Devotees of the Cult of Arcati will know that the Madame is an ardent fan of Martin Amis and his work. No matter how many awards Ian McEwan picks up, it is Amis' Money and perhaps London Fields that will serve as school texts on late 20th Century Britain in the years to come: the kids will be baffled by the Amyl Nitrate prose, and annoying elliptical plotting (a substitute mysticism), but bafflement can be the first step to appreciation in the hands of the right teachers. You have to work on Amis' novels.
His recent war of words with Manchester Uni colleague, the Marxist Professor Terry Eagleton has much amused me. Eagleton, you may recall, was enraged by Amis' reported harsh views on Muslims in 2006 - like his friend Christopher Hitchens, Amis is perceived as having migrated from the liberal consensus on multi-cultural tolerance and arrived at a bad case of Islamophobia in response to 9/11 and other Islamist atrocities. In the course of his assault, Eagleton described Amis' father Kingsley as a "racist, anti-Semitic boor, a drink-sodden, a self-hating reviler of women, gays and liberals." He added: "Amis fils has clearly learnt more from him than how to turn a shapely phrase."
Amis counter-attacked this week in a letter to the Indy columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown - it was published in that paper on Oct 12. Taking up Eagleton's polemical baton, she had written that Amis was "with the beasts" on Islamic questions. Unusually for Amis - who normally affects an amused and elegant disappointment with his critics (think of his response to his falling-out with old pal Julian Barnes) - he returned fire on Eagleton in similar vitriolic terms. He described Eagleton as an "ideological relict" who "combines a cruising hostility with an almost neurotic indifference to truth." Most damning: "[Eagleton] wants attention to be paid to his self-righteousness - righteousness being his particular brand of vanity." Eagleton was in effect an "iron mullah".
Amis went on to deny the Islamophobia accusation and called for bridge-building with "moderate Muslims" - he might have done himself some favours by saying all this a lot sooner, perhaps in a public recantation at a time of his own choosing. He can't expect telepathy in his public. What interested me most was his remarks to Alibhai-Brown on his atheism which he holds as superior to her Shia (or any other religious) faith. While religion advocates the punishment of heretics, "nothing follows from atheism."
It is just as well that Amis shall be remembered as a novelist, not a philosopher. We have only to think of at least two recent prophets of godlessness - Stalin and Hitler - to see what can flow from atheism. Amis would have been on firmer ground had he said religion or lack of it makes little difference to human conduct. Belief in a god or the belief in no god is a matter mainly of temperament and experience.
I do hope Yasmin replies, if not already.
See the Guardian for more on Eagleton Vs Amis click here. The Indy link doesn't work.