Norman Mailer on Meaninglessness


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December 30, 1959, Vol. V, No. 10

Is Modern Man Meaningless?

By Mary Perot Nichols

Judson Church learned on December 18 that “moral decay” is a subject that holds a high degree of fascination for the literate public. The Dissent Magazine symposium on “Happy Critics and a Rigged Society” packed the old church on Washington Square South to the rafters. Several hundred people were turned away.

Two Protestant ministers, two Marxists from Dissent, and controversial novelist Norman Mailer made up the panel. The Reverend Howard R. Moody of Judson Church and Stephen Chinlund of Grace Episcopal Church were the ministers; Irving Howe and Bernard Rosenberg were the Marxists…The panel discoursed…on the depressed moral state of society as a whole. As there was general agreement on the latter point, Mr. Chinlund tried to find out what, if anything, was to be done about it…

After the jump: Mailer speaks, the joys of FM, and Tallmer raves…

Mr. Mailer remarked that he was in favor of forming an “underground” with the kind of people present. Mr. Chinlund rejoined: “Is that all we can do, form an underground? Why not develop a kind of radical pacifism, from a position of strength?”

Mr. Mailer indicated that a number of his friends were pacifists and that he respected them deeply. “But we have an inheritance of violence,” which, he later added, “is passed on in our seed to our children.”

…At one point the microphone seemed to give out on Mr. Mailer. A voice from the floor shouted: “Get closer to the mike,” another followed up with: “It’s not the mike, we just can’t understand fuzzy-minded intellectuals like you.”

Up in the balcony a lady had a hysterical laughing and coughing fit and was dragged out by her husband.

Why Buy FM?

By Ed McLean

The most frequent question asked in letters from readers of this column is concerned with the pros and cons of purchasing an FM receiver. This might seem hard to believe for those with their heads in the hi-fi and stereo-component clouds, but it’s true. Indeed, a surprising number of readers of this column (when it dealt with FM only) were not aware that there was separate FM programming in this area. Some had never even heard of FM…

Buy one! There have never been more excellent reasons for FM-set ownership than at present. The acquisition of WBAI-FM by the Pacifica Foundation – operators of KPFA, San Francisco, and KPFK, Los Angeles – is reason enough in itself. The introduction of listener-subscription broadcasting into the New York area is the most significant development in local broadcasting in 1959-1960. It is the one hopeful and positive note against a background of payola, over-commercialization, quiz frauds, and trashy programming. But it will mean nothing to you as a listener if you do not have an FM receiver.


By Jerry Tallmer

Let’s let out the stops for once. “FIORELLO!” (at the Broadhurst) is wonderful – just plain wonderful. A joy. A delight. An excitement. A hell of a good show. And the first musical that has really and truly done something to me for years, for something like 15 to 20 years, since the war, since “Pal Joey,” since I don’t know when…

“Fiorello!” biographs its hero’s early, or pre-mayoral career – in his Village law office, working all hours to help the needy; on a picket line, winning a sweatshop strike; in Little Italy and the Lower East Side, campaigning for Congress; then in Congress, bucking his party, violating tradition, to make a freshman speech in favor of the Draft Act; then enlisting in the war he believes in, going off, winning it, returning, marrying, running, winning, getting too sure of himself, running, losing, losing his temper, losing his friends, losing his wife, losing his spirit; then finding it again with a new love, a new wife, a new bid from the reformists, a new chance to run against scandal-wracked Tammany, to shoot for all the marbles against Jimy Walker…

Everything in the production is brilliant, from the book (Jerome Weidman, George Abbott) to the music (Jerry Bock) to the lyrics (Sheldon Harnick, who deserves the Pulitzer) to the sets and costumes (the Eckharts) to the choreography (Peter Gennaro) to the double-Pulitzer direction by Mr. Abbot. Tom Bosley, in the lead, is incredibly like the Little Flower and equally as lovable…

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]