July 12, 2013

From Gerald R. Lucas

Why Mailer? Some Final Thoughts

Photo by: Brook Manolis

Since I attended my first conference of the Norman Mailer Society, I was struck by the close-knit community of scholars and enthusiasts that gathered around this American literary giant. I had never before attended a conference that was so intimate and friendly—participants from all walks of life engaged with one another around the Mailer’s lifetime of work. And even though my knowledge of Mailer was practically non-existent, they community welcomed me and inspired me to actually look into the man’s legacy they were all there to celebrate and pass on.

It’s because of this community that my #MailerClass was a success. I don’t think I would have had such a good class in any other topic simply because of the support I received from the Mailer community. This class turned out to be one of those special courses – a perfect storm of material, approach, and participants that made for a poignant educational experience for all involved. I think it’s worth sharing some student feedback.

Honestly, I was very skeptical at coming into this course (once I realized who Norman Mailer was) because I am a strong believer in God, and I knew that much of the themes dealt with were things I tend to stay away from. I was not excited about having to delve into such dark material. However, I was pleasantly surprised by Dr. Lucas’ ability to teach the texts in an objective and interesting way, and I ended loving the class. In fact, it was one of my favorite classes I have ever taken. I even think that my religious background served me well because it gave me a foundation on which to understand Norman Mailer’s Jewish and, at times, Christian upbringing since so much of that appears in his work.

* * *

This course was one of my favorites of all my  classes throughout my college career. Yes, it was very challenging and Dr. Lucas expected a lot but it made us work harder and go beyond the surface level of a college class. Whether it was tweeting or in class discussions each helped in my understand of who Norman Mailer was and his importance as a writer to his generation and future generations.

* * *

Best Course Ever! This course taught me more than I can share in this text box. I read novels. The difference being that I actually read for this course. I wanted to read for this course. This course engaged me on a personal level and was exactly what I needed to foster the process of lifelong learning that will be necessary for my career. This course taught me the value of independent thinking and learning. I view art and the artist through a new lens because of this course. I learned personal responsibility in this course, responsibility for my own mind and future. I learned about courage, and what it means to be courageous in the midst of adversity. Continue to offer this course; it has the potential to change the lives of the students that take it. This course is one of those rare ones that teaches the students about life and is applicable to every scenario. The professor who taught the course, Dr. Lucas, is perfect for the job.

* * *

During this course, I had to challenge myself more than I ever have, and these challenges proved to be very fruitful in my growth as a reader, writer, and lover of literature. I truly appreciate Norman Mailer, as well as his multiple personae. We value actors and celebrities so much in our society, yet most would be quick to judge or even hate a man like Norman Mailer who brings just as much entertainment, and perhaps contrived actions and personalities to the public. Throughout the semester, I found myself loving and hating Mailer just as he feels about our America, but at the end, I can’t help but say that I will continue to read his works and I will always appreciate his literature, regardless of the medium or style that he employs. As I said, the course really challenged me – and there could have been no better professor than Dr. Lucas to professionally and knowledgeably execute these challenges. I dare say that I learned more about myself, than in many other courses, and found this class among the most fulfilling that I have experienced in my undergraduate career.

* * *

This is the best college course I’ve ever been a part of. It will be hard to top the level of participation given by our class. Dr. Lucas has a passion for this subject matter and it came through in his teachings. There should be warning labels on all of Norman Mailer’s material. It can bring out some long lasting effects to its audience.

* * *

Courage to handle the truth is required for this course!

When I read these comments, I find myself thinking again of my first encounters with Mailer’s work. Like the first student above, I was skeptical those years ago, but persistence and exploration within Mailer’s oeuvre really pays off. In the “First Advertisement for Myself,” Mailer demands the “finest attention” and he “will settle for nothing less than making a revolution in the consciousness of our time.”[1] Mailer aimed high, as did this course. Yet, I think he knew that only by challenging and demanding the best from his readers could he succeed in being a writer who is “more disruptive, more dangerous, and more powerful.”[2] His goal, he goes on to state, is to combat the “shits” and the

lies [that] eat into the seed with which we are born, little institutional lies from the print of newspapers, the shock waves of television, and the sentimental cheats of the movie screen. Little lies, but they pipe us toward insanity as they starve our sense of the real.[3]

I hear a challenge in Mailer’s words to education, a clarion call that summons educators to disrupt students’ expectations of the classroom and how it shapes their behaviors. The humanities classroom should not teach conformity, nor should it continue to conform to centuries-old educational paradigms. Mailer’s work is the perfect material to teach when challenging these paradigms, for our goals are similar: to help educate citizens to “rage at the cowardice of our time which has ground down all of us into mediocre compromises of what had once been our light-filled passion to stand erect and be original.”[3]

I’d like to end by making a call of my own to augment Sipiora’s. We as Mailer scholars and aficionados need to begin using social media as an integral factor in our serious work. The best way to bolster Mailer’s “legacy power” is to bring our discussions into the places where people participate. By embracing and using social media as a necessary component of our work, we can expand interest in Norman Mailer and his work to communities that might not otherwise have ever heard his name. Teaching Norman Mailer in a college classroom is one thing, but to bring our community online is quite another.

We scholars often work in isolation, and the traditional media we embrace reinforces it. Print media still reigns supreme in communicating scholarship, but continuing to embrace only these sanctioned modes of academic discourse is short-sighted. Teaching and learning must move beyond the cloistered closet of the academy and embrace digital spaces as the new frontier for collaboration, conversation, and participation.

Scholars must embrace social media. Not to do so will obsolete us and the subjects we care about, relegating us to old media forms and the crypts that will store them. I’m not calling for the end of print journals or novels, but I am suggesting that these old media do not necessarily invite the digital natives into our conversations, nor do they do as much as they used to for legacy power. Mailer studies is grounded in this academic culture, but like Norman Mailer himself who challenged the boundaries of genre and identity, our study and society should make new media integral to propagating Mailer’s legacy. The practice of a new media literacy must be embraced if Mailer Studies, specifically, and the liberal arts in general are to continue to have an influence in the digital age. Social media is no longer an option, but a necessity.

Notes

  1. Mailer, Norman (1959). Advertisements for Myself. New York: Putman’s. p. 17.
  2. Mailer 1959, p. 22.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Mailer 1959, p. 23.