Saturday, April 05, 2008

Norman Mailer: White Negro Hipster

From Norman Mailer’s 1967 “The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster”:
A totalitarian society makes enormous demands in the courage of men and a partially totalitarian society makes even greater demands, for the general anxiety is greater. Indeed, if one is to be a man, almost any kind of unconventional action often takes disproportionate courage. So it is no accident that the source of Hip is the Negro, for he has been living on the margin between totalitarianism and democracy for two centuries. But the presence of Hip as a working philosophy in the sub-worlds of American life is probably due to Jazz and its knife-like entrance into culture, its subtle but so penetrating influence on an avant-garde generation—that post-war generation of adventurers who (some consciously, some by osmosis) had absorbed the lessons of disillusionment and disgust of the twenties, the Depression and the war. Sharing a collective disbelief in the words of men who had too much money and controlled too many things, they knew almost as powerful a disbelief in the socially monolithic ideas of the single mate, the solid family and respectable love life. If the intellectual antecedents of this generation can be traced to D.H. Lawrence, Henry Miller and Wilhelm Reich, the viable philosophy of Hemingway fit most of their facts, in a bad world, as he was apt to say over and over again (while taking time out from his parvenu snobbery and dedicated gourmandise), in a bad world there is no love nor mercy nor charity nor justice unless a man can keep his courage, and this indeed fitted some of the facts. What fitted the need of the adventurer even more precisely was Hemingway’s categorical imperative that what made him feel good became therefore the Good.

1 comment:

  1. Mailer wrote this in 1957, not 1967. A lot happened in the ensuing decade that would render this piece of writing less important


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