With the Beasts
October 13, 2007 3:30 AM   Subscribe

Advocate or Adumbrate? Martin Amis writes an open letter to Yasmin Alibhai Brown for her suggestion that after reading everyone's favourite last living Marxist Terry Eagleton's comments on this (posted previously), Amis is 'with the beasts' on Muslim-hating. He may have been adumbrating not advocating, but is there another way to describe patronising and smug?
posted by jennydiski (47 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I don't quite get the use of adumbrate in this, but I do like a public dust-up between intellectuals, so thanks jennydiski.
[Amis is so naughty]
posted by tellurian at 4:03 AM on October 13, 2007

It would appear that her name is "Alibhai", not "Alibi".

Martin Amis's response is strange. He seems to be apologizing for remarks said "in a mood", yet without actually saying the words "I apologize" and without dropping his tone of smarmy sarcasm.
posted by creasy boy at 4:27 AM on October 13, 2007

I don't know the details of the conflict but that letter was amazingly creepy in the lecherous priest kind of way.

That night you revealed, inter alia, that you were Shia; and, as far as I understand it, the Shia minority speaks for the more dreamy and poetic face of Islam, the more lax and capacious (tolerant, for example, of representations of the human form)
how I longed, Yasmin, for your soothing hand on my brow!
When you write that I am "with the beasts" on Islamic questions, it is because you've been listening, rather dreamily perhaps, to Professor Terry Eagleton.
Meanwhile, I don't want to stripsearch you, Yasmin, or do anything else that would trouble or even momentarily surprise your dignity, or that of any other eirenic Muslim.

I feel like I just watched a leering professor put his hand on a grad student's knee and suggest that her dissertation needs more passion.
posted by srboisvert at 5:24 AM on October 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


A "retaliatory urge" against all Muslims of the sort Amis "adumbrated" was never forgivable, even in the moments after the attacks on on the US on September 11. By the time of the Madrid attack, it was clear that "let's start a war of civilizations" rhetoric was wildly inaccurate and damn counterproductive. Amis evidently found it exciting and ego-inflating, but that's not the proper way to judge an idea.

But to feel that "urge," and to vocalize it, in public, after the August 2006 airplane scare?

Which pretty quickly turned out to be overhyped?

I have to conclude that Amis is with the beasts.

And how childish, to decide that Brown needs "protect[ion]" (from Amis!) because she is Shia. A Shia in Cheltenham is under very little threat from Sunni Islamism. And it's not like the Shia have been wholly immune to extremism in their history. But Amis craves a pre-fab, cartoonish version of Good and Evil, where you can judge a person by a simple label.

The rhetoric-over-reality approach of this letter reminds me of the thought processes of Norman Podhoretz. Amis is so exercised about campus Marxists, whom he properly identifies as "relicts" in this letter, that he stakes out a position based in large part on how much it will irritate them. But just because Marxism is wrong doesn't mean that it's intriguingly wrong, or powerful and wrong. It's just wrong, and it has almost no political power.

The Podhoretz-Amis approach to political thought-- (1) identify people you don't like; (2) piss them off)-- is terrific, enduring fun for self-important intellectuals, but extremely dangerous when it happens to impact the real world.
posted by ibmcginty at 5:30 AM on October 13, 2007 [2 favorites]

I see why you could think that, srboisvert, but I think the lechery was wreathed in layers of ironic detachment so it's hard to know how seriously to take it. The strip-search thing was brought up by Brown: "(me too, then, Martin? Shall I lift my skirt the next time we meet to reassure you?)".
posted by Aloysius Bear at 5:37 AM on October 13, 2007

It seems pretty, well OK, very, clear to me that Amis was simply saying in a rather high-falutin' way (that being, after all what he does) "this is what many people feel." He wasn't saying this is what I feel, or this is what you should do, rather; "These are the base urges that many have at the moment."

Whatever you think of him, to construe what he said any other way strikes me as wilful misrepresentation.
posted by rhymer at 6:18 AM on October 13, 2007

rhymer, if he wasn't speaking for himself, then why does he feel the need to add in this "adumbrate" piece:

...the mood, the retaliatory "urge" soon evaporated, and I went back to feeling that we must, of course, build all the bridges we can between ourselves and the Muslim majority, which we know to be moderate.

It seems that he was, in fact, speaking for his own "urge". And if, under the influence of an "urge", he said things he regrets and didn't really mean, well, then, the natural thing to do is to say, quite simply: "I said things I didn't really in the heat of emotion and I'm sorry about it." Instead he continues to be smug and patronizing and to lash out at all other parties.
posted by creasy boy at 6:25 AM on October 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

I always liked Terry Eagleton despite my frequent disagreement with his ideas, and I always disliked Amis despite his excellent prose, so it gives me kinky pleasure to see his spittle-flecked rant at Eagleton for having exposed his spittle-flecked rant at those nasty evil Musselmans. And man, is he ignorant about Islam:
That night you revealed, inter alia, that you were Shia; and, as far as I understand it, the Shia minority speaks for the more dreamy and poetic face of Islam, the more lax and capacious (tolerant, for example, of representations of the human form), the more spiritual (in the general sense of that word), as opposed to the Sunnis, whose approach is known to be stricter and more legalistic. Your Shia identity endeared you to me, and made me feel protective, because Islamism, in most of its manifestations, not only wants to kill me – it wants to kill you.
But hey, the man can write, and writers are often unpleasant fools if you foolishly dig beyond the printed page, so what the hell. Write on, you drink-sodden bigot!
posted by languagehat at 7:30 AM on October 13, 2007

Moral of the story:there's no such thing as a free Ribena where Martin Amis and his expensive teeth are concerned.
Great piece from Ms Alibhai-Brown, and deserving of a less weasling reply from Amis.
posted by Abiezer at 7:42 AM on October 13, 2007

Mod note: fixed fpp spelling
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:48 AM on October 13, 2007

creasyboy, I think there's a shade of meaning you're missing here.

He was speaking of the urge that many feel soon after some atrocity is committed. But he wasn't identifying with it or condoning it. He was saying this is the very short-lived kneejerk reaction many of us, perhaps himself included, have.
posted by rhymer at 11:20 AM on October 13, 2007

rhymer, the article does not support that view.

Amis, in his attempt at self-exoneration, writes, "It was a thought experiment, or a mood experiment, and the remarks were preceded by the following: 'There's a definite urge – don't you have it? – to say... [etc, etc].'"

This indicates that he identifies with it, and thinks everyone has this urge-- "don't you have it?"

No, I don't have the immoral and counterproductive urge to make life more difficult and humiliating for all Muslims living in the West.
posted by ibmcginty at 11:29 AM on October 13, 2007

ibmcginty, he, identifies with it in the way that after being mugged by a poor person, I might briefly rail against white trash, before realising that not everyone who is economically disadvantaged wants to rob me.

He is talking about the immediate reaction to atrocity by a certain group of people. And, how many of us, might briefly say "Let's seach all...' I'm glad you've never had that feeling, but I have - albeit very briefly - I guess, I'm just not that saintly. It is, I think, part of human nature. When he says, 'don't you have it?' he is goading you, the reader, to identify with the dark side.

So, I'm afraid we're going to have to disagree here. Reread it, acquaint (or reacquaint) yourself with Amis's style and, if you still think I'm wrong, well so be it.
posted by rhymer at 11:38 AM on October 13, 2007

What ibmcginty said. Here's the original Amis quote:
The Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order. What sort of suffering? Not let them travel. Deportation – further down the road. Curtailing of freedoms. Strip-searching people who look like they're from the Middle East or from Pakistan... Discriminatory stuff, until it hurts the whole community and they start getting tough with their children...
Now, I was in NYC on 9/11, and I was shocked as hell. I approved of the bombs-over-Afghanistan approach, and I wanted to see Bin Laden and his gang taken care of by any means necessary. But not for one second did I want to see deportations, curtailing of freedoms, strip-searching, and "discriminatory stuff, until it hurts the whole community," and I don't think any decent person would have such thoughts. To even have the thought in the first place you have to equate Bin Laden and terrorists with "the whole [Muslim] community," and that's disgusting bigotry. So no, I don't think there are any shades of meaning that will make this better.
posted by languagehat at 11:38 AM on October 13, 2007

On non-preview: what "certain group of people" did you have in mind, precisely?
posted by languagehat at 11:39 AM on October 13, 2007

I may have missed it, but has anyone posted Amis' response?
posted by 999 at 11:58 AM on October 13, 2007

The 'shade of meaning' I'm missing strikes me as vanishingly thin. So he was talking about a feeling that 'some' might have had, and voicing this feeling at length without breaking his neck to distance himself or put it in scare quotes, and he himself had this feeling as well, and then afterwards he "went back to feeling that we must, of course, build all the bridges we can between ourselves and the Muslim majority"...at what point is this not simply a racist claiming to speak for a consensus among 'us' against 'them'?
posted by creasy boy at 12:02 PM on October 13, 2007

to be fair, Amis's dad disliked the niggers more than his son does now
posted by matteo at 12:13 PM on October 13, 2007

I guess, I'm just not that saintly. It is, I think, part of human nature.

As long as you keep telling yourself that knee-jerk racism is perfectly okay, everybody feels it, gosh you're all so holier-than-thou, just admit it you're all racists at heart just like I am, you're preventing yourself from critically examining and questioning your responses; you end up making racism into an inescapable biological reality which is barely hemmed in by social convention, which justifies all sorts of ideological perversions (Nazism, for one). I'm not accusing you of being a Nazi, but adhering to that view is not necessarily the wisest thing to do: racism is a socially constructed and inculcated impulse, and it is in your power to challenge it and prevent those knee-jerk responses.

I was at a concert in Moscow when over a dozen people were killed by suicide bombers outside the entrance. Another suicide bomber blew herself up at my grandmother's subway stop. Chechen terrorism has been a part of my life, but I don't see a Chechen and think "terrorist." I have any number of racist prejudices, but this is one I've been able to conquer.
posted by nasreddin at 12:42 PM on October 13, 2007 [2 favorites]

I'm with Terry.
posted by spitbull at 1:43 PM on October 13, 2007

Languagehat, what you omit is that quote you cite is prefaced by:

"There’s a definite urge – don’t you have it? – to say, ‘The Muslim community...etc..etc.

I'm not saying I agree with any the sentiments after the quote. I don't think Amis does either. All I am saying is that, in this context, the meat of the quote takes on a different meaning.

And to everyone who thinks this point means I am ambivalent about racism. Of course, I'm not and knee jerk racism is utterly unacceptable. But all Amis is doing is acknowledging it exists - albeit in a rather sophisticated way - and has the potential to rear its ugly head, no matter how briefly, in all of us.

Is this really so hard to understand?
posted by rhymer at 2:25 PM on October 13, 2007

"Don't you have it" indicates that the speaker is talking about something that we all feel.

But not all of us feel that Muslims, or any minority group, should be strip-searched in order to make them tougher on their children.

I'm a native English speaker from the US; maybe "don't you think so?" has a different meaning to others.
posted by ibmcginty at 2:54 PM on October 13, 2007

He is quoted here as saying of Islamists in an interview with The Times:

'They’re also gaining on us demographically at a huge rate. A quarter of humanity now and by 2025 they’ll be a third. Italy’s down to 1.1 child per woman. We’re just going to be outnumbered.'

I don't know how momentary an emotion he was feeling then.

And the sophistication of 'longing,Yasmin, for your soothing hand on my brow' escapes me.
posted by jennydiski at 2:55 PM on October 13, 2007

Wow, rhymer, you must be a huge Amis fan. I've rarely seen someone bend so far over backward to give the benefit of the doubt to someone who barely takes the trouble to toss a figleaf over his bigotry. But like matteo says, he's better than his dad, so I guess that's something.
posted by languagehat at 3:31 PM on October 13, 2007

languagehat, what I'm bending over backwards to do is try and explain to you (and others) that not everything which is said or written is intended to be taken at its literal face value.

But as there's no real middle ground here, we should probably agree to disagree. You can think I'm some sort of crypto-fascist who worships Amis, and I'll think you're rather missing the point. No hard feelings.
posted by rhymer at 3:54 PM on October 13, 2007

everyone's favourite last living Marxist Terry Eagleton's

Not while Eric Hobsbawm's still drawing breath, he isn't.

Like all right thinking people, I also loathe and detest Amis Jr. However, if my best friend had been on the lam for years and years because the whole of the Islamic world was seeking to execute them in response to a fatwa that they'd issued, simply because he happened to write a novel that made fun of their belief system, then I strongly suspect that I'd feel as Amis does too.

And yeah, perhaps it's just me, but personally, I tend to believe that the 'side of the beasts' in this particular issue is the side of those who think it appropriate to execute people for apostasy. Ayaan Hirsi Ali also feels that the west needs to be engaged in a struggle to 'crush Muslims'.

Perhaps she's 'with the beasts' as well?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:30 PM on October 13, 2007

Maybe not with the beasts, but starting in with the barking, I reckon. What the fuck is this about?:
Reason: Explain to me what you mean when you say we have to stop the burning of our flags and effigies in Muslim countries. Why should we care?

Hirsi Ali: We can make fun of George Bush. He’s our president. We elected him. And the queen of England, they can make fun of her within Britain and so on. But on an international level, this has gone too far. You know, the Russians, they don’t burn American flags. The Chinese don’t burn American flags. Have you noticed that? They don’t defile the symbols of other civilizations. The Japanese don’t do it. That never happens.
For one thing, I've seen the brick scars on the US consulate in Chengdu from the riots that followed the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. I've admired plenty that I've seen from Hirsi Ali, but much of this is bananas.
posted by Abiezer at 4:57 PM on October 13, 2007

I'm bending over backwards to do is try and explain to you (and others) that not everything which is said or written is intended to be taken at its literal face value.

Um, rhymer, no offense, but I think we already know that.

You can think I'm some sort of crypto-fascist

Don't be silly, I just think you like Amis and thus make excuses for him. It's OK, I like Ezra Pound and go around making excuses for him, and he was a lot worse than Amis fils. (And no, I'm not a crypto-fascist.)
posted by languagehat at 5:01 PM on October 13, 2007

Languagehat, you seem to take Amis' "Don't you have it?" [hypothetical] question as an indirect accusation of bigotry in you personally, or as a thoughtless inclusion of every non-muslim westerner in the lynch-mob mentality that often occurs after violent acts are committed against innocents...the man is a novelist, not a politicain. I repeat: HE IS NOT A POLITICIAN. If today's politically correct expectations of public figures extend to writers and members of academia, and moreso to writers of fiction, then society is in a lot more trouble than would be indicated by everyday racist sentiment, unfortunate and undesirable as it may be. Never, neither in the article about his letter, nor in Amis' actual letter, did I get the impression that he was 'with the beasts,' but, on the contrary, I felt that he was addressing an important and historically human reaction to acts of war and violence perpetrated largely by one group of specific origin (whether that be creed, color, nationality, political affinity, etc.). He was not accusing you or anyone else of bigotry, nor was he evincing his own alleged bigotry; he seems to have been following a thread of thought based on an initial emotional reaction (note: not a formation of the intellect), and traced it far enough to realize that that is not an acceptable tack for civilized people to take. As for him "barely [taking] the trouble to toss a figleaf over his bigotry," are people--and more especially writers of novels--no longer allowed to make hypothetical statements, in interviews or in print, that are not politically correct? Is it considered inappropriate and uncomfortable to verbally riffle the darkness of human motivations and actions, and does doing so both indict and condemn the speaker of the injustices not even committed? I mean, come on! Relax a little, languagehat.
posted by SixteenTons at 6:07 PM on October 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

Languagehat, you seem to take Amis' "Don't you have it?" [hypothetical] question as an indirect accusation of bigotry in you personally

No, I take it as a sign of bigotry so ingrained he can't imagine everyone doesn't share it. I'm sure there were guys in Germany back in the '30s who said "Come on, when you see something bad happen to Germany, don't you think it's the Jews? I mean of course it's not always the Jews, but come on, isn't that your first thought?"

Relax a little, languagehat.

Sorry, when it comes to this shit, I find it hard to relax. Muslims are getting killed in large numbers because of thinking very similar to this guy's. The fact that he's a novelist and gets to "riffle the darkness of human motivations and actions" doesn't let him off the hook as far as I'm concerned. But feel free to make your own judgments.
posted by languagehat at 6:17 PM on October 13, 2007 [3 favorites]

What sixteentons said.
posted by semmi at 6:50 PM on October 13, 2007

"It's too hot outside, don't you think?"

"I prefer to leave my umbrella by the door, don't you?"

"There's a definite urge, don't you have it?"

All of these sentences indicate that the speaker shares the view expressed.

"Don't you?" in no way distances the speaker from the sentiment he is expressing.

No one is arguing that all politically incorrect hypotheticals should be banned forever, or that all utterances must have only one literal face value. We are merely asserting that the most obvious reading of what Amis actually said indicates some sympathy for the sentiments he was expressing.

Sixteentons and rhymer are offering generalities with which no one in the world disagrees, and which do not account for what "don't you?" means in the English language.
posted by ibmcginty at 7:25 PM on October 13, 2007

I do feel free to make my own judgements. That's part of my point. More than anything else, I'm defending Amis' right to have said what he said, or what he didn't say, for that matter. He feels free to make his own judgments, as well. Unilaterally condemning "thinking very similar to this guy's" as the reason "Muslims are getting killed in large numbers" is unrealistic, narrow-minded, and naive. A blanket statement like that is just as terrifying as your reversion to the stock comparison of Nazi Germany...how could I argue with that, right? Amis apparently doesn't want to kill anyone. He doesn't want their rights stripped, he doesn't want them deported, corralled, made to answer for crimes they haven't committed. He is not a fascist, political extremist, or an evil-genius bent on world domination. He is a writer whose job it is to think hypothetically, ponder human nature, attempt to understand why we do things and react in certain ways...was he following a train of thought about the human reactions of outrage, fear, and confusion, and the ensuing desire to blame someone and take action? Or was he making inflammatory bigoted comments while surrounded by the press, without the thought ever entering into his well-educated and evidently intelligent brain that maybe he should keep it to himself? Who was his audience, anyway? Weak-minded underinformed hate-mongers, eager for someone to chase down the street and hang? Not really, no. I'd say he was speaking to people he thought could handle such a question. He was not seeking to incite people to kill Muslims, or to eye them suspiciously and report them to the police, or anything else. If Amis had fictionalized a character in a novel that went much further towards actual bigotry, or engaged in it unashamedly, and this character was treated neutrally by the narrator, the reader forced to draw his/her own conclusions about that character's motivations, would that too be unacceptable to you? Would that reveal something personal about Amis to you, languagehat? Are authors that write about, or even in the voices of, pedophiles, murderers, rapists, racists, or any other bad person, eqivalent personally to their characters, and if so shouldn't we arrest all writers out there as deviants and criminals, lurking in our libraries waiting to offend someone?
posted by SixteenTons at 7:51 PM on October 13, 2007

ibmcginty, I don't think Amis can be distanced from his statements. Neither do I think that 'sympathy' is the appropriate word to describe his feelings about fascist tendencies and actions such as the ones listed by him in his statements.

"We are merely asserting that the most obvious reading of what Amis actually said indicates some sympathy for the sentiments he was expressing."

Why should we assume that the statements of a man who uses words and ideas for a living should ever be taken solely at face value? To clarify, he is not a journalist and does not have a professional obligation to remain fair and balanced in his statements; he is not an editorialist bound by his partisanship; he is not a publishing scientist, medical doctor, or mathemetician reporting research and findings; he IS, however, a novelist which, along with poets, can be the most honest, revealing, and LEAST STRAIGHTFORWARD writers available for human consumption. They tend not to deal in media-friendly, pithy remarks or ideas. Unfortunatly for him, he landed himself in a press conference of some kind, out of his element, and...a MeFi thread ensues.
posted by SixteenTons at 8:13 PM on October 13, 2007

Are authors that write about, or even in the voices of, pedophiles, murderers, rapists, racists, or any other bad person, eqivalent personally to their characters, and if so shouldn't we arrest all writers out there as deviants and criminals, lurking in our libraries waiting to offend someone?

Yes, that's exactly what languagehat and I have been trying to point out all along! Our point certainly didn't have anything to do with the plain and evident meaning of Amis's remarks!

Excellent work getting to the heart of the matter.

Why should we assume that the statements of a man who uses words and ideas for a living should ever be taken solely at face value?

You're right; words can mean anything. What's the point in even reading them? We can save time by simply assuming that words mean whatever makes us feel happy (or whatever fills us with ennui, if we're French). Why bother even to inquire as to what most English speakers believe that they mean? A writer's job is to throw a bunch of words out there like a Rorschach Test, allowing us to reflect upon things we already know and believe.

In light of this discussion, I think that Amis's "don't you have it?" comment really meant, "Go Red Sox! And only an ignoramus would think or say the things I am about to say about Muslims. [etc., etc.]." When he said that "the mood, the retaliatory 'urge' soon evaporated, and I went back to feeling that we must, of course, build all the bridges we can," he wasn't indicating that he once had expressed other feelings; rather, he was pointing out that the Rolling Stones are overrated.

And I think his comments were quite astute.

Thanks for clarifying that words, as used by writers, are intended to be obfuscatory and meaningless.
posted by ibmcginty at 8:34 PM on October 13, 2007 [3 favorites]

Pistols at dawn, ibmcginty! I'm glad we can go point-for-point in our discussions/arguments here at MeFi, and not digress into pointless jabbing sarcasm.
posted by SixteenTons at 9:17 PM on October 13, 2007

Every newspaper article concerning one of the family Amis contains the phrase 'Amis fils'. Is anyone else intensely irritated by this omnipresent cliché? Mild euphony doesn't excuse massive overuse.
— Digusted, Tunbridge Wells.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 4:17 AM on October 14, 2007

Hear, hear. I'm a little sick of the sarcasm too - especially as Amis himself (my hero! I love him!) is being sarcastic. What I don't really understand though is that ibmcginty can recognise it as a politically incorrect hypothetical (which this is) and then still think that the author and the literal statement are inseperable.

Thanks for clarifying that words, as used by writers, are intended to be obfuscatory and meaningless.

As for this, WTF? Literary writers do this all the time. He's not writing an instruction manual, for Chrissake. Unless of course, you mean me to take it at face value...
posted by rhymer at 4:31 AM on October 14, 2007

I lapsed into sarcasm because SixteenTons wandered way off point. ST and rhymer, you are both avoiding a discussion of what Amis actually said and wrote, falling back instead on generalities that, while true, lack any obvious connection to the situation at hand.

Why do you think that the phrase "don't you think?", as used here, does not indicate some sympathy for the comments that follow?

Why do you think that, when he writes, "the mood, the retaliatory 'urge' soon evaporated, and I went back to feeling" that we should build bridges, he is not describing a feeling that he once had?

It's like you guys are advocating the bombing of Iran. I say, "gosh, wouldn't that be counterproductive, given how stretched our forces are, how unpopular we are, and how likely countermeasures will make this a far dangerous world in ten years?" And you respond, "It's better to be tough than weak. Also, Neville Chamberlain should not have signed the agreement at Munich." You're not lying, but you're not sticking to the discussion at hand, either.
posted by ibmcginty at 6:23 AM on October 14, 2007

SixteenTons, you're not making any sense. But kudos for standing up for the oppressed Little Guy, Martin Amis, against the hordes who would drag him down!
posted by languagehat at 6:51 AM on October 14, 2007

No, we're not and no I don't.

I read "don't you think?" completely differently to you. Amis is voicing the football thug, the right winger, the rabble rouser. And, he is asking you to agree with this point in the way that such a person would. In the way that a racist would say, "We all hate x. You know you do." "They're all like that - don't you think?" Of course, he is using the language that these people use. This particular aside to the reader is also pretty common in his writing - and almost always used when he is goading you to agree with something unsavoury. But he is not advocating this position himself. He is perhaps playing devil's advocate. And while, prima facie he is asking you to agree, (not very far) underneath, he is challenging you not to.

As for the feeling bit, as I say, a kneejerk reaction. And one many people had. Well done you, if you didn't have such a reaction, but plenty of people did. Amis had it, it was short-lived and he's being honest about it.

I dunno. Perhaps some of this lack of mutual understanding is down to British vs American usage and style. I'm English and at no point did I think Amis was sympathising with "the beasts." I thought he was making a cautionary point - and I'm surprised anyone thinks otherwise.

BTW, I should add here that I liked all his books up till Money, not so much afterwards.
posted by rhymer at 7:03 AM on October 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm English: his open letter to Alibhai Brown seemed to me clearly to reinforce what he said in the earlier interview.

He can't very well be making a cautionary point and be having a kneejerk reaction at the same time.

I'm also a writer and though it would be nice to be let off having to mean anything I say when I'm feeling lazy and irate, am I freed from all responsibility for my words? And if so, doesn't than make what I say and write entirely inconsequential.

Also, writing a novel and pontificating to the press are rather different.
posted by jennydiski at 7:52 AM on October 14, 2007

As in: doesn't that make what I say...
posted by jennydiski at 7:53 AM on October 14, 2007

OK, how about, in my view, he's describing an emotion or feeling rather than condoning or advocating it?

As for the difference between novels and pontification, well, maybe, but it just strikes me that this is a rhetorical device that works in either. Besides, he's asked to pontificate because he's a famous novelist and that's the kind of thing he writes.

As I say, this all seems abundantly clear to me and that is why I'm defending Amis, not because I'm some crazed fan. I'd feel the same way if it was Barbara Cartland.

However, as a lot of people interpret what he says differently to me, I guess the weight of evidence means I'll have to concede that it may be ambiguous.

Then again, it's all stirred up a right old kerfuffle. Maybe that was the intention?
posted by rhymer at 9:01 AM on October 14, 2007

"He can't very well be making a cautionary point and be having a kneejerk reaction at the same time."

He wasn't doing them at the same time. He was recalling a kneejerk reaction of the past and, at the time of his pontification, turning it into a cautionary point.

Languagehat, I'm not standing up for Amis personally--I don't know the man, and I have no reason to take his case for his sake. I think that the whole thing is overblown. In a climate where people are so sensitive and easily offended (and you can apply that to the worlds of literature and academia, not the global stage at large, where it is perhaps more appropriate to be sensitive), it is very easy for them to turn that into pointless slander and petty bickering that does not advance anyone's knowledge or bring enlightenment. Mind you, I don't think Martin Amis' literary career is in much danger from this whole affair--I'm arguing on principle. How responsible is it of Amis' colleagues to answer his politically incorrect hypothetical by insulting his ability as a writer and clumsily berating his dead father, however much of a jerk he may have been? (I know, I know, "How responsible was it of Amis to make the comment in the first place?"--we've already covered that) Can they not think of anything else to say, perhaps something that would evidence their advanced degrees? How about turning it into something positive, like a lecture series on Islam, or on historical accounts of racial profiling, genocide, etc...? No, instead they publish articles and make statements in retaliation to a hypothetical statement, the intent of which was at best to make the listener think about the insanity of racial/religious profiling, and at worst simply an admission of having had such small thoughts himself but then getting past them. If it indeed was the best case scenario, what better way to have people voluntarily think about why a kneejerk reaction and subsequent actions based upon it are wrong and should be eschewed, than to admit guilt yourself but show that you are reformed, and that that is the right thing to do?

As far as Amis taking responsibility for his words, was anybody actually hurt by all this? Did Amis readers worldwide embark on a new Crusade for the 21st century? Do his statements affect domestic policy? If anyone was actually hurt, he could make a general apology for being ambivalent, and making a somewhat ambiguous statement. But if he has to do that, some far more important and influential people the world over should probably be brought before a firing squad forthwith.

And also, ibmcginty, something you wrote earlier in the thread:
"But Amis craves a pre-fab, cartoonish version of Good and Evil, where you can judge a person by a simple label."

Are you getting back at him by doing the same thing? Your perception seems to include shades of grey...where do they fit in in this issue? I swear, I'm not trying to be a jerk, not being sarcastic, just enjoying the debate.
posted by SixteenTons at 9:57 AM on October 14, 2007

Very, very quickly, as I'm late to meet friends to watch football like a normal person, rather than debating about British intellectuals...

The reason I criticized Amis so harshly is that he appears to have signed on to a very reductionist view of human existence. Marxists tried to argue that class was everything; Nazis thought that race was everything; Amis seems to think that Islamism is everything, given his bizarre urges to protect Brown, and to persecute Muslims.

Islamism is serious and terrible, but it's not the only important thing in the world.

And no, there were no Amis armies heading off to torture Muslims. But if intellectuals, if humans, have any importance, then we should make sure that our descriptions and recommendations (re world affairs, not necessarily in fiction writing) are geared at an accurate understanding of the world, rather than at placing oneself at the center of an exciting grand narrative.

In the US, we have a simpering child in the White House, occasionally surrounding himself with intellectuals who tell him he's Churchill. Amis' words, as languagehat, jennydiski, and I all read them, indicate that he is broadly sympathetic to that view. That puts him on the side of the beasts.

Hope this makes sense, thanks for the post and the discussion. I'll check in later, everyone root for the Patriots so I don't come back in here acting like a bigger jerk than before.
posted by ibmcginty at 12:06 PM on October 14, 2007

Go Ravens! Though Dallas and New England both have human mascots, and thus are almost always against the beasts, I am obligated to root for the Pats so that they can squash Terrell Owens, an even bigger jerk than Amis or his dad.

I'd say Amis is at the periphery, at best, of any exciting grand narrative that's going on. To be honest, I don't really follow his career, and the number of times per month he enters my thoughts depends on how many crossword puzzle answers bear his name. I think its hilarious that these professional intellectuals are in such a snit over the whole thing, and that it's dragged on apparently for months. I wish they'd grow up and turn it into something productive, or just flat out let it go.

I agree with you, ibmcginty, that the mentality Amis SEEMS to represent is troubling and constitutes a threat to the freedom of everyone on the planet...I just don't think that he actually represents it. Rather than railing against him personally (wholly unproductive), anyone who was offended or troubled by his comments should be taking pains to see that the measures he described can never ever happen, and always remain hypothetical.
posted by SixteenTons at 1:18 PM on October 14, 2007

« Older Plans for simple plywood boats   |   November on the treadmill Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments