Friday, February 01, 2008

Nick Cohen meets Martin Amis

Like Nick's other interviews, Martin and the Liberals seems to be mostly about Nick's own demons - mostly his fellow Guardian/Observer journalists. It also reads so much like a retread of earlier pieces on Amis that deja vu overwhelmed and I became convinced that I'd read the whole thing before somewhere. "Liberal intellectuals" ... blah blah blah, ICA audience blah morally superior blah, Terry Eagleton blah Chris Morris blah ...

There's rather more to Chris Morris than being "a comedian whose previous contribution to political thought was the brave observation that the Daily Mail can sometimes be a nasty paper". And, yet again, this:

That liberals cannot make a stand against a global wave of religious mayhem that is 'irrationalist, misogynist, homophobic, inquisitional, totalitarian, imperialist and genocidal,' to use Amis's list, is a moral failure as great as their predecessors' inability to see Josef Stalin for what he was and offer support to communism's victims.


I don't think there was anyone in this country who was a liberal Guardian-reader who didn't know about Stalin's purges and realise how awful they were. I do think many, rightly, in my view, didn't see Stalin's victims as 'communism's victims'. I still believe, somewhere in my heart, that there is such a thing as 'good communism' which doesn't have to be totalitarian, oppressive, and murderous.

Apparently, even though I read the Torygraph, because I think Amis is a bigot I'm demonstrating the herd instinct of the left-wing ideologue. That's me told. Moo.

Update 1/2/2008 4:16. The Johann Hari interview Don mentioned in the comments to the last post is a much better effort. For one thing, Hari gets far more material out of Amis, rather than, as Nick seems to, just going over old clippings. For another, he actually engages with Amis, even if that engagement mostly consists of saying, "But that's rubbish" to everything Amis offers.

The demographics are nothing like Steyn describes them -- today, around 3 percent of Europeans are Muslims, so it takes absurd arithmetic acrobatics to make them a majority this side of 2100, by which time it is far more likely Muslims will have assimilated to European birth-patterns.
... "Well, that’s an imponderable," Amis says. "Once they’re a majority, ...

26 Comments:

Blogger ejh said...

I don't think there was anyone in this country who was a liberal Guardian-reader who didn't know about Stalin's purges and realise how awful they were

Am I the only one* who on seeing that Simon Sebag Montefiore had written a book about that gentleman, found it necessary to go into a routine to the effect of "no, he's not going to tell me Stalin was a bad man, is he, Good God, well I'd never have thought it, the scales have fallen from my eyes...."

(* person, that is, not liberal Guardian-reader: first, I'm an hour's drive from the nearest Guardian, and second, I'm not a liberal, I'm a wishy-washy Marxist.)

2/01/2008 02:46:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Have you noticed that the defence of Those Comments takes two forms:

1. They were only a urge, he didn't mean it.
2. He's an "interesting thinker", stepping out of the "orthodox liberal view", etc.

The first we can, and have argued about forever (my view is it's an odd "urge" - a super-urge, perhaps? - that has got as far as 'deportation - further down the road'. Sounds more like a programme.

But the second point is weirder. This seems to be arguing that if Martin had said not "I have an urge" but "I have a plan for government and I intend to lobby for its introduction", then it'd would be OK too.

2/01/2008 03:21:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Btw Justin, I can't do much about the Marxism but are you aware of www.guardian.co.uk ? I wasn't aware anyone still bought the overweight rag.

2/01/2008 03:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It gets better (worse). NormGeras read Cohen's interview with Amis. Now most people read that interview and go "eeurgh, what a tit" (even the Harry's placers and many of the Drinksoaktrots seem to react like that). But not our Norm. for him only one bit jumps out :"[D]on't contradict your times, just don't contradict your times, if you want a peaceful life.". As if Amis is "contradicting his times". Amis messages - Islam is bad, Terrorism is nasty, Thatcher made Britain classless - are mainstream views. All that confuses Amis , Norm and Nick is that they used to travel in minority , leftish circles. Now they have taken on the standard times-telegraph-evening standard rubbish ideas, they think they are lone warriors bravely standing against the current, when in reality they have just got swept away by a bigger, older, reactionary wave.

2/01/2008 03:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Good grief. If there were a global wave of religious mayhem that is 'irrationalist, misogynist, homophobic, inquisitional, totalitarian, imperialist and genocidal' we really would be screwed. Not only that, but I think it would have been on the news by now.

I mean, a global wave, that's totalitarian, imperialist and genocidal? That's crazy talk. Or to be slightly less dismissive (why won't they engage with our ideas?), that's "I don't have to worry about getting this right, the people who agree with me will agree and the people who don't are all bastards" talk.

Bye, Nick. Nice knowing you, for a while.

2/01/2008 03:58:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

are you aware of www.guardian.co.uk

I am but I try to avoid reading newspapers on the Web - I spend enough time staring at the screen as it is.

2/01/2008 04:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

It's old news, God knows, but what was Mart's show of hands actually supposed to tell us about the 2/3 of the audience who didn't think they were morally superior to the Taliban? Presumably not that they weren't morally superior to the Taliban, because in the nature of things that wouldn't be news. ("How can you say you're no better than the Taliban? You're no better than the Taliban!")

I'm picking up a distinct betrayal-of-cultural-heritage, loss-of-national-will vibe. The idea seems to be that they were morally superior to the Taliban, every one of them - presumably he could tell that by checking around the room for long beards and niqabs - but that they weren't sufficiently smug and pugnacious about it.

2/01/2008 04:31:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I think I might be morally superior to the Taliban. My problem with Martin is that I'm not convinced that he is.

2/01/2008 04:38:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

I am morally superior to the Taliban, but that's an accident of birth, culture, wealth, etc. Would I be if I was born in Afghanistan? Debatable. is it likely that Afghan peasants are going to think like us, or share our values, or somehow morph into a more tolerant patriarchy (after all, lets not kid ourselves) that lets women drink themselves senseless while wearing a 2" mini skirt...

2/01/2008 05:07:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

I'm not a liberal, I'm a wishy-washy Marxist.

Me too. Lonely, isn't it.

2/01/2008 05:08:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Well, I'm not so sure.

2/01/2008 05:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you reckon Nick is thinking of Marcus Brigstocke when he calls Chris Morris "a comedian whose previous contribution to political thought was the brave observation that the Daily Mail can sometimes be a nasty paper"?

~ Rob

2/01/2008 05:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Even Marcus Brigstocke is better than that. I think he's thinking of Dominic Holland.

2/01/2008 06:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Simon said...

"Maybe I’d also notice something else: the interview was published in September 2006 and then vanished from the public consciousness. There was no fuss, no controversy, no outraged denunciations in the liberal press, nothing until October 2007"

Not true, of course. It had been flagged up on a number of blogs some time before that. Not that blogs necessarily count as 'the public consciousness', but I was certainly aware of, and outraged by, the quote well before Eagleton flagged it up. (I'm not sure what Nick's point is here, anyway. Because it took a while for the comment to be widely noticed, that means it was acceptable?)

2/01/2008 08:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe I’d also notice something else: the interview was published in September 2006 and then vanished from the public consciousness. There was no fuss, no controversy, no outraged denunciations in the liberal press, nothing until October 2007"

other than the LRB review where Eagleton saw it, of course...

2/01/2008 09:50:00 PM  
Anonymous darkhorse said...

The interview demonstrates ignorance on so many levels.

i ‘The Israelis are very impressed by the rockets that are coming in from Lebanon because they know that in 10 or 12 years time there will be much better rockets and some of them will have dirty warheads supplied by Iran. Israel for that reason is going to cease to be habitable.’

Ignorance on scientific and geographic levels; although I wouldn't be surprised if the Israeli authorities do have contingency plans for any future "dirty bomb" attacks, dirty bombs have only a limited ability to cause casualties or render an area uninhabitable - as a brief google will teach you.

Also, even if dirty bombs had such terrifying efficacy, both Nick and Mart seem to be so confused over the basic conflict over Israel, that they don't seem aware that it is a conflict between two peoples over the same piece of land.

It would be a somewhat counter-productive victory of Pyhrric proportions should the Hezbollah allies of one side in that conflict to render the land in question uninhabitable ("To our Palestinians brothers we give you: a radioactive wasteland!").

"Maybe not only Israel, I mutter to myself,"

Ignorance on an international politics level: yeah, Hezbollah will be coming after us next.

"The hubbub he and writers like are provoking strikes me as a symptom of a buried fear. ‘If only we don’t incite them,’ the cowardly voice at the back of the head whispers. ‘If only liberals of all religions and none don’t raise their hands and say we are morally superior to men who would subjugate the women, kill the homosexuals, kill the unbelievers, kill the Jews, kill the apostates…kill everyone who doesn’t agree with them. Then the psychopaths will leave us alone and we will be safe.’"

Yeah Nick. That's it. The reason I disagree with you is because I'm terrified of Islamists. Or perhaps you could use your laser mind to speculate on other reasons for my disagreement?

2/01/2008 11:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

‘If only we don’t incite them,’ the cowardly voice at the back of the head whispers.

There is a definite urge - don't you have it? You don't? Oh, but you do - you're just too scared to express it. Wimp.

Really psychotic stuff. I hate and fear those people, and of course I'm right to hate and fear them. You tell me you don't, but that just shows you're too scared of them to admit it.

Apart from anything else... yes, one would hope that audiences invited to put their hands up would vote for good things and against bad things, but is that all that Nick means by 'inciting' Islamists? Because if he means something more consequential - particularly something involving action by governments - then I'd have thought it was a remarkably good idea not to 'incite' them, for just about any value of 'them'.

Does anyone know who it is that Nick's been talking to lately? There must be somebody - I don't think Weber Shandwick do an ideological outreach service.

2/02/2008 12:12:00 AM  
Anonymous rioja kid said...

There's a very "rightwing blog circa 2003" feel to all this, from both of them. Nick in particular is still winding through the psychological consequences of his revelation.

But having them in the same room breathing in each other's fear and loathing...echh. A couple of minds in the process of rapid and visible decomposition.

2/02/2008 01:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

one would hope that audiences invited to put their hands up would vote for good things and against bad things

But the problem is that this isn't what Amis asked them to do. He was asking them if they felt morally superior to the taliban - ie vote for yourself. I knjow people who were at that who do indeed agree with him but dodn't want to be part of the Amis party trick (and he will have rehearsed that at dinner parties, there's no doubt about it).

Shaken, but undeterred, he sought to win the rest round

You can still listen to the interview on an mp3 and this is simply not true. Amis comes across as he always does in interviews - as someone who is not interested in the views of others, who is there to lecture, not win anyone over. Just like only right-wingers will listen to Nick (note that this is in the squarely right-wing Arena), those on the left are unlikely to be won over by someone sneering at how pathetic they all are, constantly.

MARTIN AMIS has written well about communism

has he? remind me of the reviews for Koba The Dread again nick...

Cohen's analysis of the 'urge' comment is pissweak too. if i were a british muslim and read it one of the main things i should have noticed is that Nick Cohen didn't see it mentioned much elsewhere in 2006? and then Cohen leaves it. And I notice that Cohen doesn't seem to have read 'the age of horrorism', or must have missed the part where he judges every single Muslim as coldblooded killers based on one bloke whose mind he reads at the Dome of the Rock after Amis tried to get him ot let him in...

What is so inexplicable about all of this is that Cohen has once again decided to ignore everything Amis is saying and to celebrate him because he also has problems with 'liberals'. Newsflash Nick - liberals have never actually liked Martin Amis's political views because they have ALWAYS been very conservative. Has Nick forgotten the feminist response to 'London Fields'? 'Money' might be claimed by its fans, like Nick, as a satire on 'the greed of the age of thatcher' satire but like all genuinely good satire, it is not that clear at all, and Cohen's writing here is lazy as he's ditancing it from Thatcher even there - Amis never mentions Thatcher in the interviews published around that time. If you re-read it and london fields today you can see that Amis has always been a very conservative thinker in political terms.

He was inviting everyone who’s never read him to say plain Martin was metamorphosing into Sir Kingsley – Thatcher’s strongest literary supporter.
Then it struck me he didn’t care what was said. His home dominated by his two daughters from his happy second marriage.


that's massively frustrating and in marked contrast to the far more penetrating Hari interview. Cohen has just decided that he likes Amis and so can't be bothered to take him up on support of Thatcher's anti-unionism. He has a nice house so it's ok?

When biographies are written it will be pretty clear that Amis has indeed metamorphosed into a reactionary old codger as his talents and ideas have evaporated.

Schoolboy errors from a professor of literature no less, were, of course, not sloppy mistakes but the point of the exercise.

It would have been nice if Nick had at least mentioned the myriad schoolboy errors in What's Left...

2/02/2008 08:39:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

I know people who were at that who do indeed agree with him but dodn't want to be part of the Amis party trick

Quite. I'm fairly sure that in the circumstances I wouldn't have played along with him.

Note that it's an example of inference, of taking something somebody has done (or not done) and drawing a whole range of conclusions about what they must therefore be and what they must therefore think. And that the people who didn't raise their hands are not allowed to consider that there are complications and difficulties in approaching the subject in the way Amis does - they've simply sold the pass.

Though perhaps it would be better if in future people were prepared for this sort of thing and said straight back to him - right, what does this mean if we don't put up our hands, Martin, does this means we're all mugs for the Taliban?

2/02/2008 09:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

equally Cohen makes some fairly odd conclusions about the ICA crowd - in fact it looks like exactly the same thing that Hanif Kureishi painted it as in the 1980s. But since the last time Amis of Cohen went there as a punter would have been back in those days it's no surprise. the ICA, a talk by Andrew anthony and Amis will not be full of:

the avant-garde in London

now i actually know some of what are the 'avant-garde' novelists and poets - and they are not interested in the slightest in paying a tenner to hear Martin Amis, a relic from the 80s, saying how 9/11 affected his writing...

2/02/2008 10:39:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Curiously enough the one time I was a speaker at the ICA, the audience were mostly RCP people (or whatever they were called by that stage). All very much in favour of the Countryside Alliance march which I had had to struggle through in order to pass Trafalgar Square.

The trouble is that this stuff really is about fear, it's about people who have some bad experience, often connected with terrorism or crime, which in their view causes them to reassess their previous cherished liberal values, and which in my view causes them to start seeing threats and betrayers and weakwilled apologists everywhere. Precisely because it's irrational, there's not much you can do to placate it or to reassure it.

2/02/2008 10:46:00 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

"It would have been nice if Nick had at least mentioned the myriad schoolboy errors in What's Left.."

This is a good point and indeed Nick's conclusion that it was deliberate applies too. It's almost impossible to believe that out of Nick Cohen and what he lists in "What's Left?" his two proof-readers - Oliver Kamm and that guy from that website (can't remember his name) - all of whom I think have suggested they have read Reading Lolita in Tehran, that not one noticed that it wasn't dedicated to Paul Wolfowitz.

2/02/2008 11:02:00 AM  
Blogger Alex said...

The Israelis are very impressed by the rockets that are coming in from Lebanon because they know that in 10 or 12 years time there will be much better rockets and some of them will have dirty warheads supplied by Iran

As well as the dirty bomb bamboozlebollocks, I've no idea what kind of rocket that's meant to be; as turned out in the Lebanon war, the big'uns were nowhere near as much use as Hez hoped, because great big rockets on trucks are fine targets for an enemy with air superiority. The little ones (BM21) were far more useful, and you would be able to fit enough chem on the end of one of those to be useful by itsel.

2/03/2008 01:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Cian said...

Its also bollocks, as the Israelis weren't impressed by the rocket technology. From memory, they're basically WWII designs, with better guidance technology (maybe 50s-60s). Point and forget. Now the Israelis may have been impressed by the damage that such primitive technology could cause but that's a different argument.
I seriously doubt that Hezbollah would use chemical weapons, incidentally. It would be suicide. Though Israeli military thought isn't terribly rational, so they may believe otherwise.

2/03/2008 05:46:00 PM  
Anonymous dsquared said...

It's almost impossible to believe that out of Nick Cohen and what he lists in "What's Left?" his two proof-readers - Oliver Kamm and that guy from that website (can't remember his name) - all of whom I think have suggested they have read Reading Lolita in Tehran, that not one noticed that it wasn't dedicated to Paul Wolfowitz.

it's also very hard to believe that in all the myriad mentions of Kanan Makiya of the INC, the fact that Nick doesn't mention Ahmed Chalabi even once in "What's Left?" despite having regularly lionised him in his journalism, was simply a slip of the memory.

2/03/2008 06:17:00 PM  

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