Britain's first book blogger (November 2000)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Amis rivals Dickens

The Sharp Side points out the weakness in Ronan Bennett's otherwise welcome response to Martin Amis' non-literary opinions. It takes issue when Bennett commends Ian McEwan's "truthful, moving and humbling" words about the human imagination.
But McEwan's point of view ... also illustrated the limitations of anguished humanism. The hijackers were bad people because they did not consider the humanity of the people they killed. The same criticism could be made of the RAF pilots who drop bombs on Iraq and Afghanistan, but you would never find McEwan making it.
Indeed, and look what happens to public figures who do make it. The Sharp Side ends with a (to me) shocking revelation about Charles Dickens's response the Indian mutiny. Again, Kafka is proved right to recognise "a heartlessness behind [Dickens'] sentimentally overflowing style".

16 comments:

  1. Also remember that Dickens was a terrible father, for all the sentimental parents in his fiction.

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  2. Though he's still well worth reading, despite the weakness of his pandering to sentiment, which he should have understood did his work no favours. Maybe that in itself is sign of his underestimating others- the need to provide the warm glow of consolation within his novels. Or did he need such a comfort himself. In a sense one could compare with Dostoevsky who, because his faith in life was greater, didn't need the earthly bliss to balance the darkness that Dickens often resorted to.
    Was surprised a couple of years ago when I dipped into his stuff how interesting & unusual a writer he is.
    I'd assume his dreadful comment can be seen a little in the light of how the Indian Mutiny would have been portrayed in the British press as the massacre of women & children of a civilising nation by dreadful ungrateful savages(White Man's Burden, etc), and how easy it is to express such an opinion in the abstract, removed from the people one is slandering at such a level. The inhuman monster who would carry out the genocidal opinion expressed doesn't seem to me the reality of Dickens the man from what I've read of his work & the Ackroyd biography.

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  3. I don't think Amis deserves the knocking about he's gotten for expressing his honest anger over the misguided train bombings (though what civilian bombings could be anything but?) in London. He clearly did not advocate strip- searching olive-skinned people with facial hair: he admitted to a retaliatory urge to daydream it. Surely, compared to the actual slaughter of people who were no less innocent than the hypothetical Muslim types Amis daydreamed being inconvenienced and humiliated, a mild response. Amis, being no angel, comes out in public with this news, and the rest of, being angels, recoil.

    If the people who see/saw fit to actually kill in order to make a point committed themselves to gestures as non-lethal (and, in this context, civilized) as Amis's, Amis would never have felt the need to say what he said.

    I fear for "civilization" as we know it on two fronts: the imperialist war machine/terrorist response cycle is bad enough. But what's this insidious trend (under way for how many decades now) of everybody being expected to be so falsely, meaninglessly, inhumanly "nice" all the bloody time...especially public figures? Are we so addicted to fairytales? I'm honestly trying to remember a time when everyone *didn't* talk like Oprah (with a phalanx of nervous lawyers watching) and I can't.

    What are we doing but ceding the power of sincere expression to the radical Mullahs and the white Supremacists, et al? Anyone who thinks Amis came off a "fascist" compared to the average pulpit pronouncement of your average fiery cleric is nuts.

    The vitality of free speech is hardly tested by platitudes and euphemisms, and it's hardly confirmed when someone who exercises a little is pilloried.

    As I've wondered before: why did no one ever get in hot water for generalizing about The Boers?

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  4. I think the acceptance of the official version of these terrorist events is seriously misguided, Steven A. It is more than obvious the direction the relevant US & British regimes wish to push civil liberties- ie removing them- and false flag terrorism has always been a standard modus operandis in terms of getting the public to accept and even demand the shutting down of civil liberties that such manipulators have as their goal. The discrepancy between truth and mass culture could hardly be wider-but wider it will grow- & yet people naively imagine that when the mass-media momentarily departs the world of Celebrity Lobotomy Culture & enters the world of "news", that then we are in the world of accurately represented truth. As Aldous Huxley wrote, "Intellectuals are the kind of people who demand evidence and are shocked by logical inconsistencies." Anyone who bothers to look properly into this War on Terror cannot but be shocked at the enormity of the logical inconsistencies.
    "How good for the governments of the world that their people don't think." Adolf Hitler

    Methinks I hear the rising strains of "conspiracy theory" as the societal defence menchanism starts to kick in.

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  5. Andrew: you can't imagine the extent to which I agree with you (ask me about "9/11")...but going into all that clouds this particular issue; further, whoever's ultimately behind each particular lethal event, there's still something well off in the way we're handling one man's verbal response to his genuine fear and anger over the threat of being blown up. If he's wrong about the source of the threat, ultimately, it's not as though an enormous, well-calculated effort hasn't been put into misleading him (and the rest of us).

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  6. Though I think Steven that Amis, particularly when he writes a piece such as his Atta story, has a responsibility to delving deeply into the veracity of the truths he is broadly repeating. I also think that such personal interrogation, of following Huxley's advice, cannot but lead to utterly disbelieving in the official truths. It also seems to me that people like Amis seem to have little interest in waking from the hallucination, but that they are very comfortable in the role of affluent mouthpiece in which they cast themselves. As well as a will to power, truth, etc there is a will to ignorance, and surely only that can permit an intelligent person such as Amis to be blind to the direction of world events.

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  7. I'm with Andrew here of course. Amis has said a lot more than "honest anger over the misguided train bombings" and a lot less than any anger over invading countries and all that entails. Dickens might have believed he had "honest anger" to express over the Indian mutiny but from this distance it looks like plain imperial racism ignoring much larger crimes. We ought to be able to apply a similar distance to the present.

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  8. I sometimes wonder if we're all referring to the same situation; reflecting on the same questions?

    I seriously question what I perceive as a massive presumption amongst what we can loosely refer to as the "Left" that in any clash between worldviews/cultures, whoever is least like "Us" is most noble; is most correct.

    Forget Amis; forget 7/7: isn't one of the larger issues here something about the line between cultural inheritance and human rights violations? (And I say that being fully aware of the atrocities at this moment being committed by the governments of the so-called West; thing is, I see no contradiction in abhorring bloodlust in Christian American presidents *along with* the blood lust of whatever non-Christian insurgents appear to oppose them; too many seem to think we need to choose sides).

    One of the great advantages of being brown-skinned myself is that I don't patronize or glamourize other brown humans as being holy, special, natural, helpless, mystical, fascinating, quaint, authentic, soulful or too primitive to be held to modern standards of civilization (wherever it obtains in its precious little god-free pockets of free love, free speech and no television).

    In point of fact I think this debate would lose much of its logically-inconsistent quality if *everyone* on this planet were brown like me (yeah: exactly the same tint), and we could consider the murder campaigns being conducted on all "sides" with fresh, clear eyes.

    We wouldn't look for the "root causes" because we'd know that the overwhelming majority of killers are on a power trip: those with power kill to keep it, those without it kill to get it.

    If you think Atta "had his reasons" (any more than Bush or Stalin), I think you're bedazzled somewhat by his complexion.

    If only you could just *condemn violence and killing* as a practise, eh?

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  9. I'd agee it is plain imperial racism on Dickens' part, but- giving something of a benefit of the doubt for the seriousness of his genocidal remarks- that seems to have been very much the cultural atmosphere of the time; 'civilised' Europeans did seem to consider self-evident their innate superiority as 'proven' by the, in its own terms, superior civilisation. To be an imperial racist seems to have been the passive intellectual state, and to be otherwise more of an active and unusual position.
    To hold such an imperial racist now would be the active position, as in it would have to be a consciously held view in conflict with what has become a kind of moral standard. None of it is anything but a negative on Dickens' character, but strange man that he was, to a degree his racism can be mitigated as an abstract, whereas in running his schol for fallen ladies, to pick an example, he seems he could very much be a man of decency in the concrete.

    As for Atta and his reasons, I believe 911 was an act of false flag terrorism, and I am condemning killing in itself, not that my condemnation changes anything. I am saying the same people who benefited from 911- the New World Order globalists, Rockefeller, Bush & the gang- are the same people who carried out 911, and from looking in alot of depth into those events, it would require a lobotomy for me to accept this as an attack from without.

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  10. "One of the great advantages of being brown-skinned myself is that I don't patronize or glamourize other brown humans as being holy, special, natural, helpless, mystical, fascinating, quaint, authentic, soulful or too primitive to be held to modern standards of civilization (wherever it obtains in its precious little god-free pockets of free love, free speech and no television)."

    How is taking issue with Martin Amis doing any of this? You can condemn those not rising to "modern standards of civilization" all you want. It gets us nowhere. We have a greater responsibility to condemn our governments and those in the West who contribute to or facilitate atrocities committed by our governments than we do to blandly "condemn violence and killing as a practice" around the world. And it's always worth remembering the direct connection between past decades of Western violence and the rise of the most retrograde elements in those countries where we have exerted our power (that is, most everywhere). The problem, as ever, is capitalism, and the need to prevent any political independence from its overriding systemic needs.

    Also, the issue of "freedom of speech" is a red herring. No one is trying to repress Amis' right to speak (though we might notice how MUCH public speech he seems entitled to, versus those who don't hold moronic views, who don't feel the need to unfold their darkest ideas as "thought experiments").

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  11. Anonymous6:04 pm

    Yes Andrew, "Rockefeller" benefitted from 9/11 along with the New World Order Globalists. Your comments read like a parody of the most paranoid/demented conspiracy theorizing. But, it says a lot about the mentality of the Left that our blog host takes you seriously. Stick to literature Stephen. Giving credence to the delusional world of conspiracy theories is quite intellecutally unbecoming. Why is the Left so afraid to face up to the fact that our culture is under assault by Islamists, instead seeking to concoct elaborate conspiracy theories to explain how the West (mainly the US and Britain) are at fault for everyrthing wrong in the world?

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  12. It says a lot about neocon nutjob mentality that you're ashamed to post under your own name.

    If you have followed or searched this blog, you'll know I'm very ambivalent about the unofficial conspiracy theories. But I will I admit I don't believe this culture is under threat from Islam. Capitalist imperialism is under threat, but that's not the same thing.

    And by the way, the original post was about literature: Martin Amis and Charles Dickens feature.

    But still, I wish to be associated with Richard's comment. Spot. On.

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  13. Anonymous, is that your real name? Must be Greek, or did your parents feel you to be so insignificant that they felt Anonymous was sufficient? What a shame that contrary to the ideal in which I play the conspiracy loon and you play the sober judge of reason, I should be endlessly more capable in the realm of the cutting put-down than your anonymous self...though of course modesty forbids me from saying as much in so many words. Which is in itself a shame as God knows, there's little chance that any words I could use might stand any chance of penetrating the obedient servile sense of self that is your sense of self, the product of how many years of state education, television watching and newspaper reading...there's a good little boy. And since there is so little chance of truth penetrating your inner essence I might as well indulge in playing around in this manner.
    I'm just reading Kafka's The Castle, by the way. An extraordinary work...pity he was such a conspiracy loon with his visions of life like, for example, Aldous Huxley with Brave New World, or George Orwell, or perhaps Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor. These literary figures should have really stuck to literature shouldn't they? I recommend The Darling Buds of May, to ensure you stay well clear of such unsettling territory. And then a marathon of FOX News. ANd don't forget the night-time prayer, "Oh Lord, don't let the Islamists get me."

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  14. Anonymous2:22 am

    I posted Anonymously because, (1) the blog allows it, and (2) I don't feel like signing-up for a Google/Blogger account just so I can log-in with my real name to post comments.

    Funny how you think you're such a master of put-downs, when all you've done is engage in ad hominem attacks based of false assumptions about my educational background, reading and TV habits, etc. Your inflated ego and sense of intellectually superiority is itself a measure of your smallness. Furthermore, is "Andrew K" your real name, or did you just crib the "K" from the Kafka book you claim to be reading? Your online tag is no less "anonymous" than mine. But, of course, carping about anonymous posts is much easier than engaging in serious arguments, isn't it? Such a good little Kafka reader he calls himself "K" now, isn't that sweet. For the record, I have never attented a state/government-run school, deeming such indoctrination factories tantamount to child abuse, and I rarely watch TV, 99.99% of which is complete crap.

    Mr. Mitchelmore sees fit to remind me that this post started out about Amis and Dickens. Yes, well I'm not the one who veered into looney-left land with claims that the "Rockefellers" are the primary beneficiaries of 9/11 and the war against Islamists. Funny how a government that can't deliver the mail efficiently is capable of carrying out such a vast conspiracy undetected by all but the most dedicated Netizens at DU and MoveOn.org! You two may not think we are under attack from Islam and at war with Islamists (I guess fashionable multi-culti propaganda doesn't allow for such eventualities), but they are certainly at war with you. Keep wearing your blinders if you wish. Just don't complain to me when Sharia comes to city near you.

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  15. "Just don't complain to me when Sharia comes to city near you."

    Talk about deluded. Look at what happened when Christianism came to Fallujah. Well, you can't look at it (in the same way as one looks at 9/11) because the corporate media has airbrushed it out of history. So in some way it's understandable you're deluded.

    BTW, you can type your name at the bottom of the post. Or maybe just your initials. Just a cross even.

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  16. "Your comments read like a parody of the most paranoid/demented conspiracy theorizing."

    This was really opening up the avenues of serious discussion all right, Anonymous. I'm fascinated as to why you posted under Anonymous, by the way, and am deeply relieved you have not been burdened with such a name in your extra-blogular life.
    Anyway, to provide you with a line or two not merely created by my tottering intellect:

    "There is a chance the President can use this disaster to bring about the New World Order." Gary Hart- US Commission on National Security the day after 911.

    "We are grateful to The Washington Post, The New York Times, Time Magazine and other great publications whose directors have attended our meetings and respected their promises of discretion for almost forty years. It would have been impossible for us to develop our plan for the world if we had been subject to the bright lights of publicity during those years. But, the work is now much more sophisticated and prepared to march towards a world government. The supranational sovereignty of an intellectual elite and world bankers is surely preferable to the national auto-determination practiced in past centuries."
    David Rockefeller, Trilateral Commission, in June 1991.

    Paul Craig Roberts Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury under the Reagan administration:
    "The combination of oddities within 911 become inexplicable, a statistical impossibility. Powerfully constructed buildings collapse when there is no source of the required energy to do the job. A large 757 hits the Pentagon but leaves a small hole, and there is no sign of wings, engines, tail or fuselage. Every air control and military procedure fails, and hijacked airliners are not intercepted by jet fighters."

    William Christison, a 29-year CIA veteran, former National Intelligence Officer (NIO) and former Director of the CIA's Office of Regional and Political Analysis:
    We very seriously need an entirely new very high level and truly independent investigation of the events of 9/11. I think you almost have to look at the 9/11 Commission Report as a joke and not a serious piece of analysis at all.”

    And for a look at what is known as a controlled demolition, here.

    And my surname does indeed begin with the letter K as you will see if you delve a little into earlier responses on this blog. That was a penetrating observation though, and were my surname not to begin with the relevant letter, I owuld feel deeply wounded and shamed.

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