Sunday, October 14, 2007

Martin Amis shows his ... teeth

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.


Anonymous said...

I find it odd that the person who can write this spends so much time obsessing about Spacey and trivia.

Anonymous said...

I don't

marcella said...

Compelling but historically inaccurate. Despite the popular notion, Hitler was not an atheist. In fact, Hitler's speeches were littered with Biblical references and his anti-semitism (as with that of many high-ranking Nazis) may very well have resulted from Catholic upbringing. He later distanced himself from Rome (though he never renounced the Catholic Church) and began to spout a rather bizarre Christian/pagan rhetoric.

To say that he promoted Nazism and preverted religion(s) to his own ends is merely to point out that he was a fanatic. Whether he believed in gods or God is rather beside the point as, in fact, he did believe in something. He wrote and spoke often of providence, a fundamentally religious concept.

Stalin, on the other hand, feared higher authority. I would suggest that atheism - along with all the rest of his actions - was the result of totalitarianism, rather than the other way round. Stalin didn't let any ideology get in his way - not even true communism.

Madame Arcati said...

Thank you Marcella. It's true Hitler was raised in a Catholic-dominated society, and that he later spoke of Providence (even when decrying any belief in any kind of god), but this latter aspect was rooted in a vague crypto-paganism that was never properly explained so far as I know. He had nothing but contempt for the Catholic Church - and even for the Thule Society - propagandised by Himmler, among others - and other paganistic cults associated with Nazism. I'd refer you to Hitler's Table Talk on these matters where his scorn is plain.

In the case of Stalin, his own will, in a sense, replaced any early theological belief. Like Hitler he totally identified himself with the state and created a religion of himself.

I think we are more in agreement than not. My underlying point is that "atheism" is itself a belief - a belief in no god. To arrive at that conclusion one must have an idea of life/universal truth - these days science often explains all to "atheists".

Most people "believe" in something - in Hitler and Stalin we see belief grotesquely distorted by ego and pathology and dedicated to extreme materialism.

Anonymous said...

"My underlying point is that "atheism" is itself a belief - a belief in no god."

What an illogical absurdity! You cannot have a "belief" that something unproven to exist does not exist.

Jonathan Miller refuses the label "atheist" for just this kind of reason. What do we call someone who does not believe in fairies, or unicorns? We don't give them a unique identity, we simply describe them as logical, grounded people. To describe atheism as a belief system is like saying one has faith in gravity - a nonsensical juxtaposition of terms.

Madame Arcati said...

Atheism is defined either as a belief or doctrine that there is no god or a disbelief in the existence of god. The word "nontheist" might better suit those who believe there is no god - but of course atheism has many varieties, like religion itself.

You say: "You cannot have a 'belief' that something unproven to exist does not exist." The reverse is almost always true. Atheism in itself does not stand alone: it is almost always allied to an anti-religion belief, such as naturalism (not naturism!). These days naturalism (which takes many forms) tends to be rooted in an unquestioning faith in science not just to solve all our problems but to unveil all secrets. I say "faith" because science cannot actually do all these things. Mysteries to be beheld are still countless. But because science is empirical - it tests its theories to find its facts - people say they trust, or have faith, in science to describe our universe. To many this makes more sense than does the supernatural.

In my conversations with atheists, and my readings of their books, what usually emerges after about five minutes is a fanatical belief in science. Atheism is therefore the name given, among other things, to science-faith.

Morally, I should say that I have observed that atheists are no better or worse than religionists. History books will confirm. But what the two tribes have in common is a need to believe that each is right - and a need to believe that the other side is deluded.

As to your point about those who do not believe in fairies and whatnot - you may call such people logical, but I have no precise name for them. Quite probably they are "atheists" who have a "logical" faith in science.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, you're both talking arse burgers. Atheism includes not believing in god or gods, but importantly encompasses not believing in divinity. By default anything considered divine, whether that be aspects of the Nazi philosophy, Stalin's will, or other psychological vestments of divinity negate atheism. Negating the negation of theism that a-theism is. Anyone who thinks of anything as divine is not an atheist.

Your description of science is complete bollocks MA. Positivism went out with pipes. Get with it FFS.

Madame Arcati said...

You have inadvertently illustrated my point. In one sense Stalin and Hitler were self-described atheists. In another sense they made religions of themselves - though they did not use the word divine. Everyone believes, or places their faith, in something - and it is the delusion of materialists that science is somehow immune to this. Alas, the rest of your comment is too deliberately vague to warrant response. I think you'll find positivism in modern form is alive and kicking - this is not a fashion runway, you know.

SUSAN said...

Meanwhile, back with our subject, you are sooooo spot on about Martin A as being a wholly better writer than any of his contemporaries, especially in his earlier work., MONEY and LONDON FIELDS are masterpiece and he writes so well he kicks them all into touch. Martin for the Nobel.

Anonymous said...

No, Martin WAS a better writer than his contemporaries. You forget, those masterpieces were twenty years ago...

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Affordable Dental Tooth Whitening said...

"My underlying point is that "atheism" is itself a belief - a belief in no god."

I actually completely agree. I think atheism is a belief not necessarily a belief in no god but a belief that there is nothing above us

Great post!