- Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: Plume; Reprint edition (January 1, 1995)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0452272793
- ISBN-13: 978-0452272798
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 7.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 31 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #116,775 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Armies of the Night: History as a Novel, the Novel as History Paperback – January 1, 1995
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Praise for The Armies of the Night
“His genuine wit and bellicose charm, and his fervent and intense sense of legitimately caring, render The Armies of the Night an artful document, worthy to be judged as literature.”—Time
“Only a writer steeped in American life, with all his wits about him, and with a genuinely compassionate social vision, could have produced a work so acute in its historical insights and so moving in its portraits of contemporaries.”—The Nation
“Some time in 1969 in Paris, I first read Armies of the Night, Norman Mailer's account of the anti-Vietnam war march on the Pentagon...It was mesmerising, and to re-read it today is to experience an additional punch: the one that verifies that history repeats itself as (malignant) farce. Page after page you have the impression that he is commenting not on Lyndon Johnson's shameful war, but George Bush's corporate-powered skulking towards another self-serving war… supports the theory—more resonant now than then—that perhaps the most ruthless and prolonged jihad in history has been that of the American fundamentalist Christians, which began towards the end of the second world war.”—Peter Lennon, The Guardian
“Just as brilliant a personal testimony as Whitman's diary of the Civil War, Specimen Days, and Whitman's great essay on the crisis of the Republic during the Gilded Age, Democratic Vistas. I believe that it is a work of personal and political reportage that brings to the inner and developing crisis of the United States at this moment admirable sensibilities, candid intelligence, the most moving concern for America itself. Mailer's intuition in this book is that the times demand a new form. He has found it.”—Alfred Kazin, The New York Times
“Mailer's feints and bell-donging around his fellow ‘Notables’ is a late night popcorn joy, and there is much that is stylish and shrewd...this is an important and passionate pilgrimage.”—Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Born in 1923 in Long Branch, New Jersey, and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Norman Mailer was one of the most influential writers of the second half of the twentieth century and a leading public intellectual for nearly sixty years. He is the author of more than thirty books. The Castle in the Forest, his last novel, was his eleventh New York Times bestseller. His first novel, The Naked and the Dead, has never gone out of print. His 1968 nonfiction narrative, The Armies of the Night, won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. He won a second Pulitzer forThe Executioner’s Song and is the only person to date to have won Pulitzers in both fiction and nonfiction. Five of his books were nominated for National Book Awards, and he won a lifetime achievement award from the National Book Foundation in 2005. He died in 2007 in New York City.
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On March 17, 2007 various anti-Iraq War forces will converge on the Pentagon to oppose that war and to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the original protest of that symbol of American imperialism during the Vietnam War (and `levitation' of the building according to some sources then, such as the late Abbie Hoffman). Whether such a celebration is called for under the circumstances of the Iraq anti-war movement's continuing failure to stop this war is a separate question to be left to another day. Today it is nevertheless fitting that Norman Mailer's Armies of the Night, about those several days forty years ago, should be reviewed with this upcoming event in mind.
In this novel as history (or history as novel depending what part you are reading at a given time) Norman Mailer tries, successfully for the most part, to use this literary trope as a means for closely investigating the action that he is witnessing (and taking part in). As I have mentioned elsewhere in other reviews of Mailer's books he will be eventually known in the literary pantheon for his journalism and musings on his life and his times. But not merely as a journalist in the conventional sense, those are basically a dime a dozen and eminently forgettable, but as an exemplar of the then `new' journalism. That concept got its greatest expansion in the later work of Doctor Hunter Thompson (`gonzo' journalism) but Mailer, and to a lesser extent, Tom Wolfe gave it legitimacy.
The premise behind this mode of analysis is that the reporter not prohibited from being an actor in the action he or she is covering contrary to the norms beaten into media students that one is suppose to be `objective'- detached from the action one is reporting. Now is not the time to expound of the virtues and vices of that `gonzo' method but to see whether it works in Mailer's exposition. I believe that it does.
To set the stage the Vietnam War, by 1967, had gone through various stages of escalation by the administration of Lyndon Johnson as it attempted to find a way to deal with the quagmire that it had created for itself in South Vietnam. The opposition to the war had also gone through several stages of political activity responding to those Administration acts of escalation. By the fall of 1967, working off a successful mass demonstration in the spring, the diffuse leadership of the anti-war movement (Old Left, New Left, New York intelligentsia and so forth) and especially one Dave Dellinger a central leader of the time, had decided that it was necessary to up the ante. Thus, the Pentagon, a very visible and direct symbol of American imperial power, became the focus for a proposed mass rally and various undefined acts of civil disobedience in October. As a long time opponent of the war and one almost always ready, despite some personally-driven contrary instincts expressed throughout the work here, to give something to the cause Norman Mailer steps into the picture. His personal saga informs the bulk of the book.
And what is that personal saga. Mailer originally signed up to bear witness to symbolic mass draft card turn in at the Justice Department and to speak. During the course of those few days in October, however, he got dragged into, not unwillingly for the most part, an act of civil disobedience that got him arrested, confined in various holding pens and finally released after a number of twists and turns worthy of a novel. Along the way Mailer described his fellow prisoners, their responses to their confinement, his responses to his legal situation and further musings on the nature (or rather de-nature) of American society at the time, the worthiness of the anti-war opposition movement and his own periodic leadership delusions of grandeur as he tries to place the event in context of an on going war against...well, plastic. Thus, he successfully fulfilled the basic premise of `gonzo' journalism- he was able to become mired in the center of the story but was also able through that process to bring out some home truths that one expects from a good journalist...or novelist.
The irony of fate of this book is that the part that Mailer spends the most time on, essentially the bulk of the book as an updated version of his perennial scheme of advertising for himself, is some forty years out the least interesting from a historic standpoint. I would say that the last twenty pages or so are what are important today for those of us who are trying to find our way out of the current quagmire in Iraq. Mailer, I believe, consciously and correctly tried to demonstrate that mere symbolic actions (including, in the final analysis, his own) would not bring the monster down. His own prescription however proved totally inadequate (and as echoed today continues to do so).
Mailer is rather unkind to the Old Left (Communists, Trotskyists of various hues, professional pacifists-the `plan' types) and their dependence on the centrality of the traditional working class, as well as the New Left kids (SDS, Draft Resistance, etc.- the `free play' types) and their dependence of `students and professionals' as the new working class. His position then seemed to be somewhere in the vicinity of an Americanized and sanitized version of Che Guevara's theories on guerilla warfare. Except that what Mailer is really postulating is the theory behind Guevara's work that it was necessary for a new cleansed `man' (and given his other known sentiments of the time concerning women I believe he was being exclusive here) to emerge to fight the monster. Norman, wherever you are, I believe that sentiment, if less articulately expressed than by you, already had its day with Bakunin and later with the Social Revolutionaries in late 19th century Russia. But Kudos for Armies. Adieu, Left Conservative.
Instead, I offer, as usual, what I believe is perhaps the book in a nugget, what the novel is all about—a passage from the chapter, “Why Are We in Vietnam?”:
“Mailer had been going on for years about the diseases of America, its oncoming totalitarianism, its oppressiveness, its smog—he had written so much about the disease he had grown bored with his own voice, weary of his own petulance; the war in Vietnam offered therefore the grim pleasure of confirming his ideas. The disease he had written about existed now in open air: so he pushed further in his thoughts—the paradox of this obscene unjust war is that it provided him new energy—even as it provided new energy to the American soldiers who were fighting it.
“He came at last to the saddest conclusion of them all for it went beyond the war in Vietnam. He had come to decide that the center of America might be insane. The country had been living with a controlled, even fiercely controlled, schizophrenia which had been deepening with the years. Perhaps the point had now been passed. Any man or woman who was devoutly Christian and worked for the American Corporation, had been caught in an unseen vise whose pressure could split their mind from their soul. For the center of Christianity was a mystery, a son of God, and the center of the corporation was a detestation of mystery, a worship of technology. Nothing was more intrinsically opposed to technology than the bleeding heart of Christ. The average American, striving to do his duty, drove further every day into working for Christ, and drove equally further each day in the opposite direction—into working for the absolute computer of the corporation” (188).
“Christians had been able to keep some kind of sanity for centuries while countenancing love against honor, desire versus duty, even charity opposed in the same heart to the lust for power—that was difficult to balance but not impossible. The love of the Mystery of Christ, however, and the love of no Mystery whatsoever, had brought the country to a state of suppressed schizophrenia so deep that the foul brutalities of the war in Vietnam were the only temporary cure possible for the condition—since the expression of brutality offers a definite if temporary relief to the schizophrenic” (188).
Wow! (No emoji needed.)