frank on mailer et alia


First time tear gas, second time robo-polls: If Karl Marx were on hand today to record the progress of our long cultural civil war, one suspects this would be the law of history he would coin to describe its bewildering phases. The novelist Norman Mailer was physically present for the tear-gas part—which is to say, at the famous “police riot” during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. His classic account of the proceedings, Miami and the Siege of Chicago, has been reissued in a fortieth-anniversary edition this year, and in it we can find him sneering at the Republicans, whom he regarded as the party of “the Wasp”; cheering on the hipster left, the culture war’s original instigators; and booing the old-style machine Democrats, who would soon defect to the right. The certainty that we were heading into many decades of political idiocy grows larger and larger in Mailer’s consciousness until by the end he is in a funk of resignation and dread. “We will be fighting for forty years,” he writes on the book’s final page. As indeed we have been.

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