Pinckney on Mailer
Darryl Pinckney writes “My Norman Mailer Problem—and Ours” in The Nation. He surveys the history of “The White Negro” and various contemporaneous and contemporary reactions to it. Pinckney writes:
In “The White Negro,” Mailer argues that the postwar bleakness of the 1950s saw the appearance of “a phenomenon,” “the American existentialist,” the “hipster.” The hipster had the “life-giving answer” to the threats of both “instant death by atomic war” and “slow death by conformity.” By embracing death as an immediate danger, divorcing himself from society, the hipster—who was understood to be a white male—could exist without roots. This “uncharted journey” into the “rebellious imperatives of the self” meant encouraging the “psychopath in oneself” and the freedom to explore “the domain of experience.” Most Americans, Mailer held, were conventional, ordinary psychopaths, but a select few represented the development of the “antithetical psychopath,” who derived from his condition a radical vision of the universe.