Norman Mailer dies at 84

14.11.07 - By Matthew Williams: Some of you may be wondering who Norman Mailer was. Many of you will be familiar with his name and familiar with his work. A few of you may have followed Mailer’s career closely and understand why the man is worthy of an article on this website..

Mailer is widely regarded as one America’s finest 21st centaury authors, twice winning the Pulitzer prize. He was also a controversial figure as infamous for stabbing his wife in a drunken brawl and his controversial political views as he was famous for his prose. In fact, there have been many disparaging articles, comments and remarks made about the man since his death at the weekend. Indeed, Mailer did have some deplorable character traits, which I don’t intend to discuss here, but he was also a passionate follower of the sweet science and perhaps the finest boxing writer of our age. He even attempted a little prize fighting himself too.

Mailer was certainly a “man’s man” objecting in much of his writing to the “womanisation” of America, but he was also a proud American. The combination of these two aspects perhaps leading to a lifelong interest in boxing. The boxer was, for Mailer, critical in the psychological construction of male identity. He once remarked of Mohamed Ali “There is always the shock in seeing again…. Women draw an audible breath. Men look down. They are reminded again of their lack of worth.” The sentence speaks for itself.

His most famous contribution to the literary world of boxing “The Fight” is an account of the Ali vs. George Foreman “Rumble in the Jungle”. It is the definitive account of that fight and only someone with the intrigue and love for the sport such as Mailer could describe with such passion and adoration the skill and artistry put before us. It is a fantastic portrait of one the finest and most charismatic athletes of the 21st centaury. However, the book is about more than just boxing, as many recounts of boxing history inevitably end up. Mailer tackles issues such as race and the surreal nature of holding such a huge sporting event in Zaire, it is a piece of history in itself retelling (albeit in a slightly egotistical prose) the political mood and spirit of the time and should be appreciated whether or not you are an Ali fan.

Other notable works include a piece published in Esquire on the Liston vs. Paterson fight in 1962. Apparently, at a news conference for the fight Mailer sat in Listens’ chair refusing to move when Liston arrived. The piece is 30,000 words long, despite the fight only lasting three minutes. There is a huge body of work out there that this article is simply too short to list. So without turning this into an article of Mailer’s literary prowess, I simply wish to raise a glass to Mailer, his faults aside. At a time when boxing is seen by some (although not the author) as a minority or fringe sport he was a wonderful, if slightly mercurial writer, and more importantly a proud exponent of the sport of boxing.

Norman Kingsley Mailer, writer, born January 31 1923; died November 10 2007.

Article posted on 15.11.2007

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