Sunday, October 07, 2007

A Very Literary Kerfuffle:

I'm not aware of any similar cultural phenomenon on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, where two authors of somewhat comparable talent go at each other with all the cutthroat brutality which the English language can accommodate and serve. I remember the literary open season which Salman Rushdie was subject to, upon being chosen for distinction by the Ayatollah Khomeini. It was sleeves pushed back and gleaming knives galore. Martin Amis is the latest contender in such a literary fisticuffs, as explained here:

In the new introduction to the 2007 edition of his classic book, Ideology: An Introduction, Eagleton launches an impassioned attack on the views of "Amis and his ilk" who argue that the West needs to clamp down on Islam.

Eagleton also attacks Amis's father Kingsley as "a racist, anti-Semitic boor, a drink-sodden, self-hating reviler of women, gays and liberals". He adds that he believes that "Amis fils has clearly learnt more from him than how to turn a shapely phrase".

The spur for Eagleton's criticism is Amis's assertion that, as the Islamic population swells, "the Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order". On 10 September 2006, the day before the fifth anniversary of the bombing of the World Trade Centre in New York, Amis published a controversial essay entitled "The Age of Horrorism", in which he argued that fundamentalists had won the battle between Islam and Islamism.

And others are pitching in:

Conservatives, according to this unrepentant Marxist, don't "do" political ideas. But then, on the evidence of his writing, neither does Eagleton. In a recent review of A.N. Wilson's excellent novel, Winnie and Wolf, based on the relationship between Adolf Hitler and Winifred Wagner, he seemed to think that, on the basis of his anti-Semitism, Richard Wagner was a National Socialist avant la lettre. German history is a bit more complicated than that, dear boy.
Nor does he understand what Martin Amis was saying in The Age of Horrorism, his essay on the Muslim threat to Western civilisation.

Neither Amis, nor anybody else, needs lectures on tolerance from old-style Marxists. Everybody knows how they treated writers in the countries they ran. Boris Pasternak, Terry? Anna Akhmatova? Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn? It was the labour camps or internal exile; sometimes death. Is that the sort of tolerance you had in mind?

What a bore he is, and such a predictable bore.

I, of course, am all for Martin Amis. I am enthralled to his mastery of the language and the honest way he examines himself and others, often risking being abused for his blunt lucidity. I have not budged even when I read him say that forty-five is the age when a woman practically ceases to be sexy. I may have flinched, as someone who will not see that age number again, but I overcame my indignation (after all, he himself will not see fifty-five again....).

Here is why I trust Amis and distrust his detractor:

Amis... last month took up the post as professor of creative writing at Manchester. Applications for the master of arts course which he is teaching were boosted from 100 to 150 by the news of his arrival. He is teaching two subjects – the novella and the works of Vladimir Nabokov and Saul Bellow, two of his favourite authors.

When his appointment was announced, Amis gave an insight into what he would be teaching students. "If all this does turn out to have a theme, it'll be, 'Don't go with the crowd, don't do anything for the crowd, don't be of the crowd or with the crowd," he said.


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