Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Norman K. Mailer '43 delighted an audience of more than 100 in Emerson Hall this weekend, reading an unpublished work an fielding questions with characteristic eloquence and wit.
The controversial writer--whose visit Friday night was sponsored by the Harvard Advocate, the undergraduate literary magazine that published some of Mailer's earliest prose--set the evening's feisty tone in his first impromptu comments.
"This is the greatest university in the world, in the greatest crumbling democracy in history, and this is the worst microphone I've ever seen," he quipped as he tried with difficulty to fit his head through the circular wire holding the microphone.
Mailer, who took the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Executioner's Song, proceeded to recite an original unpublished one-act play titled Eart and Lyndon.
The piece, set in the White House soon after the Kennedy assassination, portrays a fictional meeting during which President Johnson coldly manipulates Chief Justice Earl Warren into heading the commission that will "investigate" Kennedy's murder.
After reading the play, Mailer linked the assassination to the "apathy and anger and disjointedness" of today's Americans.
"I think that the assassination of Kennedy started a series of catastrophes...in this country," Mailer said, later identifying the disasters as the murders of Robert E. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
Mailer said a "totalitarianism of a very subtle sort" exists in American, where "freedom is a bore."
He then drew an ironic comparison between apathetic Americans and Russians, "who read passionately whatever they have access to."
"We have a corporate mentality that inflicts itself on the American people." he added.
To a member of the audience who asked Mailer how he hoped to improve society, Mailer said, "I don't write to change the world...you just do your best assuming the reward is the writing itself."
the last question of the evening came from a spectator who asked for Mailer's opinion on his relevance to people today.
Without missing a beat, Mailer replied: "It never occurs to me whether I'm relevant or not. I just assume I am."