Martin Amis will never win a popularity contest. Nor did Norman Mailer. Back in 1960, Mailer famously stabbed his wife after a dinner party in New York City, and even when things weren’t so extreme, he was often behaving badly. Take for example this appearance on The Dick Cavett Show with Gore Vidal in 1971. It’s hard to find a less sympathetic figure, at least during his early years.
As for Amis, he has never worked hard to make friends, staking out controversial positions on Muslims and euthanasia and then, earlier this year, going out of his way to mock writing for children: “People ask me if I ever thought of writing a children’s book. I say, if I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children’s book, but otherwise the idea of being conscious of who you’re directing the story to is anathema to me, because, in my view, fiction is freedom and any restraints on that are intolerable.” You get the drift.
But good writers rarely win popularity contests. And few will deny that Mailer and Amis have put their stamp on the Anglo-American literary scene. So here you have it — Martin Amis interviewing Norman Mailer in 1991, upon the release of Mailer’s sprawling 1400-page CIA epic, Harlot’s Ghost. The first clip (above) starts with the novel, the remaining parts move in many different directions. The writing life, writing about homosexuality, the state of capitalism, America after the Cold War, Mailer’s legacy — it’s part of the 40 minute conversation. Find Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.
You can find this video permanently listed in our new collection of 235 Cultural Icons.