Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Norman Mailer's Race-baiting

This is what Norman Mailer said in Rolling Stone about Michiko Kakutani:

Kakutani is a one-woman kamikaze. She disdains white male authors, and I'm her number-one favorite target. One of her cheap tricks is to bring out your review two weeks in advance of publication. She trashes it just to hurt sales and embarrass the author . . . But the Times' editors can't fire her. They're terrified of her. With discrimination rules and such, well, she's a threefer: Asiatic, feminist and, ah, what's the third? Well, let's just call her a twofer. They get two for one. She is a token. And, deep down, she probably knows it." (link)

What a ball of slime. This is about as sinister and twisted as it gets -- classic race-baiting. I'm surprised he didn't also throw in some slurs about sushi, cheap cars, or schoolgirl uniforms. At least he witheld the obligatory "go back to where you came from" comment.

If you want better reviews, Mr. Mailer, write better books. And if you don't like what the reviewer writes, find fault with her judgment, not her ethnic background.

Ah well, I didn't think very highly of Norman Mailer to begin with.


Niraj said...

It's the classic "do you know who I am" routine some of the literati like to default to when they're criticized.

In fact, I think Ms. Kakutani is a great critic and a terrific writer.

3:17 PM  
Shreeharsh said...

Sometimes, when I read Kakutani's reviews in the Times, I think that the woman reads books, any books, as something to she has to grade; if she finds any aesthetic enjoyment to reading, it doesn't come out in her reviews. All that said, her lack of deference is always refreshing.

3:25 PM  
Amardeep said...

She is a great critic; that's why this is so outrageous to me. If there is anyone on the Times staff who isn't a "token," it's Michiko Kakutani.

3:27 PM  
Amardeep said...


That's an interesting observation, though I'm not sure I see it that way. She is controlled and very precise, to be sure, but many of her reviews do pay attention to the likely entertainment value experienced by 'normal' (as in, non-academic) readers. Her relative restraint about personal idiosyncrasies might actually be a good thing, in the sense that it makes her voice more consistent and 'general'.

We can disagree on her tone, but the more important question might be: how often is she wrong? (Not often.)

Incidentally, Maud links to Publishers Lunch, which did a study of 150 reviews of hers, going back to 2002: "While she certainly dislikes more books than she loves, among the novels she has liked white men as well represented as any -- including books by Ian McEwan, Bruce Wagner, Julian Barnes, John Gregory Dunne, and Jonatahn Lethem. In the same period, we found about eight positive reviews for works of fiction by women."

3:41 PM  
scribblingwoman said...

Does anyone listen to Norman Mailer anymore? His dislike of someone is practically an endorsement.

(I like the new digs, btw.)

8:57 PM  
Patry Francis said...

Kakutani is admittedly a very tough reviewer, but perhaps her toughness is a necessary service to contemporary literature. And it is very obvious that sex or race plays no role in her blistering critiques.

A cheap shot by a writer who has unfortunately made a career of them.

10:19 PM  
Amrit said...

Call it ignorance, I've never even heard of him. But I've read Kakutani. She's Ok.


7:57 AM  
Amardeep said...


He was one of the big-time figures in American writing in the 1950s and 60s. He was, early on, sort of a "macho liberal," with lots of politically incorrect views on African Americans and women. Then later, he was just macho (i.e., sexist). Now, an old blowhard.

A pretty balanced interview, emphasizing the macho side of things, is here (at the Guardian).

He clearly still knows how to get a rise out of people. Today it's this B.S. about Kakutani where he's throwing around old "yellow peril" racial slurs. But when he wrote a piece criticizing the War in Iraq a couple of years ago, he pissed off lots of conservatives too.

12:30 PM  
Rob Breymaier said...

Whatever one thinks of Mailer's writing, it's sad to see someone who is obviously aware of the consequences of his words say such a hateful thing.

5:12 PM  
Ms. World said...

DAMN! That is up there with Dinesh D`Souza in my book. However, I think he is angry that no one is buying his books these days.

1:56 AM  
Anonymous said...

Michiko is awesome. A good critic. Norman Mailer is a past it, jealous, and out of control.

I'm completely with you on this one, Amardeep.


11:16 AM  
Anonymous said...

One thing that surprises me is that nobody has brought up the fact
that Mailer is himself Jewish, and as a Jew, he should know about
prejudice and bias and discrimination. Why has the media politely left
this part of the story out? Mailer, a Jewish-American writer, raps
Kakutani, a Japanese-American critic (she was born in the USA, too,
her mom was born here too. Her Dad came from Tokyo) by calling her
"Asiatic" and a one-woman kamikaze" [WWI suicide pilot from Japan]!!!
That is so terribly racist on Mailer's part, why has no one spoken of
this in the media? Jewish Mailer should know better! It wasn't so long
ago, back in the day, when people spoke of Jewish critics as
"_________" and "__________" and "_________________." Right? So
shouldn't sweet Norman understand this and humbly apologize, even at
age 82, and say: "sorry for using ethnic and racial epithets, Michiko,
I was wrong."

Imagine if some critic referred to Mailer as a ''token kike'', or a
''Hymietown two-bit Shylock novelist''? People would be incensed.

We should be incensed over what the old man said about Ms Kakutani,
too. Wrong is wrong.

Come on, Norman, own up!

8:49 AM  

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