skepticism, unfocused anger, and a quiver of neuroses were assets, not liabilities, and should be celebrated, not discouraged. Rinehart published Lindner’s book, and Mailer was sent a copy. He read it right after it appeared, and wrote Lindner a long letter a few weeks later, praising the book’s thesis, but complaining that Lindner failed to identify with any precision what was wrong with society, what actions and inactions were inciting resistance. Both Mailer and Lindner were disheartened by the dull fog of conformity that was rolling over the nation during the Eisenhower era, but they didn’t see eye to eye on what acts of intransigence might help to dissipate it. For example, Lindner did not recognize marijuana as a tool of liberation, while Mailer believed it was a magical drug that purged docility and opened up possibilities for movement and growth. Nevertheless, their correspondence burgeoned into a warm friendship, and for several years they corresponded, talked regularly on the phone, and exchanged visits until early 1956, when Lindner died of congestive heart disease. Mailer sent Lindner chunks of the journal and Lindner sent back responses that further stimulated Mailer, who called their dialogue “inter-fecundation.”[11] On some matters, Lindner felt that Mailer was on to something important, while on others, he was more concerned about what the drugs were doing to his friend’s mind and his behavior. He was aware that Mailer was a gifted thinker, but he knew enough to see the signs of a man on the edge of paranoia. After their initial letters and meetings, and because of their mutual respect and admiration, Lindner and Mailer became steadfast friends, and with time, Lindner became an internal other for Mailer.


Mailer’s desire to explore his unconscious via psychoanalysis, a therapy more esteemed in the 1950s than today. He asked Lindner to analyze him, and was refused on the grounds it would destroy their friendship, although Lindner’s interlinear comments on Lipton’s reside comfortably in the suburbs of analytic endeavor. So, with Lindner’s supportive responses, many of Mailer’s seminal ideas were born in Lipton’s, most importantly, his theory of human character, alpha and omega, which at that time he called the saint and the psychopath. He also pondered the perils of the technological society and the dynamics of sex and power. He wrote about his theory of cancer as an offshoot of unacknowledged and buried rage, or as a result of dread and boredom.

After years of writing about the social and political world in his first three novels, Mailer wished to travel inward to the realm of dreams, repression, symbolism, Eros and Thanatos—to Freudian territory, in short—and then to build a bridge between Freud and Marx, dreams and society, desire and history.[l] This is not to say that psychological issues were ignored in his early novels, which is hardly the case, although under the tutelage of Jean Malaquais, his leftist mentor, Marx’s Capital, the Russian revolution and its aftermath had been Mailer’s course of study for a nine-month period, winter, spring and summer, 1948-49. After he and Malaquais grew apart, Mailer’s reading skewed toward the works of Freud, including his correspondence and the insights of his biographer, Ernest Jones. Wilhelm Reich, who equated sexual maladjustment with the heavy hand of a puritanical society, was another of his favorites. Mailer was also familiar with the writings of others influenced by Freud: Karen Horney, Theodore Reik, Carl Jung, Edmund Bergler, Marion Rosen, Harry Stack Sullivan, and Alfred Adler. He refers to many of Freud’s followers in Lipton’s.


Marijuana: Smoking pot sanctioned and smoothed what Mailer called the “journey into myself,”[12] acting, he said, like an anti-spasmodic drug. It enfeebled his societal self and emboldened his instinctual self; or, put another way, it helped him marginalize the “despised image” of himself: “the sweet clumsy anxious to please Middle-class Jewish boy,”[13] and become a rebel with a cause, a “psychic outlaw.”[14] He found the drug both a means and an end, pleasurable in itself and also an enhancement of his sexual performance, his appreciation of jazz, and even his bodily strength. Without Lipton’s, Lipton’s would have been a thinner gruel, more circumspect. Yet, on occasion, Mailer found the use of marijuana, buttressed by Seconal (a barbiturate derivative), booze, cigarettes, and black coffee in various combinations, to be perilous, driving him uncomfortably close to the edge of madness. He knew he was “wandering through all the mountain craters of schizophrenia.” Some of the insights he gained while using Lipton’s, particularly his vision on the evening of March 4, 1955 of a divided, vertiginous universe, were terrifying. Both madness and suicide seemed possible. “I don’t think I have ever been so frightened in my life,” he wrote.[15]


Jazz: Mailer, who was tone deaf and assigned the role of “listener” during primary school music classes, grew up listening to the jazz of the swing era. After World War II, he became a fan of bebop, and then the cool jazz of the 1950s. In the numerous jazz clubs of Manhattan (Five Spot, Village Vanguard, and Jazz Gallery), he heard and savored many of the greats: Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Mingus, Miles Davis (on whom Mailer based a character in his 1965 novel, An American Dream[m]), Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, Sonny Rollins and Sonny Stitt.[n] Like marijuana, jazz was a portal to the life force, which toward the end of the journal Mailer began to call “lerve.” In Lipton’s, and then in “The White Negro,” Mailer links jazz to marijuana, sex, alcohol, and the disenthralled lifestyle of blacks in Harlem. During the period he was compiling the journal, he would accompany new friends to Harlem “on that happy ride where you discover a new duchy of jazz every night and the drought of the past is given a rain of new sound.”[14]


Adele Morales, with whom he began living in mid-1951, and married in April 1954. She was much different than his first wife Bea, less independent and more involved in Mailer’s roller coaster emotional life. Mailer’s first biographer, Hilary Mills, draws the contrast well:

He also analyzed his relationship to his parents, and as a result his relationship to his father improved. He also discussed his own bisexuality and how it played out in his relationships to Bea. Mailer’s love for Adele is stated emphatically in Lipton’s. Until November 1960, when he stabbed her with a penknife during a drunken argument, they were inseparable, although their relationship had begun to deteriorate at least a year earlier.[p]


Ambition: “For the first time in years,” he writes, “I am growing quickly again,” and “I have to go on and make the attempt to be a genius.”[17] In Lipton’s he reflects on the nature of genius, and considers a number of writers whose stature he hopes to attain: Freud, Marx, Joyce, Proust, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Oswald Spengler, and to a lesser extent Mann and Gide. He also places Dizzy Gillespie, Marlon Brando, Charlie Chaplin, and Charles Laughton in or near the genius category (later in life he added Fidel Castro and Muhammad Ali). He states that he would prefer to be a genius than a saint, and he wrestles with the definitions of each, and also with that of the psychopath, in dozens of entries. He was on the edge for several years. The journal is also a summary of all the societal forces and personal weaknesses that could impede his effort. Several times in the four-month period of composition, Mailer felt himself faltering, wondering if the journal was just a game, an illusion. At one point when particularly disgusted with himself, he refers to his daily Seconal dose as “a pill for the swill.”[18]

The man who came out of that experience wrote a few years later in Advertisements for Myself: “I was finally open to my anger, I turned within my psyche, I can almost believe, for I felt something shift to murder in me . . . All I felt was that I was an outlaw, a psychic outlaw and I liked it, I liked it a good night better than trying to be a gentleman.”[14] Mailer saw Lipton’s as the prelude to a thousand-page “fuck novel”[19] that would take years to write, a preparation for his attempt to become a daring Dostoyevskian novelist who would “make a revolution in the consciousness of our time.”[20]


  1. The original typescript is in the Mailer archive at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas-Austin. This edition was prepared from the carbon copy, which Mailer gave to Lennon in the early 2000s.
  2. First published in Dissent (summer 1957), it was reprinted in Advertisements. In both it contained the same subtitle: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster. City Light Press in San Francisco published it as a pamphlet in 1959, and reprinted it perhaps a dozen times into the 1970s. The cover was a reverse negative shot of an archetypal hipster, rumored for years to be Paul Newman, but identified as photojournalist Harry Redl. See Bishop (2012, p. 295).
  3. The conflicting forces in Cannibals and Christians mirror the homeodynamic-sociostatic opposition in Lipton’s. The Cannibals are the forces of reaction stretching from the Republican Party to “the ghosts of Nazis; the Christians are the party of revolution and change, and cover the spectrum from L.B.J. to Mao Tse-tung. The Armies of the Night is as searching a self-analysis as Lipton’s, and the best presentation of Mailer’s ultimate political identity as Left-conservative. The nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn is again the “despised” self-image. Ancient Evenings is among other things, a further exploration of Mailer’s interest in the double or hidden meanings of words, first essayed in Lipton’s. Harlot’s Ghost presents an elaborate rethinking of the duality of human identity, discussed at length in Lipton’s, as the Alpha-Omega theory of Kittredge Gardiner, a CIA analyst.
  4. Mailer met Brando (1924-84) in Hollywood in 1949, and saw him on and off over the decades. He reviewed Brando’s last major film, Last Tango in Paris, in New York Review of Books (May 17, 1973), rpt. Pieces and Pontifications (1982). After inserting a small piece of paper in front of his teeth, Mailer continued to give imitations of Brando in Waterfront (1954), which he saw just before he began Lipton’s.
  5. Mailer met and became friendly with Poirier (1925-2009), who reviewed several of Mailer’s books and wrote what is still the most probing and elegant critical study of Mailer, a 1972 volume in the Viking Modern Masters series, Norman Mailer (1972).
  6. From “Rugged Times” by Lillian Ross (New Yorker (October 23, 1948). Reprinted in Lennon (1988, pp. 12–13). The Naked and the Dead, published on May 6, 1948, remained on the New York Times list for 62 weeks, until the summer of 1949, and for 19 was number 1. Barbary Shore, published on May 24, 1951, made it for three weeks, and then sank like a rock. It received the worst reviews of any of Mailer’s 40-odd books. Time called it “paceless, tasteless and graceless.”
  7. Mailer was on the editorial board of this leftist journal from the early 1950s to the mid-1980s, and contributed several essays and reviews to it.
  8. Mailer’s column ran from January 11 to May 5, 1956. He retired from his column over a dispute about the copyediting of his column. The majority of the columns are reprinted in Mailer (1959).
  9. One of the greatest American satirists, Feiffer (b. 1929) is also a novelist. His strip Sick Sick Sick ran from 1956-1997 in the Village Voice. See Mailer’s comments on Feiffer in an interview with Lennon, and Feiffer’s on Mailer in Olshaker (2014).
  10. Mailer published the original, Rinehart, version of the scene, which follows, in Advertisements: “Tentatively, she reached out a hand to caress his hair, and at that moment Herman Teppis opened his legs and let Bobby slip to the floor. At the expression of surprise on her face, he began to laugh. “Just like this, sweetie,” he said, and down he looked at that frightened female mouth, facsimile of all those smiling lips he had seen so ready to be nourished at the fount of power and with a shudder he started to talk. “That’s a good girlie, that’s a good girlie, that’s a good girlie,” he said in a mild lost little voice, “you’re just an angel darling, and I like you, and you understand, you’re my darling darling, of that’s the ticket,” said Teppis.
  11. Dr. Lindner’s fourth book was published by Rinehart and Co., on May 27, 1952. His first book, Rebel Without a Cause: The Hypnoanalysis of a Criminal Psychopath (1944) was sold to Warner Brothers and made into a 1955 film of the same title starring James Dean, although the title is the only connection to the book. Lindner wrote or edited a total of seven books. His last, posthumous book, Must You Conform? came out on May 1, 1956.
  12. Mailer discusses the need for “a radical bridge from Marx to Freud” in Mailer (1959, p. 365). Mailer’s second novel, Barbary Shore (1951), contains his most extended comments on Marx and his followers. See his brief essay, “Freud,” written around the time of Lipton’s, in Mailer (2013).
  13. Shago Martin, an extraordinarily talented jazz singer who has a relationship with Cherry, the girlfriend of the novel’s protagonist, Stephen Rojack. Mailer’s fourth wife, Beverly Bentley (b. 1930), had a long-term relationship with Miles Davis before she met Mailer.
  14. Mailer was friendly with Stitt (1924-1982), one of the greatest bebop jazz saxophonists. Stitt’s iconic 1956 recording of “Autumn in New York” was played as the audience filed into Carnegie Hall for Mailer’s memorial, April 9, 2008.
  15. A close friend of Mailer’s in the 1950s, Daniel Wolf (1915-96), the co-founder of the Village Voice, introduced Mailer to his second wife, Adele Morales.
  16. See full account in Lennon (2013, pp. 275-294).


Works Cited

  • Bishop, Sarah (2012). "The Life and Death of the Celebrity Author in Maidstone". The Mailer Review. 6 (1): 288–309.
  • Lennon, J. Michael, ed. (1988). Conversations with Norman Mailer. Jackson and London: U of Mississippi P.
  • — (2013). Norman Mailer: A Double Life. New York: Simon and Schuster.
  • Mailer, Norman (1959). Advertisements for Myself. New York: Putnam’s.
  • — (2021). Lennon, J. Michael; Mailer, Susan; Lucas, Gerald R., eds. "Lipton's Journal". Project Mailer. The Norman Mailer Society. Retrieved 2021-05-25.
  • Mailer, Norman (2013). Sipiora, Phillip, ed. Mind of an Outlaw. New York: Random House.
  • Mills, Hilary (1982). Mailer: A Biography. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Morales, Adele (1997). The Last Party. Fort Lee, New Jersey: Barricade Books.
  • Olshaker, Mark (2014). "Walking into the Zeitgeist: A Conversation with Jules Feiffer". The Mailer Review. 8 (1): 21–51.
  • Poirier, Richard (1972). Norman Mailer. Modern Masters. New York: Viking Press.
  • Stratton, Richard (2004). "Norman Mailer on Pot". High Times. pp. 44, 88.