A note in the Telegraph’s obituary of Norman Mailer leads me to ponder the distinction between egomaniacs and shits. They might seem indistinguishable, but the comparison with Evelyn Waugh shows they are not. Mailer, it’s obvious from his biographies, was a dreadful egomaniac: often abominably selfish, violent, petty and aggressive. But he was not mean-spirited. He really wanted other people to be happy, providing this did not interfere in the least with any of his other desires.
Waugh, though he was much more restrained in his behaviour, as in his prose, seems to have been a very pure shit in that he had no benevolent impulses towards anyone for the last thirty or so years of his life. Witness the awe-inspiringly dyspeptic account from his diaries (quoted in the Telegraph obit) of a party thrown in Somerset by one of Mailer’s mothers in law:
“very lavish… Two bands, one of niggers & one of buggers, a cabaret, an oyster bar in the harness room, stables flood lit, much to the discomfort of the horses. One bit an American pornographer who tried to give him vodka.”
The American pornographer was of course Mailer. In general, the tone of the whole Telegraph obit is remarkably ungenerous. It is impossible to discern from it why anyone might want to read Mailer, and that, it seems to me is something that you really ought to explain if you are gong to give the whole of the obit page over to a writer.