Woo-eee! Following the novelist Norman Mailer through his uncommon conversation with Michael Lennon is quite an adventure. Chapter 4 is no exception as the two go back and forth on the subject of the "authority of the senses." There is much in these pages, so for the sake of space I'm going to carve the chapter into two parts. Today I want to give you some of the side dishes and next week the main course. Here we go.
* Mailer says Søren Kierkegaard "was probably the most profound Christian." Why? "He searched into the complexity of our relation not only to divinity but to diabolism as well. He knew that we must take nothing for granted in the moral firmament. We cannot kneel forever before the neon sign that purports to be God's mystery: 'Don't ask, just obey! (71)'" And you can probably guess where Mailer goes after this. Yes, he attacks Fundamentalism. But I couldn't agree with him more. "Don't ask, just obey" betrays the human reality. There is so much to ask about and while we can argue we'd be better off not asking, in my view this is neither practical nor healthy. Often the questions of life are as important as the answers.
* "Recently, I've been saying that if you want to be a serious novelist, a large element of it is monastic. It's a dull life in the daily sense (88)." Are you listening, MJ? The more I write, certainly not novels, the more I can see why a writer would conclude this. I know the best writing I do (here and elsewhere) is done when I have time alone, together with my thoughts, and nothing frustrates me more than not having enough time alone or when I am in the middle of some good think time and the keys are a tappin' and someone or something interrupts me. But I am by no means a monastic, so often I've got no one to blame for the interruptions but myself! Does that make sense?
* I thought this was an interesting take on the Ten Commandments. "Well, if they're seen as general principles rather than as absolute dicta, they can be of great use...'Do not kill.' Well, yes, do not kill. Does that mean you have to piss in your pants if you have a gun in your hand and you're face-to-face with Adolf Hitler in 1941? No, you kill him. At that point, I would not consider 'Do not kill' an absolute command (81)." This made me think of pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler. Mailer continues, "Where the Ten Commandments fall down is that there are times you have to do something deemed worse than what you're supposed to do. Because if you don't do that something worse, you're going to get into actions even more destructive, more evil, more unhappy, more toxic to others (82)." I can see instances where this is true, at least logically.
OK, let's leave it there for today and come back to chapter 4, part two next week.