27 April 2008

Martin Amis & "the simpleton’s view of the world"

Imagine you are a talented writer with strong political convictions. You write and write, expounding those convictions in interviews and essays and reviews. You collect those diverse offerings under a single cover with a catchy title. And you then publish the book to widespread derision, even among those very sympathetic to your political views. What would you do?

This is not a hypothetical. The writer is Martin Amis. The reviewer is Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of the typically, but not always, rightward tilting New Republic. The reviewer suggests that the author is "angrily" peddling "the simpleton's view of the world" and has produced "clumsily mixed cocktail of rhetoric and rage." Here are a couple of other good bits:
"In “The Second Plane,” his collection of noisy, knowing writings about theocracy and terror, Martin Amis goes out on a limb. He denounces both. Really, he does."

"You get the feeling, reading these pages, that for his side Amis will say almost anything, because being noticed is as important to him as being right. The complication is that there is considerable justice on Amis’s side. . . . I have never before assented to so many of the principles of a book and found it so awful. But the vacant intensity that has characterized so much of Amis’s work flourishes here too."
If this is what a writer's fellow travelers say, what must he presume those who differ with him will say? "Get Lost, Nit Wit," maybe? Perhaps Amis can demonstrate a capacity to learn. I doubt it. I will never learn for sure because, given this sort of review there is no reason to ever read a word he writes. Moreover, this assessment raises questions about the pragmatic contradiction of dogmatically bellowing that others (say "Islamists") are dogmatic and dangerous.

One consequence is that reviewers are compelled to remind us of such commonplaces as the following:
"There are religious people opposing the terrorists and secular people supporting the terrorists. After the 20th century, the question of which worldview kills more, the godful one or the godless one, was made infernally moot."

" [Quoting Amis] “When Islamists crash passenger planes into buildings, or hack off the heads of hostages, they shout ‘God is great!’ When secularists do that kind of thing, what do they shout?” Well, it depends on whether they spoke French or German or Russian or Chinese or Khmer or Serbian or Kinyarwanda. The historical innocence of secularism is a myth. And if the secular butchers worked in silence, what of it? The crime was the same."
Apparently, Amis has thrown himself vigorously into the task of debasing our public discourse (and if we are to believe Wieseltier, proposing a set of repressive policies for we at home) in the name of rescuing it and us from an imagined threat. Boy, we sure need more of that.

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Blogger Bahi said...

Hi Jim. I urge you to read the book in question. I did and found it much more subtle and open in its acknowledgement of the complexities of the situation than almost any review I've seen gave it credit for being. Amis's generally soft left view and his talent are clearly in evidence but the book isn't being treated as a work by a novelist and literary figure but as a book by a politician. Amis will document an angry emotional response, and present it as such, and have it taken as a prescription. It's surprising and disappointing. I could easily be wrong but judging from what I read and enjoy here every day, I think you'd read it differently. I hope you get a chance to read it. Your response would be interesting. Best wishes, and thank you for an excellent site.

27 April, 2008 20:23  

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