Lipton’s Journal/January 25, 1955/255

From Project Mailer

The predictor, the prophet, and the gambler are cousins. The prophet has a saintly confidence—he is so certain he is right that he can afford to wait until he is dead before his prediction will be realized or confounded. The predictor is a gambler operating with social sanction. The gambler is a man (or woman) who feels in his bones that he is right and the whole world is wrong—but he also feels that he is wrong and the world is right. The uncertainty is so intense that he must make prophecies about events which occur in the next hour, for he must have the objective correlative. (In that sense he is a scientist.)

I think Bob Lindner[1] is right and yet not right in his assessment of the gambler playing with destiny—defeat one side, insanity the other. It may not be so desperate as that. The gambler feels his soul, he also feels society—he is essentially betting that his intuitions, his sensitivity, is greater than the world’s. And the reason certain gamblers lose is not necessarily their fear that if they’re right they will go mad, as the analysts would argue, so much as their fear that they will have to become all-out rebels, and pit themselves against the world. So, painful as it is, they invariably lose. After all, the value of losing is that one can tell oneself that one was right except for bad luck. So one can remain a conformist and still maintain one’s deep private respect for one’s intuitions. But to win does not permit such ambiguity, such “double” profit. It lays down an imperative. “You were right,” says victory, “Go ahead and rebel,” which is why victory often produces deep depression.

Certainly this is true of victories one has not sought—like my victory in having The Deer Park published.[2] What I have said above applies mainly to the long-shot player, the man who roots for the underdog. There is the other kind of gambler who plays favorites, and his psychology is also fascinating. Victory tells him the world is right which is what he wants to hear because he suspects the opposite. Defeat is unbearable because it tells him he was wrong; such a man often flies into a rage.

Yet, I wonder if he is not secretly thrilled by the underdog defeating his favorite. He would not be a gambler in the first place if he were not unconsciously obsessed with the whole business of the soul’s insights against the world’s insights. He gambles malgré lui (despite himself), he is drawn into it cautiously, slowly, reluctantly. Gambling on favorites is his defense against gambling on underdogs, gambling on his own intuitions. Men who bet on favorites are invariably successful men who are beginning to be deeply dissatisfied with their success; long-shot players cover a great range of what seems to be cranks, sneaks, weird-o’s, rummies, whores, junkies, etc.


  1. A prominent Baltimore psychoanalyst and writer, Robert Lindner (1914 – 1956) became acquainted with Mailer after reading Lindner’s 1952 sharp critique of current psychoanalytic practice, Prescription for Rebellion (1952), published by Mailer’s publisher, Rinehart. The letter, which contained both praise and criticism for Lindner’s ideas, led to a close friendship over the next four years, including many visits and the sharing of work, including Lipton’s. See extended note on entry 56.
  2. After being rejected by Rinehart in late November 1954, the novel was considered and turned down by six other publishers over the next six weeks before being accepted by Putnam’s about two weeks before Mailer wrote this January 25, 1955 entry. He recounts the story of the novel’s composition, rejection and publication in a long essay in Esquire (November 1959), “The Mind of an Outlaw,” reprinted in Advertisements for Myself as “The Last Draft of The Deer Park.”