Discovering Norman Mailer’s hidden joke

In his book, Picasso: Portrait of Picasso as a Young Man, Norman Mailer often refers to the artist’s use of “visual puns”. His examples include a flower’s petals which appear as a cluster of grasping hands, the flame of a candle as a woman’s vagina and the posture of a wind deprived flag as flaccid member. The point is not that Picasso was obsessed with sex. That’s true enough but quite beside the point. The point is simple and should already be clear. “An artist’s line in a drawing can be the equivalent of a spoken word or two,” as Picasso puts it.

Ok, but this isn’t 6th grade art appreciation, so why am I writing this? you ask. This isn’t about Picasso. It’s about Mailer. You see, it seems later in the book while referencing 7’s unique ability to appear as an upside down nose, he turns the tables and makes “a joke, a visual pun” of his own.

Picasso (7,

I only caught it because I think I’m clever. Noting that if a 7 could be an upside down nose, the ball terminal at the stem of his 7 could just as easily be an eye. With that in mind, Mailer could have had some fun with a bit of clever punctuation and a unique L in the line above to give us a mouth—if we were clever enough to look at it all upside down. He’s Norman Mailer after all. If he wanted to bend the rules of punctuation and printing to make a clever little joke, the publisher wouldn’t complain. Alas, he’d missed his opportunity. I read on while simultaneously patting myself on the back for being so clever and chiding Mailer for his lack of imagination.

My sense of superiority didn’t make it through the next paragraph.

Mailer writes:

“Objects spoke of other objects with similar form but highly different function (7, to repeat, equals a nose upside down.”

What was that?


Son of a gun. Mailer, you sneaky bastard. Not only did you sneak the whole face into the text, you made it a Picasso-esque face!

I’m sure it’s obvious, but if not, the comma forms an eye as does the ball terminal of the 7. The 7 of course, is a nose, and the left parenthesis mark serves as our mouth. Of course, it’s all jumbled up but that’s Picasso for you.

Hat’s off Mailer. I googled this to see if I could find anything about it and failed to. But if no one else caught your joke, Norm, I did.

And now I will go back to patting myself on the back for being clever. Mailer though reigns superior.

I’m art impaired, and if you’re reading this you probably know a ton more about it than I do. If this were a specific Picasso face, which would it be?

Published in: on October 2, 2009 at 1:52 am  Leave a Comment  

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