Deaths and Dragons

Norman Mailer's passing provokes outpourings of praise and condemnation in equal measure

Mailer Makes his Exit

The week in the Arts began with a splurge of tributes and opinion pieces marking the death of Norman Mailer. The majority of obits were respectful but seemed unsure how to deal with the controversy he engendered, both in his fiction and in his personal life. Although he was praised by some as a brilliant and influential practitioner of the New Journalism, Roger Kimball offered a hatchet job of a man he characterised as a ‘polyphiloprogenitive wife-stabber and booster of homicidal misfits’. For those on the left, Mailer could be an eloquent spokesperson (John Pilger quotes him extensively in this article, but his [brawling, feuding] and suspect views on women lost him the respect of many.

Mailer was an ambitious, ballsy and divisive figure (with even the outspoken Christopher Hitchens confessing to being in awe of his chutzpah), yet many great writers have led controversial lives - are they, like ex-Presidents, entitled to somewhat idealised memorials?. Does the best of the writing outweigh the worst of the life? Or are the two inseparable?

Related

NS Review of Mailer’s final work The Castle in the Forest

The New York Times on Mailer’s life and work

An early review of The Naked and the Dead

A provocative interview with Mailer from the NS archive

Blockbuster Politics

This week saw the release of the first big blockbuster of this festive season. Beowulf, Robert Zemeckis’s motion-captured take on the old English poem, stars a digitally enhanced Ray Winstone as the eponymous Geat and Angelina Jolie as Grendel’s yummy mummy. The original text, heavy on honour and smiting, could be said to offer an idealised portrait of conflict but early reviews have suggested that Zemeckis is more interested in portraying his hero as a flawed and fallible individual. As such, does the film have anything to tell us about Western attitudes to war, valour and honour in the political climate of 2007?

Today’s film students, and even a smattering of political commentators, are happy to write on topics like the relationship of the Star Wars series to the Vietnam War. Will the students of the future be reading War on Terror analogies into Beowulf, and this winter’s other big film, the already controversial Golden Compass? Or is Beowulf really just about a man, a monster and a whopping great dragon? You can judge for yourself - it’s in cinemas now.

Related:

A comprehensive online overview of war films

Terry Eagleton on Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf

Salman Rushdie on war and film

An upcoming talk withPhilip Pullman

NS Film Editor Ryan Gilbey on the cinema of the Iraq war

Websites for political thrillers A Mighty Heart and Lions for Lambs

Meanwhile across the pond…

November the 14th saw another glitzy literary prize ceremony take place, with the 58th National Book Awards being held in Manhattan. The NBA for fiction went to Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke, a Vietnam-set novel which was acclaimed by our reviewer and Tim Weiner scooped the non-fiction gong with his damning history of the CIA Legacy of Ashes. The novelist and essayist Joan Dideon was awarded the prestigious Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

You can check out the full list of contenders and winners and decide if you think anyone was cheated here. It may be worth noting that the NBA unfortunately shares its acronym with the National Basketball Association (a bit like if the Booker Prize started referring to itself as The FA), so Google users may wish to search using the award’s full title.

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SRSLY #30: Awards Special

We discuss awards season’s big trio: the Oscars, the BAFTAs, and, of course, the SRSLYs.

This is SRSLY, the pop culture podcast from the New Statesman. Here, you can find links to all the things we talk about in the show as well as a bit more detail about who we are and where else you can find us online. Listen to our new episode now:

...or subscribe in iTunes. We’re also on Stitcher, RSS and SoundCloud – but if you use a podcast app that we’re not appearing in, let us know.

SRSLY is hosted by Caroline Crampton and Anna Leszkiewicz, the NS’s web editor and editorial assistant. We’re on Twitter as @c_crampton and @annaleszkie, where between us we post a heady mixture of Serious Journalism, excellent gifs and regularly ask questions J K Rowling needs to answer.

If you’d like to talk to us about the podcast or make a suggestion for something we should read or cover, you can email srslypod[at]gmail.com.

You can also find us on Twitter @srslypod, or send us your thoughts on tumblr here. If you like the podcast, we'd love you to leave a review on iTunes - this helps other people come across it.

The Links

The list of Oscar nominations.

The list of BAFTA nominations.

Charlotte Rampling's silly comments.

Kristen Stewart's slightly less silly comments.

Danny DeVito's comments.

 

Your questions:

We love reading out your emails. If you have thoughts you want to share on anything we've discussed, or questions you want to ask us, please email us on srslypod[at]gmail.com, or @ us on Twitter @srslypod, or get in touch via tumblr here. We also have Facebook now.

Our theme music is “Guatemala - Panama March” (by Heftone Banjo Orchestra), licensed under Creative Commons. 

See you next week!

PS If you missed #29, check it out here.