Thursday, June 24, 2010

Armies of the Night. Norman Mailer. Someone once described Mailer as both the Worst Writer in America and the Best Writer in America. Homophobic, sexist, egomaniac, blustering phony and/or conservative leftwing existentialist novelist/journalist. He took part in the notorious mass guerrilla theater, a march on the Pentagon that aimed to surround the fortress of the military industrial complex with neo-pagan primitive christian hippies and exorcise it of its corporate demons.
This book belongs in a time capsule of the 60s, maybe, but I read it every decade or so, for obscure reasons. This time, I read it because I had selected it out of my heaps of old paperbacks to be the first Secular Scripture for my Book Fetish Shrine Project. Why do I horde old books? Books and bookstores and book sellers are disappearing. Books are not being burned, they're being digitized, along with everything and everyone else. Books, paintings, sculpture, theater -- all that is solid melts in the limitless cloud of data. Mailer, the unholy or holy fool protagonist of his History as Novel/Novel as History envisions the psychedelic army he joins as a frontline against The Corporation, a technological totalitarian Moloch that burns Vietnamese peasants and zombifies suburban Americans. To protest the war, Mailer deliberately sought to be arrested for "transgressing a police line." He vividly describes the events of that weekend and generously portrays notable participants such as Tuli Kupferberg, Robert Lowell, Dwight MacDonald, and others.
I wish I had read this book when we were planning our first peace march in West Palm Beach. It was 1972 and I had recently turned 18 and registered for the Selective Service. We all knew about the attempt to exorcise the Pentagon and strained at our imaginations to contrive our own street theater. That summer, both the Democrats and the Republicans had their conventions in Miami Beach and there were protests planned. We took hundreds of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to hand out for the Movement. We camped out in Flamingo Park with the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, the unofficial security force of the park. When government helicopters flew overhead, the vets pointed plastic toy machine guns and pretended to shoot them down. Blew my mind, man. By that time I was a high school drop out lost in teenage wasteland. No one was being drafted any more. Nixon found it politically expedient to use B-52s to bomb his way toward peace with honor. I spent my days hanging out with a couple of vets who had been part of the local underground newspaper. They called themselves anarchists but they had their own maintenance service. They shared their dope with me and we watched Watergate on TV and wondered what the next step in The Revolution would be.
Dig it, man.


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