Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Returning to write a blog entry after months of self-imposed silence has a sort of illicit attraction. I am writing into a void, almost an abyss, that, in all likelihood, has not been peered into for quite some time. By myself, or by others. It is the equivalent of dropping a single penny into a distant well far from home and waiting for the sound of its metallic ping hitting bottom. Better to listen for its frantic whistle as it drops than wait for the final crash.

Reading Norman Mailer's Harlot's Ghost, as I started to do today, for the first time since I was seventeen, perhaps, is like returning to the site of a glorious battle, the details of which have long been forgotten, but the sting and stink of blood remain nonetheless. To finish this book is a kind of war, not because a 1000 page novel of the CIA in the twentieth century is inherently difficult, but because its terrain was last traversed when I was but a teenager, and now I find myself steadily approaching middle-age, and one enters a novel a different person at different points in time.

Recently I saw a clip of Mailer stating that every great novel is inevitably boring at certain intervals, if only because it is filled with uncomfortable truths that we are not yet ready to process. What Mailer's work filled me with as a teen in a small, southern Ontario city was the sense that anything was possible in writing itself -- that a novel could contain worlds within worlds. When I met Mailer a few years later, at the Art Gallery of Ontario, where he had come to give a lecture about Picasso and I had come to see the master and seek advice, I asked him two things -- advice for a young writer, and whether or not he would, indeed, complete a sequel to Harlot's Ghost, because this infinitely long book ends with those dreaded, luxurious words 'To Be Continued'. He told me that he hoped to, yes, write a second volume, which warmed my heart. There would be more of the story.

Now Mailer is gone, so we are left only with Harlot's Ghost, volume one-and-only. I remember little of the story, but reading its first fifty pages, I am once again humbled by the scope of this great writer's great talent. My favourite writer, I've come to realize, for he dwelt within a philosophical realm that examined life's most majestic and nefarious questions within the realm of his own literary ambitions. Every book was a colossal challenge to his own talent. He grappled with those uncertainties that sustain and bewilder us.

In this soundbite age, this click-of-the-mouse, frantic search for more inane knowlege and frivolity, I yearn to return to the sound and pace of words that lead me deeper into myself. I try to read Japanese every day -- that magnificent, humbling language! -- and I want to delve deeper into the kind of writing that Mailer lived his life to create.

I first found Harlot's Ghost on the dusty shelves of the St.Catharines Centennial Library when the book was still new and I was still young. I found it again on the shelves of a library in Yokohama, Japan. The words are the same and Mailer is dead and I am now a man. Diving into the fevered, measured intensity of Mailer's vision, while studying the rudiments of another nation's language, I hope to become who I am once again, whoever that may be.


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