Saturday, November 10, 2007


“Picasso stirred. Picasso screamed. A genius came to life. His first breath must have entered on a rush of smoke, searing the throat, scorching to the lungs, and laced with the sitmulants of nicotine. It is not unfair to say that the harsh spirit of tobacco is seldom absent from his work." --from "Portrait of Picasso as a Young Man."

I still remember the first Mailer book I ever read, "Tough Guys Don't Dance," a brilliant potboiler that alternately titillated, shocked and disgusted. This was before I even realized “who” he was, and where in the Pantheon of writers he stood. And long before I became exhausted with the relentless macho posing of the writers of his generation (I still can’t stomach Henry Miller).

But the prose in “Tough Guys” made me seek out his other writings, and though I have yet to make it through his entire oeuvre, his passing still marks the end of an era. The NY Times says it better than I can:

“Mailer built and nurtured an image over the years as pugnacious, streetwise and high-living. He drank, fought, smoked pot, married six times and stabbed his second wife, almost fatally, during a drunken party.

He had nine children, made a quixotic bid to become mayor of New York, produced five forgettable films, dabbled in journalism, flew gliders, challenged professional boxers, was banned from a Manhattan YWHA for reciting obscene poetry, feuded publicly with writer Gore Vidal and crusaded against women's lib.”

But as Newsweek reviewer Raymond Sokolov said in 1968, “in the end it is the writing that will count.”

So let’s end this rumination with an answered question, instead of posing a new one:

Q. Who stole the Mona Lisa?

A. In 1911, a mad Italian housepainter—Vincenzo Peruggia—stole the painting to return it to his native country. It was found in 1913 in Florence.

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