Today's Blogs

Returned to Sender

Bloggers are considering Norman Mailer’s legacy and parsing a New York Times article  about the implications of genetic difference between the races.

Returned to sender: Novelist Norman Mailer, who died Saturday at age 84, commands two pages in the A-section of the Sunday New York Times. His six decades as an acclaimed novelist garnered him a slew of other obituaries in print and online publications.

Book bloggers tip their hats to Mailer. “Seeing it in print, it still feels like a shock,” writes John Freeman at Critical Mass, who also reruns a recent interview he did with Mailer. “[H]ere was a novelist whose vigor and ambition seemed to almost carve an exception in the laws of physiology.” Mark Sarvas finds today’s literary pool devoid of any Mailers at literary Elegant Variation. “There are a lot of young overeducated upstarts and pretenders these days who fancy themselves entitled to be latter-day Mailers. They haven’t an ounce of the real thing.  He will not be so readily replaced.”

Writer’s Blog reminds us that Mailer coined the much-beloved term fug. “The word ‘fug’ is thrown around quite a bit on the Internet. But did you know that it was Norman Mailer who coined the word in 1948 in his first book, The Naked and the Dead?”

John Nichols at the Nation’s Online Beat lauds the late rabble-rouser for his tough stance on Bush. “[T]he pugilistic pensman would perhaps be most pleased to have it known that he went down swinging. … He went after George Bush with a fury, and a precision, that was born of his faith that all politicians–including 1969 New York City mayoral candidate Norman Mailer - had to be viewed skeptically. And, when found to be lacking, had to be dealt with using all tools available to a writer who had pocketed two Pulitzers.”

Huffington Post is awash with Mailer remembrances. “More than another death, a time has gone by,” eulogizes television writer and producer Norman Lear. “Mailer was as much a piece of extraordinary theater as he was ‘towering writer.’ … And, reading about this man, this character, himself as startling and colorful as any he’d written, I cried.” Elsewhere on the site, blogger RJ Eskow declares that Mailer shaped his world into its present form. “It’s not a matter of liking Norman Mailer. It never was. Thousands of us, maybe millions, grew up in his umbra, swimming in his turbulent and inconsiderate wake,” he writes. “I suppose I’m grateful for Norman Mailer, but then I can’t conceive of a world where he had never existed. I never had to worry whether a Jew, and a writer, could also be a man. That was my father’s struggle, and Norman’s. It wasn’t mine, or my brothers’. Instead, we wondered whether half-Jewish suburban kids could play rhythm & blues.”

The former prof at One-Way Street is among those shedding no tears: “Mailer was an asshole–and he made sure everyone knew it. In many ways, being an asshole was his life’s work; the Times obituary reminds us that it was a deliberate construct of Mailer’s. Even his novels–especially the late, bloated ones–placed the author’s own audacity in front of the story he had to tell.”

Finally, no one puts it quite like Gawker. “Norman Mailer—Jewish pugilist, a writer equally at home with fiction and fact, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, a lover and a hater of women and one of three founders of the Village Voice—died today. He was married repeatedly, and although he did stab his second wife, four more yet followed,” Choire Sicha sums up.

Read more about Norman Mailer. In Slate, Christopher Hitchens looks at Mailer’s risk-taking and Jim Lewis explains why Mailer was butch.

DNA and race: The New York Times grapples  with how society will deal with emerging scientific studies on the genetic differences between the races. Some worry that it will spark “a new era of racism,” with racists using fuzzy science to prop up existing biases on race and IQ.

“What is the right response? What should progressives do if and when scientists demonstrate a genetic link between ‘race’ and intelligence?” asks Ted at Blue Mass Group, a Massachusetts-based group blog. “My own view is that such a finding would have, or should have, few if any implications.”

At Eye on DNA, epidemiologist and biotech consulant Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei stresses the importance of one’s environment. “Here’s what I can say about the influence of genetics on intelligence and performance in everyday life - I don’t even think about it. … What’s important to remember in the discussion about genetics and intelligence is that our genes carry us a certain distance but our environment–the people we come into contact with and the resources that are available to us–is also critically important in determining our future.”

Liberal Jason Malloy at Gene Expression, who was quoted in the article, calls on his fellow liberals to prepare themselves for science that proves racial difference has a genetic basis. “I urged progressives to stop predicating their ideas of justice so religiously on empirical matters which might very well get falsified (leaving the door wide open for rival ideologies). When they do this, open talk or diverse public opinions about genetic differences will not evoke the same level of political threat.”

Another of the bloggers interviewed for the article, Half Sigma, elaborates on his beliefs: “I assure my new readers that I am neither a skinhead nor a white supremacist living in some compound in Idaho stocked with survivalist gear. I am an over-educated professional living in Manhattan. Once upon a time, I too believed the politically correct view that everyone had equal intelligence and it was all a matter of environment.”

Read more reaction to the article. In Slate, William Saletan explored what it means if genetics “predispose [Jewish] children both to genius and to early death.”