Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Fighting clich├ęs!

Selma, who posts with love from Tehran , has ruminated about good writing, which reminded me of something I heard Martin Amis once say, that writing is a constant battle against cliche. I agree with him but then, he is a writer with such wonderful knowledge of his language that he can fight the cliche with one hand tied behind his back.

Here's a direct quote, straight from the horse's mouth:

"To idealise: all writing is a campaign against cliche. Not just cliches of the pen but cliches of the mind and cliches of the heart. When I dispraise, I am usually quoting cliches. When I praise, I am usually quoting the opposed qualities of freshness, energy and reverberation of voice.."

Strangely enough, some people find his extraordinary command of the language and willingness to mine the English language for all the linguistic treasure he can find in it to express his ideas, off putting, if not quite so wrong:

Kingsley Amis used to have no qualms about attacking the "terrible compulsive vividness" of his son's writing. He even went as far as to say he could never finish reading his novels. "It goes back to one of Martin's heroes - Nabokov. I lay it all at his door - that constant demonstrating of his command of Englishness." These accusations of unnecessary verboseness have haunted Amis' illuminated career.

I actually think these criticisms are unfair when it comes to his novels - they may not always be easy to read, but there is nothing wrong with having an unmistakable style or with sending the reader to the dictionary every few paragraphs. But the story is different when it comes to his political writing.

Alex Stein, who penned the paragraph just quoted, takes issue with Amis' resort to modulating language in his recent article, which I blogged about here. As someone enthralled to Amis' extremely agile use of English (in my experience, comparable only with Christopher Hitchens' prose style and one unknown poet from Seattle), I cannot even begin to understand why wealth of language and a meticulous attention to accurate rendition of a thought or an idea should be thus sniffed at. More than I admire the above mentioned authors for their intimate acquaintance with the English language, I respect their painstaking effort to use language responsibly, to communicate what it is they want to say in a precise language. They do not dilute language by using it inflationally, as one can see anywhere these day, and thus squandering this fortune to the four winds of ideological fashion.

Selma, (who is a fellow-translator) and has a vivid imagination, responded to my comment about Amis in her own creative and humorous way.


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