Saturday, 5 May 2012

Of A Fire On The Moon

LIFE magazine (29 August 1969)

(from an interview in The Comics Journal #192, December 1996)
What was interesting was that I was doing all of the research on that and reading as much as I could about the moon and the whole Apollo program and whatnot and one of the things that I did pick up was Norman Mailer's Of A Fire On The Moon. I got about 30-40 pages into it, and went, "This is an interesting book, but it's got nothing to do with what I'm talking about here. It's not going to help me to understand the moon. I want to find out as much as I can about the moon." Well, I actually got around to reading the book three or four months ago. And it's extraordinary. Because it's all in there. It's a different coloration, I would suspect having to do with Norman Mailer's particular circumstances at the time, but so much of what I was trying to talk about in Church & State and failed to say, and them tried again to say filling in another half of the sphere that those two stories make up - Church & State and Mothers & Daughters - is there. Frustrating as hell as it may be. Mailer was there first. And he had just about everything on paper that I was trying to get across. Very irritating [laughter] considering that he did it in about six weeks. It's a gig: "LIFE magazine is going to give you a wad of money, you've got all these ex-wives to take care of, what the fuck? Fly down to Houston and we'll see if we can make a story out of it."
Cerebus #107-108 (February-March 1988)
Art by Gerhard
RALPH GRAVES, Life magazine editor:
(from Norman Mailer At The Typewriter, Life Magazine, 29 August 1969)
A Fire On The Moon, Norman Mailer's treatise on the moon landing starts with this issue. It is the matching of a fantastic subject with a most unusual journalist. "I can't write anything in 5,000 words," Mailer told us, "and 10,000 words is just for poker money." This enormous instalment, in fact, runs some 26,000 words - the longest non-fiction piece LIFE has ever published in one issue... Mailer is a phenomenon as well as a writer - novelist, journalist, movie-maker, candidate for mayor of New York last spring, and all-around public outspokesman. He doesn't cover a story in traditional fashion. Before writing The Armies Of The Night, he broke two icons of  journalism: he took no notes (for he had not intended to write anything) and he inserted himself into the story as the central figure. The book won a Pulitzer prize. In A Fire On The Moon Mailer says he is not the central figure (Saturn V is) but is simply an observer and a voice... Mailer uses transcripts of speeches and press conferences, and he does take notes, but they are reflections of his own thoughts rather than descriptions of the scene or quotes from the characters. He seems to hammer his perceptions into his subject until he finds a core of meaning, which is often different from what anybody else has found.

(from a letter to Apollo 11 commander, Neil Armstrong, 26 February 1970)
I've worked as assiduously as any writer I know to portray the space program in its largest, not its smallest, dimension.

Of A Fire On The Moon by Norman Mailer was serialised in LIFE magazine in 1969 and 1970, and was published in 1970 as a book. It is an intensive documentary and reflection on the Apollo 11 moon landing from Mailer's distinctive point of view. After spending time at the space center and mission control in Houston, and witnessing the launch of the colossal Saturn V rocket at Cape Kennedy in Florida, Mailer began writing his account of the historic voyage at his home in Provincetown, Massachusetts during marathon writing sessions to meet his deadlines for the magazine. His epic account, which ran to 115,000 words, was published in three long instalments: A Fire On The Moon (LIFE, 29 August 1969), The Psychology Of Astronauts (LIFE, 14 November 1969), and A Dream Of The Future's Face (LIFE, 9 January 1970). Mailer's Of A Fire On The Moon was reproduced by Taschen Books in 2010 as Norman Mailer: MoonFire, a publication commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing with Mailer's non-fiction writing and photographs from various sources.

1 comment:

Eric Hoffman said...

Mailer also present as influence as early as High Society. Reading Mailer's "The Fight," his journalistic essay on Mohammed Ali, apparently inspired Sim to write about more sophisticated topics than swords and sorcery. See Sim's letter to Mailer in Collected Letters v.1.