In “The White Negro,” Norman Mailer gave hipness a philosophy and a manifesto. Mailer, along with many other figures in the 20th-century avant garde, believed that sound not only represents but embodies concrete experience, and that it has a unique power to actualize the energetic processes of human life in its listeners. “The White Negro” and his novel An American Dream articulate a strain of postwar radical critique for which it is abstraction from life that has resulted in the totalitarian horrors of modernity, and they outline a program of Existential liberation in which sound is the medium for the exchange of human energies. For Mailer, writing is a quasi-musical project, an attempt to create a literary “sound” that, like a musical performance, issues from risky endeavors whose outcomes are never known in advance.
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