Norman vs Norman

Mailer explains his long beef with Podhoretz - and, somewhat hilariously, takes responsibility for Podhoretz's journey to the far right fringe :

Interviewer:  But let us talk about neoconservatism.  It has become such a thing in America.  I’m interested in your relationship with people like Norman Podhoretz, people who went on a journey that took them very far from the place where they started.

Mailer: Well, I can understand it.  And in fact, I feel partly responsible for Podhoretz.  He and I were close friends at one point.  He wrote a book called Making It, and the book got trashed terribly.  He was unpopular on the left.  I never quite understood why he was so unpopular.  But they trashed his book like you wouldn't believe.  It was truly ugly.  And I hadn't read it yet – or I'd read the first half of it, which was pretty good.  And I witnessed this trashing and said to him, I’m going to write a review.  So I read all of the book.  And the book betrays itself.  The second half is god-awful.

  In the first half, his thesis is that the dirty little secret among the left, among artists and intellectuals, is that they really want to make it, and they want to make it big.  And they conceal that from themselves and from others.  But this is really the motivating factor that is never talked about.  You can talk about sex but you can’t talk about ambition and desire for success.  So he does all that. And then he starts to give portraits of all the people on the left who have made it – pious, sweet little portraits, with people who we know goddamn well are not that at all.  And I was horrified at the way he could betray his own book.  There was a failure in nerve there – in other words, if you want to be strong theoretically, you better be strong in detail as well.  That’s what makes a good general.  Strong at both ends.  And he wasn’t.

So I ended up mocking his book, too.  And I was pretty cruel.  Looking back on it, I was probably too cruel.  He went into a depression and stayed there for about a year… just didn't do much.  Worked on his magazine and listened to music and hardly saw anyone.  And by the end of that time, he’d moved over to the right.  Podhoretz is nothing if not active and enterprising.  So the moment he moved over to the right, it wasn’t enough to be on the right, he had to be far to the right.  And so I feel that I’m responsible, to whatever degree, for helping to have shoved him over there.  Which is too bad, because he now is paying for his sins on the right by having supported the war in Iraq and he has to live with it – he has to live with all the idiocies of the neoconservatives.