Norman Mailer's Existentialism; Or, the Divine Essence of Psychopathy

Harma, Tanguy. 2021. Norman Mailer's Existentialism; Or, the Divine Essence of Psychopathy. Academia Letters, 3250. ISSN 2771-9359 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

This short article offers an Existentialist reading of Norman Mailer's polemical essay 'The White Negro' (1957). Mailer's original depiction of the creative impulse is reinterpreted as an existential form of engagement: an engagement which foregrounds a transcendental ontology that borrows from the fundamentals of Sartrean Existentialism and Emersonian Transcendentalism, but which nonetheless remains largely idiosyncratic. I show that the distinctive nature of this engagement stems from its instinctual character: rooted in the body, its mode of expression is radically sensual and even sexual, demanding the satisfaction of the most primitive instincts in the here-and-now as a condition of its realisation. For Mailer, the instinctive energies and cravings of the self are nonnegotiable: they elicit a form of being, viewed as ultimate, which is nevertheless fiercely self-centred, seditious and amoral, epitomised by the figure of the psychopath in the essay. Provocatively revered, the psychopathic is conceived by Mailer as a quintessential form of existential authenticity; one through which the creative act is rapidly consumed in solipsism and confounds itself with self-destruction.

Item Type:


Identification Number (DOI):


Norman Mailer, 'The White Negro' (1957), Existentialism, Psychopathy

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature


28 August 2021Published Online

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Date Deposited:

10 Aug 2022 08:46

Last Modified:

11 Aug 2022 16:26

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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