Sunday, December 09, 2007

Martin Amis' reckless relish

There's a good piece in today's Sunday Telegraph on Martin Amis. Jenny McCartney stops short of the R-word, but the following is pretty clear (after quoting the "don't you have it?" Amis spiel):

I do not, however - and I don't mean this piously - wish at any point to retaliate against the pleasant Pakistani man who works all hours in our local dry-cleaners, or the Turkish bank teller down the road. To do so would clearly be obscene. Yet the lingering notion of an entire community's culpability sporadically crops up among Amis's "urges", like a loutish youth who is regularly booted out of the debating hall but can't quite keep away.
The tentacled concept of communal culpability was precisely what plunged us in Northern Ireland into sectarian squalor for nearly 30 years. Individuals found themselves reinterpreted, frequently against their will, as crude symbols of their community. ...
Contentious religious and political ideas are like live explosives: you have an obligation to handle them responsibly. Amis correctly and passionately deplores the atrocities of Islamism, and yet there is also a hint of reckless relish in the way that anger has reignited his capacity to feel. At the moment he insouciantly defends the novelist's freedom simply to float a dark thought as lightly as a dandelion seed. If he is to be taken seriously as a political thinker, however, he will need to be rigorous and honest enough to dig much deeper in the dank, dangerous places where those seeds sprout roots.

I think Amis' writings on Islamism (and perhaps everything) are better understood as a sort of poetry. Hence the 10 dollar words which don't really add anything, the laboured allusions ('Medusa raft' anyone?) which don't clarify. Specifically, I think Amis should be taken the way 'Wonderwall' is: you can sort of know what Liam Gallagher means by "And after all/You're my wonderwall" without knowing why. Another example might be "I'm A Celebrity ..."s Cerys Matthews: "It's all over the front page [No, it's not]/You give me road rage [No, he doesn't]." It's all about the sound and the rhythm, not about any ostensible meanings those words have in dictionaries. No one takes Oasis seriously on political matters. Martin Amis in a jungle with Ant and Dec might be worth watching however. The horrorism, the horrorism.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think in a way that's right - and as someone stated on the last Amis thread, he only seems interested in the periphery of any historical or political subject, and spends inordinate amounts of time in his 'political essays' doing nothing more than making up fairly poor puns.

But the problem is that he's trying to have it both ways - it's very hard to be both a novelist AND a political commentator/political philosopher, and Amis isn't really managing it. You simply can't be taken seriously as a political thinker and expert on Islam if you witter on in interviews about 'urges' to deport Muslims irrespective of their guilt.

12/10/2007 05:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been unable to take Martin Amis seriously since I read his appalling book on Stalin. See for my review.

Why anyone should take him seriously for his comments on subjects outwith literature is beyond me.

12/10/2007 11:43:00 PM  

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