Norman Mailer’s Reflections on His Jewish Identity

A recently published collection of some 700 of Norman Mailer’s letters (selected out of many thousands) suggests that the famed author was the sort of person who always had something to prove. It also contains some scattered yet revealing discussions of Jewish identity, and how Mailer felt it shaped him as a writer. Adam Kirsch writes:

[I]t is in a 1960 letter to [Diana] Trilling that Mailer gives the other longest explanation of what Jewishness meant to him. As a writer, Mailer grants, he lacks “definition,” he is given to posturing and role-playing. Yet “it must be remembered,” he insists, “that he is a Jew and that being a major novelist is not a natural activity for a Jew.” (Note the passing insistence that what he is is a “major” novelist—a certainty that may, of course, conceal a deep insecurity.)

Mailer goes on to sketch an ambitious theory of the history of the novel, according to which the classic 19th-century novel was devoted to the “roots” of society: “the novel came into existence . . . as the avatar of society at the moment society developed roots too subtle for the historian to trace.” At this stage, however, the Jews of Western Europe were only recently emancipated; they had no deep social roots, and so they were unable to be either the heroes or the authors of novels. Major Jewish novelists could not emerge until after World War II, because by then “the 20th century had ripped up all the roots.” The Jew, in his homelessness and insecurity, was now a representative figure: “he never had the genteel security of relaxing in a habit . . . the Jew was always a bloody schizophrenic, his parlor manners greasy and his aspiration incandescent. . . . But now the world was schizophrenic. H-bombs and PTA committees. The Jew—those who were left—could be the first to swim the divided waters.”

Read more at Tablet

More about: American Jewish literature, Diana Trilling, Jewish literature, Norman Mailer, Norman Podhoretz

The Diplomatic Goals of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Visit to the U.S.

Yesterday, the Israeli prime minister arrived in the U.S., and he plans to address a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, but it remains uncertain whether he will meet with President Biden. Nonetheless, Amit Yagur urges Benjamin Netanyahu to use the trip for ordinary as well as public diplomacy—“assuming,” Yagur writes, “there is someone to talk to in the politically turbulent U.S.” He argues that the first priority should be discussing how to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons. But there are other issues to tackle as well:

From the American perspective, as long as Hamas is not the official ruler in the Gaza Strip, any solution agreed upon is good. For Israel, however, it is quite clear that if Hamas remains a legitimate power factor, even if it does not head the leadership in Gaza, sooner or later, Gaza will reach the Hizballah model in Lebanon. To clarify, this means that Hamas is the actual ruler of the Strip, and sooner or later, we will see a [return] of its military capabilities as well as its actual control over the population. . . .

The UN aid organization UNRWA . . . served as a platform for Hamas terrorist elements to establish, disguise, and use UN infrastructure for terrorism. This is beside the fact that UNRWA essentially perpetuates the conflict rather than helps resolve it. How do we remove the UN and UNRWA from the “day after” equation? Can the American aid organization USAID step into UNRWA’s shoes, and what assistance can the U.S. provide to Israel in re-freezing donor-country contributions to UNRWA?

Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Gaza War 2023, U.S.-Israel relationship