February 16, 2021
Finishing up Norman Mailer’s An American Dream again to continue teaching today, and I couldn’t help but see Barney Oswald Kelly as some sort of ’Rumpian figure in his nightmarish penthouse. He is not Satan, no, but a bastardization of the Prince of Darkness. In AAD, evil lives at the top, a modern take on a Dantean allegory. Rojack has done some pretty questionable things, but nothing like Kelly. For Kelly, there’s no redemption, but for Rojack, there’s still time. He will have a costly price to pay, but ultimately he finds the courage to face his fear—fear personified in the all of what Kelly represents.
I see Mailer’s project more clearly this time: it’s really a product of a sixties zeitgeist. It eschews what Mailer saw as the deadening of America, perhaps beginning with the assassination of Kennedy. It was all downhill form there. In 1964, Mailer wrote “In the Red Light,” an exposé of the Republican National Convention where Barry Goldwater received the nomination. Mailer saw the rise of a new Right in Goldwater: the beginning of an age of greed, led by the bankers, CEOs, and accountants that would be empowered by deregulation, ineffectual government, and wanton commercialism—all of it a bit shady, with back-room deals, exclusive rights, and tax breaks for the wealthiest donors. (I’m taking a few liberties here in my interpretation, bringing Mailer’s essay fifty years into the future, but I think his prognostications have, unfortunately, panned out.)
. . .
I had another thought while running: what if Rojack actually died in his confrontation with Kelly? What if he fell from the parapet? The last chapter is a sort of surreal dream—a desert limbo of air conditioning and corpses—a limbo of sorts.
. . .