The Mailer Review/Volume 2, 2008/Norman Mailer, Metaphysician at Work

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« The Mailer ReviewVolume 2 Number 1 • 2008 • In Memorium: Norman Mailer: 1923–2007 »
On God: An Uncommon Conversation
By Norman Mailer with J. Michael Lennon
New York: Random House, 2007
265 pp. Cloth $26.95

Peter Allen’s striking song, “Everything Old Is New Again,” reminds me of Norman Mailer’s final book, On God: An Uncommon Conversation. Allen’s lyrics call attention to the cyclical and circular nature of human experience, the necessity of returning to core principles that inform the conscious and subconscious seminal beliefs of an artist: “Don’t throw the past away / You might need it some rainy day / Dreams can come true again / When everything old is new again.” In an obverse way, On God may be read as a rearticulation—a synoptic and aggressive synthesis—of decades of Mailer’s thinking, speculating, and interrogating—all coming together in a work shaded by eschatological nuances.

Mailer has long been known for his search for order,[a] for a driving interest in examining explanatory systems that offer glimpses and shreds of insight into human experience, with a continual awareness, at least implicitly and usually explicitly, of their ultimate insufficiencies. In explaining his motivation for this book, Mailer emphasizes the importance of order: “Where does my desire for order come from? Not only do we humans have a fundamental desire for order, we have an obvious tendency as well toward disorder—a true conflict between order and disorder. So I say it may be worth the attempt to search such questions.” A search that, by its very nature, is ultimately futile.

Notes

  1. In 1971, Robert Merrill wrote a dissertation, “A Fondness for Order: The Achievement of Norman Mailer.” (U of Chicago). He later wrote Norman Mailer (1978) and Norman Mailer Revisited (1992), both books in Twayne’s United States Authors Series (New York: Twayne Publishers).