Every Army psychiatrist is familiar with the strange phenomenon of re-enlistment. On Monday the rifleman hates the Army with a bitterness bordering on homicide. On Tuesday he signs up for a new hitch.
Clearly the impending transition to civilian life is more painful than the institutional adjustment which, however disagreeable, has become a habit. The soldier’s adolescent years have been consumed in becoming a man, as the Army understands manhood. Now he is reluctant to begin again, on civilian terms. In the Army he leads a half-crippled existence; if he has seen combat, he is perhaps a good deal more than half dead. Yet this is preferable to the painful changes which await him.
Something of this sort has happened to the art of Norman Mailer. Metaphorically speaking, Mailer is in danger of becoming an Army career-man. It is readily apparent from his new book that his emotional range has not transcended the rifle range. To be sure, he takes target practice under new auspices, having joined a hipster outfit as Pfc. (Prongsman First Class).
Hip is the “truest” experience Mail. er has encountered in civilian life because it corresponds most nearly to his conception of truth as formed under combat conditions. But if he wants to grow, he must transcend his war experience, which represents an arrested development. On furlough from death, he must discover life. Otherwise he will be remembered not as the healer he hopes to become, but as just another casualty....
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