Anyways, after Lasse and Anja’s wedding, coming back to Präz from the St. Benedict chapel, I heard on the car radio that Norman Mailer had died. I made a comment about it to Lasse’s mum, and then forgot all about it. Mailer’s authorship means very little to me. In the army I read most of The Naked and the Dead, but never finished it. I’ve browsed through Harlot’s Ghost at one time, but must admit I found it boring. What else? I know he was against the Vietnam War. And I know they characterized him as a genius, a “Jewish Hemingway,” which seems like a bit of an oxymoron.
And then today I caught the ending of a documentary about him, on Swedish state television. He was so articulate, so attentive to the minutest details of his own language. At eighty-four he was still sharp as a tack. There were little things, of course, certain words and phrasings which seemed a bit too studied, too deliberate. A sense, perhaps, that he’d formulated and re-formulated these thoughts so many times they weren’t exactly fresh ideas anymore.
Still, the scale of his mental power was staggering. I like to write a sentence or two myself once in a while, so I know how hard it is. Yes, yes, I know I’m no Norman Mailer. I’m not a faultless, impeccable voice-of-my-generation literary genius. So sue me.
But then at one point, and this is just the greatest thing, the old guy picks up a marker pen and starts doodling little improvised drawings. It’s between interview takes, a little unrehearsed moment. And with no small amount of pride, he explains how some of his famous artist friends have told him he has a natural talent for drawing – because he writes longhand. So because he’s accustomed to holding the pen, and shaping the letters, drawing comes natural to him, even if he’s started a bit late. He proudly holds up the picture.
Well, let me tell you this: Norman Mailer couldn’t draw worth of shit. His doodles were pathetic and horrible in a way impossible to imitate without that special un-talent for drawing only a very few people possess. And I’m not talking about the people who can’t draw at all, I’m talking about the people who think they can draw a little. There is a special, magical place about midway on the scale from no talent to massive talent, where everything you produce is just a sad waste of good paper. And old Norman was right there, in that zone. Ha ha ha! Don’t quit your day job.