Sunday, May 23, 2010

Nick in TV amnesia shock

Nick wants people to watch the dramatization of his mate Martin's novel. Well fair enough, we all try to help our friends out sometimes. Still there's no excuse for this:

Writers and directors were so consumed by loathing, they did not think about how union militancy and the Marxists' attempts to take over the Labour party forced much of the electorate to the right; they passed over or mocked the pride in Britain Thatcher undoubtedly gave to millions.

Did Nick not watch GBH then?


Blogger flyingrodent said...

Nick - For years, there has been a presumptuous idea in university literary departments that a novelist's intentions are irrelevant and that the last person who can explain a work's meaning is its author.

This is a pretty weird way of describing it, if you ask me - the whole point of academic study of English, like history, is surely to give the student the necessary tools to construct an argument and present evidence to support it. Thus, at least theoretically, you get kids who are able to analyse and draw their own conclusions from sources. Sure, this means you get some terrible arguments, but this should be offset by the fact that others will shoot them down with good arguments, and in the end, if the author says he wrote (x) because (y), then he or she gets the final say.

Maybe it'd be better if English literature as a subject were reduced to one-way lectures on what the author really meant as dictated by professors, but I doubt it. That mode of education would have some pretty nasty consequences for history too, which is supposed to be about rational inquiry leading to greater understanding, rather than spoonfeeding universally agreed political lines to empty vessels. And who would hold the spoon? Nick's mates?

I find it fascinating how middle-class "progressives", as we must now call them, who are in their 30s and have never known hard times, remain unashamed that their vote for the Liberals led to a Tory government.

I do not find it fascinating how middle-class, wealthy opinion journalists remain unashamed that their massive, loony screeds bashing the Labour Party, Gordon Brown and the awful, bien-pensant left wingers also led to a Tory government. Nor do I find their sudden, 100% self-serving reverse ferrets into concern trolling former Labour voters who switched their votes surprising or edifying. could have watched throughout without realising that there are now almost one million young unemployed in Britain. Even left-wing commentators went on about electoral reform and greenery without asking what could be done to stop a generation's aspirations being ruined.

This is largely true, and I think it's a disgraceful situation, but tu quoque, Nicky, tu quoque. It would sound better coming from someone who hadn't spent the last decade howling at everyone who would listen that the greatest threat we faced was some nutty Islamists, rather than neo-liberal economics, unemployment and the collapse of organised labour. Need we revisit Nick's column on Labour's horrible indifference to high-earners who can't afford to blah blah etc?

I mean, really. I think he's realised that he isn't making any headway in telling the Observer's readers that they're fascists, and has now decided to call them posh twats instead. I notice that the Times, the Mail, the Telegraph etc. don't employ incoherent imbiciles to insult and condemn their customers in columns stuffed with incoherent, hypocritical nonsense. Why does the Observer do it?

5/23/2010 10:39:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

the one bloody time i'm not near a computer on a sunday... Away for a few days but will have a lot on this soon. Not only does nick manage to garble his ideas about reader-response to such an extent that he ends up endorsing the theory he's meant to be decrying, but a phone call to amis is his only source-this is clear because if you do even a cursory bit of research on what amis actually said at the time you discover that he specifically denied that the novel is about thatcher. Of course, that might be a red herring-but it takes, er, literary research to find it out. A shame no academics do that any more eh-how unlike noble, hard-working journos.

5/23/2010 10:50:00 AM  
Blogger The Rioja Kid said...

Note of course, that Nick is a big fan of Paul Berman, who has spent the last several years telling the world that he knows what Tariq Ramadan's books mean better than the author himself.

5/23/2010 11:06:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Well, everyone knows that Money is 'about' Amis's experiences writing Saturn 3. I don't see how Money is a 'satire of Thatcherism' - it's a satire on the film and advertising industries. The problem with "leftish attempts to regenerate the old hatred of the Thatcherites and depict Cameron and Osborne as heartless aristocrats" is that the really heartless Thatcherites (Mrs T herself, Norman Tebbit) weren't aristocrats. Neither was Heseltine, though he wasn't entirely heartless.

All they talk about is prodding the jobless from welfare into work. The idea that the bubble has burst and there is no work in many parts of Britain does not occur to them. It was the same in the election campaign, which you could have watched throughout without realising that there are now almost one million young unemployed in Britain. Even left-wing commentators went on about electoral reform and greenery without asking what could be done to stop a generation's aspirations being ruined.

It really doesn't seem to occur to Nick that this may have been the reason Labour lost. The party in power when a recession starts loses. It's not an iron rule, but it's one that should be at least tested first. But the reason no party addressed it is that none of them had a solution. And welfare to work is a Labour policy too.

Oh, what about those who produce theory in university literary departments?

Writers and directors were so consumed by loathing... 'Minder' and 'Only Fools and Horses' were successful - that is, accurate and popular - satires of the Thatcher years. Neither seemed marked 'loathing'. Arthur Daley and Del Boy were effective because they weren't monstrous. Although there's no illusion that Arthur Daley was a nice person. Heartless is probably the word.

the Marxists' attempts to take over the Labour party... Sigh. Is Nick still friends with Norman Geras, Marxist and Labour Party member? The Militant Tendency were Trots, which is slightly different, and I've never been convinced that they tried to take over the party rather than just enter it. Looking up Ralph Miliband, I found that "His main political friends were left-wing members of the Labour Party. This included Michael Foot, Jo Richardson, Ian Mikardo, Russell Kerr and Konni Zilliacus." I'm sure Oliver Kamm hates all of them, but that's not to say that the old 'broad church' Labour Party didn't have room for them. And they were all members before Nick was born.

Labour did once 'advocate' 'voting reform'; but after 1997, there was nothing to be gained by it for the party, so they let it slip. It's not that Labour "couldn't contemplate" it, it's that they had no reason to.

"I tell him he carries incuriosity to fanatical extremes.'' A useful quotation for Nick. Michael Billington got it from an interview with Martin (talking about Kingsley, naturally) here: 152Kb PDF.

5/23/2010 12:10:00 PM  
Blogger Coventrian said...

Funny how Nick seems to think that supporting Iraqi trade unions is a litmus test for the decent left, but never has a word of support for their British sisters and brothers.

Word verification 'martic'!

5/23/2010 12:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick Cohen has a habit of perceiving various groups of people as being "consumed by loathing". I don't think I have ever witnessed anyone being consumed by loathing. The nearest I've come to it is those people who worked themselves up into a lather about things that Saddam Hussein had done 15 years after they occurred. How does one recognise a group of people being consumed by loathing? Should you throw a bucket of water over them?


5/23/2010 03:36:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I don't think I have ever witnessed anyone being consumed by loathing.

You won't have witnessed me watching football on La Sexta (Spanish equivalent of Channel Five) with their loathsome commentators.

I have strong sympathy with Nick if he's saying that a lot of people are cool with the coalition and talking as if PR and suchlike were the most important things in the world, while ignoring the likelihood that an enormous bucket of shite is about to dropped on many lower-earning people. But, as people say, if he wanted people to vote for Gordon he should have thought about some of the things he wrote about him first - andf it's not as if Gordon doesn't bear a fair share of the responsibility for what happened anyway. I saw the coverage of those Mansion House speeches.

I saw about ten minutes of GBH - as with This Life, I could tell it was really good but found it instantly repulsive. (Bleasdale's done fuck all since, I note.) I don't much like "leftsists are psychopathic lunatics" as a theme, on the whole.

5/23/2010 06:04:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

"But when he published it in 1984, he said he intended Money to be a satire of Thatcherism and his readers knew it without having to be told"

This is balls. 'Money' has only become to be regarded by some as a 'satire of Thatcherism' in retrospect.

In the '80s Amis used to say he was writing about the decline of Britain in comic, urban satires.

He said: 'We're in a gentle, deep decline. Not as frenzied as America's, but perhaps even more poignant, more tragic'

As a profile of him in the New York Times in 1990 wrote:

"He finds a rich source of comedy in contrasting the resentment-fueled economic rise of the working class against the slump of the largely ineffectual, burned-out upper class. ''Dead Babies (1975),'' ''Success (1977),'' ''Money'' and ''London Fields''all feature bulldog-tenacious, kicked-around Cockneys barely triumphing over haughty, stunned aristocrats."

So were the '70s novels 'Dead Babies' & 'Success' "satires on Thatcherism" too? (And he's hardly a champion of the working class).

In 1984 Amis was still regarded as a snotty, enfant terrible who gave interviewers a hard time (especially women - he had a bad reputation for being sexist, he used look out of the window of the flat where he wrote and say things like "look at the tits on that!")

Politics were never mentioned by him, or in regard to him. And in any case the 'greed is good', 'loadsamoney' aspect of Thatcherism had hardly taken off in 1984. The principal political event of that year was the miners strike.

Amis's first take on politics was in 'Einstein's Monsters' in 1987, when, after the birth of his two kids he suddenly noticed nuclear weapons existed. As someone who had read all his novels I was surprised by this development.

FWIW I think a major theme of 'Money' is self-loathing. I may be wrong, but I think Cohen knows a bit about this too.

5/23/2010 07:52:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Certainly agree regarding the self-loathing thing. Am never sure about Amis's politics, exactly. He hung out with Hitchens and Fenton, both very pronounced socialists, and he chose to work at the New Statesman. (He had a good first from Oxford and a famous dad, and could clearly write very well, so I think any publication would have hired him. He chose the New Statesman; there must have been some political element. It can't have been the money.) But I agree that there's nothing in the books which seems remotely political, until he discovered nuclear weapons.

5/23/2010 08:37:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Money is set in 1981, I think.

5/23/2010 09:30:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

re: Amis's politics.

The New Statesman in the '70s was a much bigger deal and much more influential than it is now. So for Amis to go there, were many of his mates where (incl. Julian Barnes and Ian McEwan) was a no brainer.

But he was the literary editor and didn't involve himself in politics.

(Incidentally the New Statesman ran a competition while he was there about 'Unlikely Book Titles'. The winner was "My Struggle by Martin Amis". An old gag now but that was the first time it was aired)

I don't read Amis now but I did read his autobiography and 'Koba The Dread' - apparently this Stalin fella was an awful bloke who killed loads of people.

In his autobiography 'Experience' he came across as a sort of vague liberal-leftie, who sometimes had to restrain his far more ideological left-winger mate C. Hitchens.

In one episode they visit an elderly Jewish-American novelist, Saul Bellow I think. Hitchens gets pissed and launches into an attack on Israel and their treatment of the Palestinians. Amis spends most of the dinner kicking Hitchens under the table.

But I think Hitchens has been influential on Amis since 9/11. But he wasn't initially anti-Islam. As this review of 'Koba' says:

"Amis came to Islamofascism late. When the Iraq war began, in March 2003, he was writing in the Guardian about the causes of the current crisis, from a realist perspective....It may not be a coincidence that he wrote it at a time when he and his friend Christopher Hitchens weren’t speaking, or so the papers said: Hitchens objected to a chapter in Koba the Dread that accused him of collusion with Stalinist crimes.

Perhaps, with the Hitch away, Amis’s mind was momentarily open to other influences. But their differences were apparently soon mended, and he began to think about how – fictionally – he could write his way into Islamism, properly understood"

5/24/2010 11:12:00 AM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

Hitchens gave Koba the Dread a pretty scathing review, iirc.

(My argt has latterly been that Amis has been a terrible influence on Hitchens: certainly on his ear for a well forrmed clear-meaning sentence, which has degenerated enormously in the last decade... But I think Amis has no ear at all, and that Hitch was a far better stylist when more under the sway of the Cockburn family...)

5/24/2010 01:27:00 PM  
Anonymous BenSix said...

In one episode they visit an elderly Jewish-American novelist, Saul Bellow I think.

Oh, yes, and Amis confides that he'll always think about Israel "with the blood". If I remember correctly, he pins this on an old, Israeli girlfriend. How that's "blood" is beyond my leaden, talent-free imagination.

5/24/2010 01:51:00 PM  
Anonymous BenSix said...

Vaguely on-topic: last night's Money left me feeling a tad short-changed (it's my comment and I'll pun if I want to).

5/24/2010 02:00:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

i'll hopefully contribute more to this once i'm typing on my computer as opposed to my phone. Just to say that i think they did about as well with money as they could-without self constantly narrating, the story seems as weak and predictable as it always did. And without self's narration throughout, he just seems like a dimwit. one thing shone through-despite the 1981 setting, the adaptation, like the novel, is curiously timeless-it could as easily have been 1971 as 1991, and that is a really important point about it. As i said up there, and as vinny confirms, at the time amis specifically denied it was about thatcherism-nick has just plain got it wrong. cohen's idea about it is suspect even without the gesture to authority, since the bit he quotes-self saying you'll never get rid of his types from top restaurants now-might ring true but it's obviously part of self's, er, self-delusion in the novel-spoiler alert-by the end of which he's destitute, after all. It's a deeply conservative novel at root-and amis has always been very conservative generally.

5/24/2010 02:51:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Just had a thought re Money, which is probably very old news to everyone else. Yesterday I saw In praise of the sci-fi corridor which starts with Alien. Anyway, returning to the human tech of Alien's production design, it certainly had an influence on many of its imitators...[pic from Saturn 3]What's mostly wrong with the corridors in Stanley Donen's Saturn 3 (1980)

So I finally realised why John Self was a director of commercials. Not that Amis seems to understand anything about commercials or directing.

I'll watch Money on iPlayer if enough people say that it's good. As it was all about the prose (and, really, the rhythm of the prose) rather than more filmic aspects like plot or character, I doubt they will.

5/24/2010 03:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, in 1987, the Soviet Union has hundreds of SS-20 IRBMs pointing at the UK, plus God knows how many aircraft, submarine-launched weapons, etc, etc. A number of important targets are located in north-west London. Martin Amis is vocally opposed to war in general and nukes in particular.

In 2003, the international jihadi movement is essentially a nuisance and the Iraqi military is a decaying, demoralised heap. Amis is vocally in favour of war.

I think he's accidentally proved the politicians he hated in 1987 right in that nukes scare people who might otherwise want war - deter them, in a word.

5/24/2010 04:59:00 PM  
Anonymous FHS said...

Martin Amis went to Westminster, the week previously Nick had wailed against that establishment. Does he SEE what he's saying anymore?

5/24/2010 07:16:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Indeed, I'm not sure how well off KA was by the time Martin went to university, but he lived in Hampstead, could send his kids to private school, had a few books made into films, and all of them translated into lots of languages, so he was pretty well off by most standards. Martin admits that he wasn't keen on reading at school, but was coached (if that's the word) by his novelist step-mother. Again, just a bit luckier than most people. Nick hates Ed Balls for this and admires MA.

There are good reasons for disliking Balls and there are good reasons for rating Martin Amis, but what their dads earned aren't among them. (I pretty much have to say this, having made a similar argument regarding Ben Aaronovitch, that he should be judged by his own work, rather than by the politics of his father.)

Alex (yorkshire ranter) the other thing is that nuclear destruction had been done to death in SF by the 80s. And it's hard to believe that MA was unaware of this, as a) he's interested in film, and SF films are hard to miss; b) Kingsley was interested in SF and I think collected it; c) Clive James who was a friend and contemporary in MA's literary editing days also knew quite a lot about it. I know that MA had read 'Slaughterhouse 5' for instance: he pinched the 'meet the author' scene in Money from it, and the 'time scrambled' idea for the backwards one about the Holocaust (Time's Arrow just remembered). I really can't explain why he thought the world needed a 'literary' novel about nukes just then.

Bellow once wrote a very good book about Israel, To Jerusalem and Back which I quoted from at length here.

5/24/2010 07:50:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

Kingsley Amis wrote criticism on SF, edited some anthologies and was extremely knowledgeable about it. Of course this doesn't mean his son knew much about it, or was interested. My dad is obsessed with and collects anything Arthurian (Mallory, to really obscure C19th retellings). I can't even keep the knights straight.

5/24/2010 10:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

CC: Especially in the light of the INF treaty of 1987, which committed the superpowers to destroying all the eurostrategic missiles.

KA's attitude to science fiction is probably best covered in J.G. Ballard's memoirs and other works. One of the essays in User's Guide to the Millenium mentions his New Maps of Hell, but then savages his latest sf reviews on the grounds that he hadn't read the bloody books.

Ballard's memoirs reveal that he knew KA exactly at his transition from the brilliant 50s satirist to the pompous old hard-right alkie; he actually identifies the moment. It was clearly quite a bad experience, even by Ballard's standards, to watch him go from Lucky Jim and a champion of the New Wave SF writers over into yet another written by the mile, cut off as required Spectator hack.

There's the rub - he stopped reading SF, and stopped caring enough to read works he criticised, just at the point he started pretending to be posh.

5/24/2010 11:06:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

just a note-but even more oddly considering cohen's hero-worship, iirc amis was opposed to the iraq war. Even weirder is the fact that amis loves what's left, which labels anyone anti-war as objectively pro-fascist...

5/25/2010 07:31:00 AM  
Anonymous saucy jack said...

"Bellow once wrote a very good book about Israel, To Jerusalem and Back"
A quite extraordinary description of this tired melange of hasbara talking points, reactionary weltschmerz and open racist bigotry (if I recall correctly he manages to meet one Arab in the course of the bool, the editor of Al Quds). I'm not a huge Chomsky fan, but his dissection of this pile of crap in The New Cold War was one of his high points.

5/25/2010 08:49:00 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

I think Vinny wins - Amis in today's Guardian (he likes the Money adaptation, btw)

I never thought of Money as a book about the 80s, except for the royal wedding and the rioting, the bunting and the barricade – that was very expressive of the time. But greed doesn't go away.

5/26/2010 06:50:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Ah fuck, there go both the letter to the Obs I was going to write and an article i had planned. Cheers Mart! Just to say - Amis in 1984:

I started it in 1980. It could have been set any time [...] I’m never sure what I’ve been writing is satire. [..] I have strong moral views, and they are very much directed at things like money and acquisition. I think money is the central deformity in life.

But onto what I couldn't do justice to using my phone - Cohen's initial idea is this:

For years, there has been a presumptuous idea in university literary departments that a novelist's intentions are irrelevant and that the last person who can explain a work's meaning is its author. That task must fall to critics, who, strangely enough, do not write novels themselves but produce theory in university literary departments.

With the above in mind, this looks pretty silly:

he published it in 1984, he said he intended Money to be a satire of Thatcherism

but anyway, this is the important bit:

We did not need him to explain that the decent couple represented the old, liberal establishment of social-democratic Britain being pushed out of the way by cruel and rapacious brutes from the new Tory order.

let's break it up. Cohen says that university teaching of English tells students that the author is 'the last person who can explain a work's meaning'. I think what he's getting back to here is Bathes's essay on 'The Death of the Author', whose argument is not that the author is the last person who can explain a work's meaning, but that the author is immediately shorn of his or her control over the text by the act of publication, and thus interpretation. No university in the world teaches students that an author's aims and ideas about their work are unimportant. I think what he's getting at here is Ian McEwan's grumbling that nobody understands Enduring Love - McE thinks it's about the superiority of rationalism over new-age thinking, but interpretation (reviews, criticism, a-level syallbuses) has always been that it's an unanswered debate between the two. This proves Barthes's point.

But what's so weird about Nick's argument is that he goes on to a) minrepresent Amis - i guess he can't have been Nick's source - and then b) say that 'we did not need him to explain'. The problem here is that Cohen's interpretation is a very partial one. Amis leaves the new 'rapacious Tory brute' of his book with absolutely nothing. And the novel is not realist in any sense, either.

To put it more simply, Cohen here is interpreting against the wishes of the author and imposing his own rather reductive politics onto a much more complex and nuanced work of fiction. Being uncharitable, that is exactly what the most theoretically-minded of literary critics do.

Cohen's prejududices against 'academics' and 'theory' have blinded him to his own lack of thought, and have led to him falling into exactly the same traps as the stoopid academics in his head. What's also embarrassing is that Cohen doesn't seem to read anything. This is, iirc, the third column he's written about Money, and in lal of them he makes the same points about being 'consumed by loathing', writers being too anti-Thatcherite, there being no decent novelist around today to satirise, er, whatever Nick has decided he dislikes this week, etc.

5/26/2010 08:24:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...


however unfair it is to compare grotesque John Self with Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg, in their failure to think about the suffering of others, the viewer can catch a faint and faintly ominous echo from the past.

Well - the whole point of Money, as someone up there said, is that it's about Self's inability to think about the suffering of himself, let alone other people - and it ends with him doing both.

Nick should steer well clear of literature, especially stuff by someone so obviously clver as Amis. His reading is not unlike Self's reading of 1984.

5/26/2010 08:47:00 AM  
Blogger flyingrodent said...

Amis is in the G2 today saying that he didn't even mean for Money to be about the eighties. Make of that what you will.

5/26/2010 05:33:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

yes, which backs up the interview i quoted from... means that amis is not Nick's source, which means that Nick probably didn't use any sources at all and just went by his clearly very unreliable memories of the novel's reception.

pretty embarrassing, really, to decry englit lecturers for not being interested in what authors say about their works, only to get amis's intentions in writing the novel completely and utterly wrong.

5/26/2010 05:36:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Nick's now specifically admitted that Amis was the lone source for the Thatcherism claim:

Well I asked him.
Did you write it as a satire of Thatcherism, I said.
Yes, he replied.
Erm, I don’t see what else I can do!

5/28/2010 07:06:00 AM  

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