Is everybody of Fidel Castro's generation destined to die before he does? Sometimes it seems that way. The latest celebrity to predecease him, at least, does not cause us any grief. Norman Mailer is dead at 84.
It would be honoring Norman Mailer's memory if I wrote one word about him as a writer, and so I won't. I am concerned strictly with Norman Mailer the mountebank, the poseur, the radical by proxy and fool by choice; and, specifically, how all these facets of his execrable personality reacted to Fidel Castro, whom Mailer called "the first and greatest hero to appear in the world since the Second War." Mailer was himself a veteran of World War II which makes his praise even more odious. A tinpot dictator and psychopath as the heir and continuator of "The Greatest Generation?" Well, Mailer never ceased to shock to no effect.
Fidel Castro has always been a magnet for [p]sycophants, but rarely has any stuck so tenaciously to him as did Norman Mailer. Eminently ridiculous in everything that he ever did or said, Mailer's praise of Fidel sounds laughable today because it was laughable then. Did Mailer really think when he compared Fidel Castro to an "erect penis" in an extended metaphor that the passage of time, let alone Castro's conduct, would redeem such an "extravagance?" Or this other conceit: "[With Fidel Castro] it was as if the ghost of Cortez had appeared in our century riding Zapata's white horse." I will not try to parse that sentence but will let our Mexican friends make of it what they will. Surely it is the first time that Hernán Cortés was ever confounded with Emiliano Zapata (the scourge of the indigenous population with its champion). The choice of historical personages, however, does show that Mailer could no more tell a Cuban from a Mexican than he could Cortés from Zapata.
Now Norman Mailer and Fidel's other great American literary admirer, Allen Ginsburg, can wait for their idol to join them in the nether regions, where each may satisfy, individually or together, their fascination with him.