David Masciotra explains the ideas novelist Norma Mailer thought would save New York City. Writing in The American Conservative, Masciotra details Mailer’s focus on how the city had changed from his boyhood to his adulthood. Mailer thought small-scale community was the best way to organize the politics and operations of the boroughs. Masciotra writes (abridged):
No one quite knew how to classify Walt Whitman’s poetry when America’s bard made his debut in 1855, not even Ralph Waldo Emerson, who called Leaves of Grass “American to the bone.” When Elvis Presley first hit the airwaves in 1954 with his gas pedal cover of “That’s Alright,” white listeners thought he was black, black listeners knew that he wasn’t, but neither knew quite what to call it. Blues? Not really. Country? Definitely not. Rock and roll? What is that?
Among the gloriously unclassifiable was the novelist Norman Mailer, who cautioned readers to avoid “playing the Tuesday morning music on Saturday night.” Full of music and multitudes, Mailer wrote in the individualist tradition of not adhering to any particular genre or style. He was a novelist of wildly different types—war epics, historical fiction about the CIA and Ancient Egypt, murder mysteries, experimental writing. He was one of the creators of literary journalism, a polemicist, essayist, and biographer. A winner of two Pulitzer Prizes and one National Book Award, he was also one of the great writers of the 20th century.
His politics were equally difficult to place and offer a demoralizing contrast to the contemporary era of excessive labeling. he was an opponent of feminism (some of his concerns become increasingly relevant and insightful, while others have aged quite poorly), a warrior against political correctness, an advocate of religious belief, and a proponent of small-scale communities and economies.
He continued to juxtapose the New York of his youth with the barely recognizable city of his adulthood:
Mailer’s plan of restoration was less a large-scale solution than the creation of a system that would have allowed for small-scale experimentation. He advocated that New York become an independent city-state, and that each borough have autonomy to dictate its own policies, rules, and regulations. “Power to the neighborhoods!”
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