Saturday, October 20, 2007

Ms Baroque on Arcati, Amis and his pomposity

Ms Baroque has taken Madame Arcati to task over the Amis/Eagleton row ...

I thought Amis' riposte to Eagleton seemed strangely wheedling, ending with that weird rhetorical "collegiate" "Shall we?" - It even came out supplicating. I'm sure that's not what he intended but I find it very interesting. What Alibhai-Brown calls "part affectionate" is just archness, I think; "somewhat patronising" is really very patronising. But MA was also disingenuous taking Eagleton to task for quoting remarks "that aren't in the essay" - when in fact those are remarks by Amis, so it's not exactly as if TE had made them up!

It's interesting how all through this he has lost control of his material - his tone - which is why he's now having to backpedal. I remember his reams of writings in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 - it was astonishing, how he managed to churn out so many thousands of words seemingly immediately! Of course it was mostly hysteria and hyperbole. Everyone was hysterical. I would certainly never go back to anything written in that time. But then, the racist impulse still sees to me an inappropriate response.

And that's the thing. Amis really hasn't got his finger on the pulse. Okay, he hit something with "Money" etc, but he has never been a populist - always a snobbish man - and I think the "isn't everyone a bit like this really" line is disingenuous at best. Would everyone, if they could, simply send all their bank statements unopened to their accountant because it is really "too boring" to have to read them - as Amis once said he did?

Dear Ms Baroque

Thank you ... you don't like Amis fils, do you?

Amis' response to Eagleton was unambiguously hostile; there's nothing supplicating in it so far as I can see. Amis was plainly rattled. I agree that Amis' letter to Alibhai-Brown was faintly patronising; but then that is one strategy in a war of words, a not very effective strategy.

It was Amis himself who pointed out that Eagleton was wrong to say that Amis' remarks on Islam in 2006 were made in an essay when in fact they were reported words from an interview. He then went onto to draw a distinction between airing passing thoughts (or racist "urges") in an interview and calling for discrete action in the written word. I think to Amis there is a big difference (one is a confession to racist thoughts, the other a call to racist action), but as I wrote in a later post, in the broad-brush world of public perception such a subtle distinction is going to be lost. All people will hear is Islamophobic sentiment and judge accordingly.

I would agree - and Amis has admitted as much in literary terms - that he does not have his finger directly on the pulse anymore. Money wonderfully captured the greed and the soulless brutality or vulgarity of the '80s in a literary demotic that sounded of the times, too. But I'm not sure any literary writer can capture the moment all his or her life. He produced brilliant work, he does so no longer, but who is to say what may come yet?

On a broader canvas, I think Amis - like his godawful pal Christopher Hitchens - may be using the debate on Islam and its "quietism" on Islamicist terrorism to push an atheist agenda: in his letter to Alibhai-Brown, Amis makes it clear that he thinks not believing in a god is superior to believing in a god. It is plainly crass to imagine, let alone say, that a religious faith must mean that one necessarily buys into its moral proscriptions or punishments.

Eagleton's harsh criticism of Amis has had the refreshing effect of a correction and limited retraction or clarification from Amis. But in the process we have been forced to ask ourselves whether so many more of us privately yield to occasional racist thoughts or urges - particularly in the wake of atrocity. That Amis admits to such thoughts or feelings - while calling for bridge-building with Muslim moderates - is better than spouting what we think others want to hear.


Anonymous said...

Eagleton was famous at Wadham for the care and consideration he extended to young women students, which went far beyond the lackadaiscal pastoral attitude of his peers.

Fitzroy Cyclonic said...

Anonymous is quite right, he really did have the personal touch with his young female charges.

I get more worried by Eagleton's ignorant and slapdash slighting of Amis pere.

Ms Baroque said...

Anonymous, you make me laugh.

Mma A, I think actually I was sort of agreeing with you; the person I thought hadn't quite got the right end of the stick was Yasmin.

As to my dislike of Amis, well, oh you know. He's like a force of nature; he's always been there. He's that crucial just-enough--older-than-me to have probably loomed a little too large when I was still impressionable. Anyway, your post deserves a careeful response which I can't give till after I've finished my devoirs of the day, which will be later.


Ms Baroque said...

Mme A, I tried to post a comment here this afternoon but maybe it didn't get through; blogger went a bit funny...

What I was saying was that I think you and I are in more agreement than maybe you think; the person I thought had the wrong end of the stick was Yasmin. Your point about public/private utterances is spot on, and corresponds exactly to mine about tone - which is also about controlling how, and when, one releases each bit of what one is saying.

Hmm, as to point-by-point items. What you call hostile and I call wheedling, I think is the same thing. That was (one place) where I think he lost control of his tone. He never meant it to sound wheedling. (Never!)

Yes, Amis pointed out that Eagleton had, hmm, what was it? Mislead his readers as to the nature and timing of Amis' quoted remarks? Now, I thank you Mme A for the elucidation as to those public and private utterances, which I can see is the cause of Amis' feeling of having been almost misquoted. He has yet, clearly, to learn the lesson every blogger knows: try not to make private utterances on the page! It's a hard one.

However, I do concede that merely being brave enough to admit to one's nastier thoughts in public is not the same as giving a great call to action.

Fine point, though, sometimes, eh what?

You're right about the godawful pals - great term, btw - though I wonder if one agenda is pushing the other or if it's the other way round. I mean, they're pushing this atheism thing pretty hard and, from what I can see, it's all in the service of saying everyone's just as bad as the Islamists. I've read most of Hitchens' book and found it all to be built on sand. If you agree his original premise, the whole thing stands. If you don't have faith (sic) in it to begin with, nothing he says sounds convincing. I think he would more usefully replace the word "religion" with the phrase "human nature" and then we'd see how we got on.

Do you think this - admittedly otherwise wonderfully refreshing - fracas in a teacup has had the effect of making us all have to examine our own thoughts? I don't, so much. Maybe my thoughts were okay to begin with. It did make me examine my own views of Eagleton, Amis and Alibhai-Brown, though. (I liked what I saw.)

And as to my not liking the younger Amis, well, it's been a fun 25 years.

Are we friends?

Are you perhaps Martin Amis? (though I can't really see that, somehow, with the Molly Parkin & Kevin Spacey things...)


Madame Arcati said...

Thank you Ms Baroque - I don't think I would want to be Martin Amis to be honest - then I'd have to be friends with Hitchens and recall I went to bed with Tina Brown and Anna Wintour. There's only so much one can take.

I agree on the Hitchens book (Dawkins too). If you have faith in godlessness, then his book is quite sound. He certainly fulminates as well as a "Rev" Ian Paisley - the two are not so different.

Of course we are friends! We were never not. MA x

Ms Baroque said...

Mme A, it was a figure of speech. Now, as to remembering Anna Wintour and Tina Brown - do you suppose that might account for the grimace?

Anonymous said...

No, surely that was caused by sleeping with Emma Soames?

Madame Arcati said...

It's horrible to think of Martin on top of that great manatee Emma Soames - now shifting her carcass at Saga-by-sea. A more pompous woman you'ved never met, full of herself. The only good thing Nicholas Coleridge ever did was sack her from Tatler. She's a lazy cow, the sort who never made new friends after 25.