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Norman Mailer

Typed Letter Signed to Literary Critic - 1965

Revealing typed letter signed by American author Norman Mailer, who writes to the literary critic John William Corrington, apparently in response to an advance look Corrington provided Mailer of his forthcoming review of Mailer's book "An American Dream," to appear in the Chicago Review (both published in 1965). Aside from its insightful, even instructive content, the desirability of this letter further lies in the fact that Mailer signed his name in full, since most correspondence was signed only as "Norman." In full:


142 Columbia Heights
Brooklyn 1, New York

June 8, 1965

Dear Mr. Corrington,

I mislaid your letter and didn't come across it again until today, and that was annoying. I do not want you to think you'd get no answer from me. Now the best time for answering is gone. I'm starting work on a novel soon so starting this week I'm going to be acknowledging mail rather than replying. But look, in any case I can hardly tell you that I thought you were or were not on the right track. That would break the game of criticism, for criticism consists of the critics assuming an authority which he knows in his heart cannot be authoritative, and that's the fun of it. So I try never to go over a piece of criticism with the critic. I limit myself to saying I enjoyed reading it or didn't enjoy reading it, and obviously I enjoyed reading your piece or I would not have been annoyed at mislaying it.

At any rate, I don't know whether I can keep it or not, so I'm returning the manuscript to you. When it is printed in Chicago Review, would you ask them to send me a copy?

And for now, my best to you,

/s/ Norman Mailer

Corrington, in notes for a course he would later teach on "The Twentieth Century Novel," wrote about his critical reviews of Norman Mailer's work, observing that what he had ended up with was "many loose ends and dangling propositions" and a concern that what he had managed to write wasn't scholarly at all:

"What we are doing here is not scholarship, it is evocation... It is madness to define a living, growing vision, especially when it belongs to a genius. One only touches it, knowing that however gently one touches, Heisenberg's principle of uncertainty may hold true. Still the attempt must be made... "

It's little wonder, then, that Mailer was flattered by Corrigan's letter, and annoyed he had misplaced it, for it must have contained similar admirations. But Mailer genuinely relates here the truths of "the game of criticism," deferring comment on whether Corrigan was or was not "on the right track." A marvelous and revealing look into the minds of both author and critic.

Citation: John William Corrington, An American Dreamer, 18 (1) Chicago Rev. 58, 66 (1965) (book review of Norman Mailer's "The American Dream").