No one—not Gore Vidal, not William Styron, not anyone—ever took down Norman Mailer the way Cynthia Ozick did at Town Hall in 1971. The setting: a debate on “women’s liberation,” as it was then called. The players: Mailer v. Germaine Greer, Diana Trilling, Jill Johnston, and Jacqueline Ceballos. (The event was later memorialized as a documentary.)
Everyone focused on the exotic beauty and wit of Greer, the antics of Johnston (which prompted Mailer to say, “Come on, Jill, be a lady”), and the demure, sly presence of Susan Sontag in the audience, but to my mind it was Ozick who stole the show. When she asked, in her neurotic and nervous way, the following question:
This question, I have been fantasizing it for many many years, since Advertisements for Myself. Only I always thought it would take place at the Y, now it’s here. This is the truth, this is a fantasy, this is my moment to live out a fantasy. Mr. Mailer, in Advertisements for Myself, you said, “A good novelist can do without everything but the remnant of his balls.” For years and years I’ve been wondering, Mr. Mailer, when you dip your balls in ink, what color ink is it?
If you want to get to the good stuff, start at 1:18. But I recommend watching all of it.
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