Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Rain On the Second Plane Falls Mainly on Martin Amis

Via Alex H via email, Leon Wieseltier reviews Martin Amis' "The Second Plane", and it is a really very unfavourable review indeed, with at least three gasp-out-loud moments of literary viciousness. I have invited Leon W to the Aaronovitch Watch annual awards ceremony.

Wieseltier himself is unlikely to have a great time at the after-party though, because he is not really our type of guy, having been an enthusiastic supporter of the Iraq War occupied the same position as Aaro on the subject of the Lebanon invasion, and in general a supporter of mindless belligerence as a strategy for US foreign policy.

But Is He Decent? I think no. We've discussed the issue of what it means to be Decent quite a lot (or at least it has been discussed in what I like to think of as AW's extended family). My own minor contribution to the debate has been the proposal that Decency is an aesthetic politics rather than anything else, and that appears to be what's at issue in the Wieseltier review.

Leon Wieseltier's own background here is pretty easy to summarise; he's a Yank leftie of the old school, he's deeply religious and he is an Israeli nationalist[1]. The first is not particularly at issue here, the second I think explains his choice of target (Mart's book is chock full of saloon-bar atheism cropped from Hitch) and the third explains why he scores so many wounding hits.

I've argued here and elsewhere that Decent support for Israel is skin-deep; what I perhaps didn't notice enough is that in a lot of cases their support for America and Britain isn't much deeper when they are considered as actual countries rather than rhetorical devices. There is a strong analogy here to the strange views of the "pro-life" movement on contraception; since effective contraception is bound to reduce the number of abortions, one would have thought that someone who was genuinely anti-abortion would be massively in favour of the widespread distribution and publicising of contraception. But they're not, they're against it. And the reason for this is that they're not really "anti-abortion" - they're pro a particular and quite wide-ranging political agenda, and the question of abortion rights is simply the most politically relevant battleground for that agenda. The War on Terror plays a similar role in Decent politics.

Where Wieseltier differs with the Decents is that he seems to regard the War on Terror (in sense of the attempt to stop terrorists from destroying our way of life) as an object in itself, whereas if he were a true Decent, he'd know that this is only one theatre of the much wider Greatest Intellectual Struggle Of Our Time. Wieseltier thinks that the Muslims can believe what they like, as long as they don't bomb us and don't object overly much when we bomb them. Someone like Michael Gove or Mart or Hitch would of course vehemently disagree; they're damn well not allowed to believe just what they like; they're certainly not allowed to have an identity as Muslims and double triple not allowed to have a political agenda around that identity. This means that on such subjects as senselessly picking fights over headscarves, worrying oneself into a lather over demographics and ethnically profiling people at airports, someone like Wieseltier is more or less bound to end up on the opposite side of the fence from someone like Mart, even though in a lot of the rest of his politics he's one of their ain.

A similar analysis could be carried out in order to slide a Rizla between the Decent Left and ordinary neocons. Once more, the key distinction is between people who actually have an aim in the world and care about achieving it, versus people who fundamentally want to sit around knocking pud and loudly condemning things. Wieseltier thinks that Martin Amis is confused in regarding himself as being a literal soldier in the war against Islamism but it's not a confusion; it's a conscious choice to regard what's printed in the pages of the Guardian as being equal in importance[2] with what happens on the streets of Basra.

And that's why it is that Wieseltier ends up saying "I have never before assented to so many of the principles of a book and found it so awful". The criticism here is not entirely unfamiliar to us here at Aaronovitch Watch; it's that of one who sees an important job being done very badly, set against the view apparently shared by both Amis and Aaro that the important thing to do is pick a wagon to jump on, and that subsequent carping about the driving is the sort of thing only a Guardianista would do.

Anyway, bruschettaboy sez; worth a read. Thanks Alex for the heads-up.

(Note: Of course, as pointed out in this piece at TPM, Wieseltier was one of Paul Berman's biggest boosters, so there is more than an element of pot and kettle here.

[1] There's really no point in euphemising this, although the ENGAGE tendency do tend to get very worked up indeed over "the age old anti-Semitic trope" of "divided loyalties". I am not accusing Wieseltier of treachery, duplicity, disloyalty or anything else; just noting that the national interest of the State of Israel is a political issue which is important to him, which it transparently is. The history is very unfortunate here, as accusations of divided loyalty have indeed been used in anti-Semitic purges, but at the end of the day there surely can't be much gain in pretending that Wieseltier doesn't have a deep and genuine commitment to the State of Israel, something which I very much doubt the man himself would deny.

[2] "Equal in importance" is the wrong phrase here, in a way. There's a sort of hallucinatory postmodernism to a lot of Decent thinking, in which the very concept of one thing being more important than another is deprivileged; Gerry Healy's funeral in 1998 is on an equal footing with the price of buns. Of course, this is part and parcel of the Decent retreat from reality - importance is only a concept that makes sense if you have limited resources, and in the purely intellectual world of condemnation and solidarity, there is no scarcity.

33 Comments:

Anonymous Hugh said...

"I've argued here and elsewhere that Decent support for Israel is skin-deep"

I'm completely mystified as to how you can say this. Please could you explain this because I just don’t understand this argument at all, especially when you look at Engage, the embarrassing "Israeli exceptionalism" arguments from Geras and co, HP's every third post relating to Israel, the reaction to the 2006 Lebanon bombing etc etc.

4/30/2008 04:07:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I think the idea is that they're basically a useful stick with which to hysterically bash one's enemies. I was supporting Barcelona last night on much the same principle.

4/30/2008 04:20:00 PM  
Blogger The Couscous Kid said...

Off-topic, for which apologies, but it's a pity that Harry's Place is down in the days leading up to the London elections, as this would otherwise be the perfect time for them finally to post their "Why Voting For Boris Is The Really Left-Wing Thing To Do" posts.

4/30/2008 04:38:00 PM  
Blogger StuartA said...

I think Gerry Healy died in 1989.

4/30/2008 04:42:00 PM  
Anonymous dsquared said...

Hugh: there is a big overlap between Decents, neocons and Israeli nationalists, but in the specific case of the Decents, my analysis is that their support for Israel is made up of equal parts

1) oppositionism to the likes of Galloway
2) Islamophobia
3) Yankophilia
4) romanticised views of Israel as a democracy.

When the rubber meets the road (as it did, for example, with the House resolution on the Armenian genocide, which was something that Israel would really rather not have seen at that time), Israel is nearly always found to be less important than a bit of moral grandstanding.

Usually though, these occasions are the exception rather than the rule; it's pretty unusual to find the interests of loony rightwing elements in Israel diverging from those of loony rightwing interests in the USA.

4/30/2008 04:48:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Gerry Healey died in 1989 and his funeral I think was in 1990. It took Nick Cohen 17 years of welling anger before he realised this meant Livinstone was in alliance with the far-right.

4/30/2008 05:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funnily enough I was just reading Tariq Ali's "steet fighting years" . In it he says a number of times that the SLL/WRP were weird and authoritarian under HEaly - so Tariq Ali knew a few years before Nick that Healy was nasty

4/30/2008 05:45:00 PM  
Blogger StuartA said...

On the subject of Healy, it's perhaps worth pointing out that this section of Cohen's book was apparently only left in at the insistence of Oliver Kamm.

He actually appears to think it helps the Decentist case that Cohen is seen to fall back on ancient Trot groupuscules as part of his "argument". It appears to be a variation on the "Terrorists are bad" argument: "Yes, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died, but Gerry Healy was a rapist."

Anyhow, it's fun to see Kamm loudly proclaim his part in discrediting Cohen's book — that, and proof that his fustian style is inflicted on private correspondents as well as the masochists who read his blog.

4/30/2008 06:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Editor said...

I've argued here and elsewhere that Decent support for Israel is skin-deep

I'm with Hugh on this one; pro-Zionism is a core feature of Decency - Aaronovitch, Cohen, Geras, Harry's Place, Democrapya are all extremely biased in their commenting on I/P.

my analysis is that their support for Israel is made up of equal parts

1) oppositionism to the likes of Galloway
2) Islamophobia
3) Yankophilia
4) romanticised views of Israel as a democracy.


I would respectfully argue that you have this arse about face. The War on Terror and its concomitant Islamophobia are ideal for giving Israel a free hand to deal with its "Muslim problem". Do you honestly think without it, the Israelis would be able to get away with killing quite so many Palestinians at such a low political price.

Their Yankophilia stems from the United States "exceptional" support for Israel. Do you believe their pro-Americanism would survive the US withdrawing military support for Israel's occupation of Palestine?

They couldn't give two shits about Israeli democracy. They don't give two shits about democracy anywhere. Contrast their support for the purple finger where it matters to them, against their support for the international community's assault on Palestinian democracy. Witness their silence on the extinguishing of Algerian democracy by the military. Witness their silence on the apartheid-like conditions under which Arab-Israelis live.

Finally, the PDL (Parliamentary Decent Left) never miss a chance in their "journalism" to state the case for Israel and distort or omit any argument for justice for the Palestinians. See Stephen Ladyman or anything by the buffoon McShane.

It has occurred to me that the moral confusion of the Decents is due in a large part to the mental contortions required to both support the Zionist enterprise AND appear progressive.

Apologies for the length of this post.

4/30/2008 06:49:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Oh, that is a stinker of a review. I had a look at the Amazon reviews - they're all good. 4 reviews: 3 are 4-stars and the remaining 1 is 5.

Nicola S Fox of London (who has clearly just ventured into Amazon lit crit; she has no other reviews) asks "Why do the reviewers and critics hate Martin Amis so much ?" There's a sort of answer from Ethan Cooper of New York. He offers "a sample of Mart's thoughts". These start with one which is almost smart. "We are arriving at an axiom in long-term thinking about international terrorism: the real danger lies, not in what it inflicts, but in what it provokes. Thus by far the gravest consequence of September 11, to date, is Iraq."

I said "almost smart" because I really don't believe that Iraq is a consequence of the September 11 attacks; it helped with the propaganda, perhaps. And because I happened to come across Chris Brooke on Charles Tilly. One informal Tilly text I liked was a response to the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. Four days later, he circulated a series of predictions among sociologist colleagues as to what would happen, or what we might learn about the plot itself. Charles Tilly 'arrived at' a similar conclusion 4 days after 9/11. His predictions are impressive, but that bit of wisdom was surely already arrived at by anyone who knew their stuff. We didn't need Iraq etc to get us there. Martin is determined to show his ignorance.

4/30/2008 06:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

I'm gutted that Tilly's dead. My book on the interaction between the Italian Communist Party and the extreme Left of the 1970s is hugely in his debt, and it's not even published yet. Damn.

4/30/2008 08:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Simon said...

I think Decentism has become more pro-Israel as it has cohered and ossified as an ideology (as opposed to the coalition of interests it was to begin with). "Harry" of HP, for example, didn't seem to be very pro-Israel for the first couple of years of his blog, but a couple of years of ear-bending by Gene et al eventually concluded with his posting up a big 'solidarity with Israel' banner on HP while Israel was bombing civilians in Lebanon. This was roughly the time that I gave up reading HP.

4/30/2008 09:43:00 PM  
Anonymous dd said...

Do you believe their pro-Americanism would survive the US withdrawing military support for Israel's occupation of Palestine?

this would indeed be quite the "daddy or chips" moment, but yes I do.

4/30/2008 11:23:00 PM  
Anonymous John fallhammer said...

Not that I'm particularly interested in defining Decentism, and I haven't given much attention to many of the sages of decentism, but BB's version seems more credible than Editor's.

"I would respectfully argue that you have this arse about face. The War on Terror and its concomitant Islamophobia are ideal for giving Israel a free hand to deal with its "Muslim problem". Do you honestly think without it, the Israelis would be able to get away with killing quite so many Palestinians at such a low political price."

Yes, they've been at it for decades, since long before TWOT. It was never particularly seen as a Muslim problem, but an Arab problem. The PLO/Fatah was and is essentially a secular organisation. Nothing to do with islamism until quite recently.

"Their Yankophilia stems from the United States "exceptional" support for Israel. Do you believe their pro-Americanism would survive the US withdrawing military support for Israel's occupation of Palestine?"

This doesn't match my understanding of how people like DA and NC made the shift from various shades of socialism to decentism. They've always claimed to be about democracy and human rights, etc. That led to support for the US as the Enforcer of DaHRe, and coincidentally for Israel as a sort of lawful democracy in a region without lawful democracies. I would need to see evidence of a chain of developing thought to believe that the former _stems from_ the latter.

"They couldn't give two shits about Israeli democracy. They don't give two shits about democracy anywhere."

This and the rest merely demonstrates that they are a bunch of wankers. They've ended up with an awful stance on Israel, as Simon describes. But it doesn't demonstrate that, in general, their thinking is driven from the source by Zionism.

From experience I'm also inclined to be extremely wary of any explanation of politics that puts a strong emphasis on Israel. That sort of thinking usually seems to end up in a dead end.

5/01/2008 03:44:00 AM  
Anonymous dd said...

(I'd of course note that as with any political tendency, it's probably silly to try and define a pure abstract essence - students of fascism have wasted colossal amounts of time on this. As I said, there's massive overlap between Decents, Neocons and outright Israeli nationalists[1], and a lot of it takes place within individuals.

It's been a while since I did my Israel/George Galloway analogy joke (that like the state of Israel, Galloway is an intrinsically rather unlovable entity which becomes worthy of a kind of qualified support simply because of the calibre of creep who obsessively goes after him). I think that the relationship between the Decents and Israel is not unlike the relationship between "certain segments of the left" (this rather useful ambiguous and weaselly phrase copyright Nick Cohen) and Georgeous Gorge - passionate and unquestioning support and loyalty, but always a hair's breadth away from "George who?/State of where?"

[1] NB to David Hirsh et al: I can invent new terms faster than you can stigmatise their use; your victory over "Zionist" was short-lived and Pyhrric.

5/01/2008 07:33:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Gerry Healey died in 1989 and his funeral I think was in 1990

I hope he died pretty late in 1989 then.

so Tariq Ali knew a few years before Nick that Healy was nasty

To be honest, so did everybody else who was in or about the far left: it's one of those things that lead one to wonder whether Cohen's acquaintance with it wasn't rather less considerable than he would like us to believe.

5/01/2008 08:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who knows what the Decents really believe? Do they know themselves? As Freud said with his story of the broken kettle, when someone presents you with a set of ropey and contradictory arguments you cannot say what the real reason is but you can be sure that they're not telling you the truth.

Some of them may have thought about issues and indeed care about them. Some may be just recycling talking points that have been sent by politicians to whom they owe a favour (like getting a job in journalism!). Others are grabbing on to any passing argument that suits their political careers or other political squabbles. If in doubt, blame the Loony Left.


Moussaka Man

5/01/2008 11:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Hugh said...

Editor: “It has occurred to me that the moral confusion of the Decents is due in a large part to the mental contortions required to both support the Zionist enterprise AND appear progressive.”

I think this hits the nail on the head.

I don’t see how the Armenian genocide resolution was the moment of truth - in my opinion it was a tangential issue related to Israel’s ability to deliver on its alliance with Turkey rather than about Israel itself. When the cause has directly related to Israel, such as the 2006 bombing of Lebanon, then there’s been a very different reaction from the Decents. At the time their message was let Israel get on with the job no matter what the damage done to Lebanon’s pro-American, Christian-Sunni dominated, anti-Islamist, democratically elected (by the standards of the region) government. It’d have been extremely easy for the Decents to do some moral grandstanding, but instead they were doing moral contortions.

The Decents tend to be anti-Islamist, but it’s of a rather confused and contradictory kind. In backing democracy for the Middle East, which is what Democratiya and the Euston Manifesto are supposed to be about, the end result would be Islamist governments in all of these countries. Their antecedents in the neoconservative movement have certainly backed Islamists in Bosnia or Iraq seeing them as engines for democratisation. One neocon even became a Muslim he was so enthusiastic. Where they neocons traditionally have drawn the line was when an Islamist group was directed at Israel.

Many of these Decent organisations have some relationship with Britain's own Israel lobby, with massive spill over between the parliamentary Decents and LFI. I'm not saying that Decency is only a part of the lobby, its obviously a movement that's a lot broader than that, but I don't see how the political and emotional resonance of Israel can be accounted for by Dsquared's explanation.

5/01/2008 12:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Salon review available to read here, here

(As a pdf!)

5/01/2008 12:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Editor said...

From John F - They've ended up with an awful stance on Israel, as Simon describes. But it doesn't demonstrate that, in general, their thinking is driven from the source by Zionism...From experience I'm also inclined to be extremely wary of any explanation of politics that puts a strong emphasis on Israel. That sort of thinking usually seems to end up in a dead end.

I think I may have over-stated my case. I think their position on many things has nothing to do with their Zionism or Israel. However can anybody name a prominent Decent who isn't a Zionist?

5/01/2008 02:29:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

Editor, Nick Cohen isn't a Zionist.
However I agree up to a point - several of them are openly Zionists. And yes, a lot of Jewish people have gone off the deep end due to the contradictions of trying to be progressive and support Israel. Though plenty of non-Jewish people have gone off the deepend due to the contradictions of being comfortably off and progressive, so...

One of the things its important to remember about the Decents is that they are astonishingly ignorant about the world (even America, amusingly). Their knowledge of Lebannon seemed to be limited to Hezbollah bad, fascist (because they wear black, have a funny salute and [mumble, mumble> Muslim brotherhood [mumble, mumble>), terrorists and subverting democracy in Lebannon. Oh, and Israel fought a war there a while back against Hezbollah. And they believe this stuff. Brownie is quite serious when he attacks Hezbollah for acting undemocratically for blocking the Maronite's proposal for president because they don't have a majority of the seats. He doesn't know that Lebannon's constitution was explicitly set up to keep a minority (Maronites) in, and the majority (Muslims, particularly Shi'ia) out. These are details, and his head is on higher things.

In backing democracy for the Middle East, which is what Democratiya and the Euston Manifesto are supposed to be about, the end result would be Islamist governments in all of these countries.

You forget, these are the people that think that Brian Paddick can win. They live in a supposed to be world. They probably think Friedman is a sage.

DD: that like the state of Israel, Galloway is an intrinsically rather unlovable entity which becomes worthy of a kind of qualified support simply because of the calibre of creep who obsessively goes after him

You could equally argue that Israel isn't worthy of support simply because of the calibre of creep who obsessively support it (and the way in which they have distorted truth and history for their agenda). There's far worse than Dershowitz.

outright Israeli nationalists

Oh that won't work, brings up the dual loyalty canard. The fact that it is often true is completely irrelivant...

5/01/2008 05:07:00 PM  
Blogger Martin Wisse said...

Whether or not the Decent support for Israel is skindeep, Bruschettaboy is quite right in argueing that the important thing for the Decents is the intellectual struggle. They've all sort of missed out on the big struggles of the twentieth century: too young to have been part of '68, let alone '38, with the course of history having been decided on before they got their say. Then 9/11 happened and suddenly their ideas do matter!

Mart especially was revelatory in this, with his interview a few months after the attacks where he said that 9/11 proved a challenge to all novelists as suddenly it all seems so pointless.

5/02/2008 10:51:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

He's not read Inside The Whale then...

5/02/2008 01:34:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

That's one of the bizarre things about Martin Amis. He seems to think that novels really matter, when - Harry Potter aside - very few people read them. 9/11's challenge to novelists is one of the least interesting results. 9/11's challenge to civil engineers is riveting by comparison.

He even seems to have forgotten Larkin (odd as PL gets some mentions in 'Experience'): "Books are a load of crap." And good novels have been written about things seeming pointless - 'Catch 22' has WWII more or less as a joke (the missions achieve very little and even bomb their own side); Primo Levi has written excellently about the Holocaust. Ballard got a good book out of being in a Japanese prison camp and so on. Iain Banks wrote a good short story about Lockerbie, and the difference between Lockerbie and 9/11 is one of scale isn't it? (Is it? I may revise my opinion about this.)

Moral: if you don't know your stuff, you're not going to write a good novel no matter how talented you are. If you do have the experience or a least research and a capacity for empathy you're in with a chance.

5/02/2008 02:08:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

What 9/11 gave the decents is their own chance to be orwell and bravely stand against 'the left', whatever it is, which would undoubtedly take the wrong side.

What this presupposes is that there are only two sides to take, that 'the left' took the wrong one, that 'the left' can be defined as a homogenous group any more than it could in the late 1930s, and that the decents are the intellectual equivalents of George Orwell. And that's where the problems start, because none of these presuppositions is true.

The reason why Kamm insisted Cohen keep the Gerry Healy stuff in his book is that it was an attempt to show that 'the left' has been making these mistakes constantly, and to associate the millions who marched against the war with an unpopular, obscure organisation from about 20 years previous. It's the equivalent of saying that, i dunno, everyone who marched against Vietnam was also part of an anarchist organisation. The intended readers of What's Left - the Right (and make no mistakes, Oliver Kamm is most definitely part of the right) - would lap this shit up as it not only confirms their prejudices but also annoys those who marched against the war. There is no other reason for the Gerry Healy stuff to be in there, as it adds nothing to Cohen's professed thesis, which is that 'the left has lost its way' since the cold war; surely Healy proves that there has always been disagreement and no coherent idea of what is or isn't left-wing? or did Cohen identify himself with Healy in the 80s? there's so much self-contradicition there it's hard to know where to start.

In the case of Israel, the Decents seem to think that unless you fully back every action of what is obviously an expanding state with at least dodgy if not racially discriminatory laws, you are 'on the other side', ie with the Islamists. Amis is especially bad on this. His conflations of Islam and Islamist arise entirely from the kind of discourse you read on websites where Mark Steyn is hailed as a guru - in Israel people genuinely do obsess over the differing birthrates of religions.

The problem is that Israel/Palestine it's a false choice. You don't have to support Hamas to even suggest that there should be a dialogue between them and Israel. This is where that whole idea of either being 'pro-Palestinian' or 'pro-Israeli' falls apart. It's not anti-Israeli to oppose the settlements in the west bank or the bombing of civilians in Lebanon.

One thing this 'with us or against us' approach gives the decents - in particular the weirdos on Harry's Place, incapable of discerning any kind of nuance - is that it gives them the chance to label anyone who does not side with them on Israel 'anti-semites', thus they are as bad as Hitler, etc. Even an interest in ME politics, unless it is teamed with support for anything Israel does, is seen as 'suspicious'. Personally i think it's a lot more suspicious to constantly post clips from Hamas TV as news. But hey.

by the way a recent novel which is concerned with a lot of these debates is Hari Kunzru's My Revolutions. It's at its weakest on Israel but it's still worth reading.

5/02/2008 03:47:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

re: the WRP - they* in fact distributed leaflets during the anti-Vietnam War march of 1968 saying that they were not marching. No stoppers, the Healyites...



[* or possibly the SLL]

5/02/2008 03:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kamm is indeed very much on the Right. I saw him at a Chatham House event about nuclear weapons a couple of years ago with Julian Lewis and I couldn't see any difference in their opinions. Lewis has been described as a "vigorous right-winger" by other conservatives and simply believes that the UK has to have nuclear weapons, we have to stop other countries getting them, but nuclear disarmament isn't going to happen. Ollie seemed to believe more or less the same thing.

But, oddly enough, Ollie said he was from the Labour Party and gave the impression that he was at the meeting as some kind of delegate from the Labour Party. Certainly there was nobody else there giving the Labour Party position. I have to wonder how the Labour Party at a certain period allowed themselves to be associated with Kamm, and how Cohen allowed him to advise him on his book. Was it that at a certain stage they were so glad to have someone who provided them with arguments for why the invasion of Iraq was right that they associated themselves with Kamm? It hasn't half done them a lot of harm!


Moussaka Man

5/02/2008 05:09:00 PM  
Blogger StuartA said...

The reason why Kamm insisted Cohen keep the Gerry Healy stuff in his book is that it was an attempt to show that 'the left' has been making these mistakes constantly, and to associate the millions who marched against the war with an unpopular, obscure organisation from about 20 years previous.

I realise this, but I'd say on balance that section has not been seen by most readers as helpful to Cohen's case, because the relation to more recent events is so obviously strained. Kamm appears to operate in a world where public opinion is defined by what his harrumphing lunch pals say. I'm just pleased he's helping Cohen along that road too.

That's one of the bizarre things about Martin Amis. He seems to think that novels really matter, when - Harry Potter aside - very few people read them.

To be fair, I don't think this view is confined to him. Many novelists, literary editors, etc., appear to believe this. Where Amis stands out is in the importance he attaches to himself. Even his children are uniquely important, as we learned in Koba the Dread.

What I find perplexing is Amis's unwillingness to accept that he is not peculiarly well-placed to analyse 9/11. I admit I never saw the point of his novels, even the ones people said were good. He muttered dark, vague thoughts, he had all his "post-modern" framing paraphenalia, but London Fields was surely ultimately about clever Martin Amis and his glowing prose. This, to me, explains his affinity with Hitchens, who similarly trades off nothing but nice sentences.

It seems either Amis thinks a penchant for neologism and thesaurus abuse somehow equips him for geopolitical analysis, or he thinks he always was talking about deeper matters than the hilarity of working class darts players and their funny way of talking. I assume it's the latter, but I honestly can't see what he was on about.

Anyhow, anyone passing off those child-like numerological ruminations as serious political analysis has surely destroyed any credibility they might once have had. But to reprint them in a book, ignoring all criticism — that's surely the point where Amis's bad boy zeitgeist-capturer self-image irretrievably detachs from the the reality, of a purple-faced reactionary worried about swarthy types.

5/02/2008 06:02:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Re Stuart A's first quote above from organic cheeseboard. I'm not sure. I haven't read Nick's book, but what I know of it reminds me of his friend Francis Wheen's "How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World". Ostensibly, this book is about a _very recent_ failure of nerve or reason or something by the modern world, and why we've reverted to pre-rational (ie pre 18th century) beliefs. Except that it doesn't prove its case. At all. And some of the mumbo-jumbo examples IIRC come from the 19th century, which hardly illustrate a post-modern collapse of rationalism.

I suspect Nick's method was the same. At some point, the need to pad the book took over, and any old story would do.

5/02/2008 07:39:00 PM  
Blogger StuartA said...

I see the Healy chapter, along with various other irrelevant ones, as both padding and a vague smear attempt. As well as feebly associating his opponents with nasty people, he gets to pretend he's a seasoned expert on Left politics. This simulated intellectual depth suggests that he's making a real ideological case based on history, rather than simply spewing the Blairite propaganda of the moment. The same is true of Oliver Kamm's frequent reportings on what he just read in the library.

As for Wheen's book, I agree, he stumbles on the same point as Cohen. The only identifiable unifying theme was "whatever I disagree with is mumbo-jumbo". You could try to impose some overarching theme, for instance that Enlightenment rationality was under seige, but then he'd just go off on a rant about, say, Noam Chomsky. I realise people here don't necessarily view Chomsky favourably, but I fail to see what he has in common with the post-modernists or self-help book promoters that Wheen flails.

5/02/2008 08:48:00 PM  
Anonymous bubby said...

How about something on the mayoral contest chaps? It's been a major Decent talking point for days.

5/03/2008 09:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Simon said...

David T took a break from his fearless quest to remove all Muslims from British public life to ruminate on the campaign yesterday. He said that he couldn't be energised to campaign for Livingstone because he was a big old racist, so he sat on his sofa all day instead (or something).

Regardless of the other merits of Livingstone's tenure, if he has persuaded just one Decent to sit on their sofa rather than inflicting their vile politics on the rest of us then he has achieved a measure of success.

5/03/2008 10:08:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

First off, just how stupid does Nick Cohen look in his 'Paddick is a viable candidate' claims. NINE percent of the vote. five down on simon hughes. and Ken actually came fairly close. oh dear.

He said that he couldn't be energised to campaign for Livingstone because he was a big old racist, so he sat on his sofa all day instead (or something).

Does he not have a job? but in any case, i'm not sure he's ever really done anything else. The people who read HP would never have voted for Ken anyway, because, er, 'he once stood against Labour and we are very loyal to the party', and David T's 'activisim' in the mayoral campaigns has been to the extent of reproducing verbatim every single negative story about the Labour candidate, no matter how tangential or clearly biased, the comments sections populated almost entirely by johnson supporters.

The comments on HP after the election by regulars were hilarious, with some people genuinely suggesting that it was the Qaradawi visit that really lost Ken the election. But the Qaradawi visit was actually just a useful stick with which to beat someone the Decents have always hated. i've no doubt that without that visit Nick Cohen would still have written columns lambasting Livingstone.

In the end the HP idea of activism is exactly what David T actually did - sit on a sofa, reproducing tired old articles cursing people he has already made up his mind about, and obsessing about evil Muslims. The Gene 'Iraq war 5 years on' piece proved this, suggesting that the only course of action was to 'express solidarity with Iraqi trade unionists', when HP doesn't appear to have carried a single article supporting them in the last year, if not more. What does expressing solidarity actually mean for HP?

finally

on balance that section has not been seen by most readers as helpful to Cohen's case, because the relation to more recent events is so obviously strained

I think you're crediting Nick's readers, be they journos or otherwise, with too much here. Most of the people i know who approve of the book loved absolutely every last bit of it, and by coincidence they're also all hardcore Tories. It's the Healy stuff that means most left-wingers won't take Nick seriously, and clearly he wanted them to, but Kamm's insistence is the input of someone who understands who Nick's book was actually written for, no matter what its author thinks.

5/03/2008 11:17:00 AM  

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