Norman Mailer has died, and I'm feeling sadder about it than I would have thought . . . sadder than I usually feel when an old and successful artist dies. Mailer represented an ideal of the irresponsible writer at a time when the obligation to be responsible — to be sensitive, to mind our manners, to watch what we say, to strike the right tone, to pay all the necessary obeisances to the institutions and leaders that administer Our Interests, whatever they may be — has become the duty of all. Mailer believed that a writer's obligations were to the free, articulate, individual intelligence alone, and however inconsistent he may have been throughout his life, he remained consistent in this. He was the great American existentialist, at all times aware of the individual's freedom and willing to meet his own freedom with the fullest possible assertion of will. Which meant that he could be an egoist, a pig, a clown, and a poseur. But he was always irresponsible, and the world would be a better place if we had a few more people like him. A great many things can be said against irresponsibility, but its seeming opposite — what we now mean by "responsibility" — means only a sad, bovine timidity that makes strong writing and thought impossible. George Orwell once commented that real literature can only be written by people who aren't afraid. Norman Mailer was never afraid.