the mailer number

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I have been reading Harlot’s Ghost, a 1,300-page book written by Norman Mailer in 1991 about the career of a fictional CIA agent. The book employs a number of useful framing devices as well as some truly incredibly turns of prose, but more notably, I think it’s the horniest book I’ve ever read.

Whether it’s a lengthy scene about a urination fetish bar or a lingering description of gonorrheal effects on genitalia, it’s safe to say that Mailer’s fixation on sex transcends the impulse to cry “death of the author” and brings us into the realm of le petit mort d’author. This demands a new schema of literary analysis, the prototype of which I will call the Mailer Number.

The Mailer Number is how many pages an author can make it, on average, before venting their freakish id directly into the text. Your average male author, describing a female character before emphasizing whether their breasts are attractive or not operates at about 25-50. Known perverts like Piers Anthony hover around 2-3 for their Mailer Numbers. Mailer himself is around a 20. I look forward to analyzing more works with this lens.

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