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The liberal complacency of Martin Amis His exquisite style hid a squalid sense of morality

"The great poet of the postmodern metropolis" Colin McPherson/Corbis/Getty Images

"The great poet of the postmodern metropolis" Colin McPherson/Corbis/Getty Images


May 23, 2023   5 mins

English culture has produced a number of cliques and coteries in its day, from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the Bloomsbury Group to Macspaunday (otherwise known as the Thirties poets Louis MacNeice, Stephen Spender, W. H. Auden and Cecil Day Lewis). The Angry Young Men of the Fifties weren’t exactly a clique since they scarcely knew each other, and apart from being young they shared almost nothing in common, least of all anger. Several of them ended up as curmudgeonly old buffers with dubious views about women and ethnicity. Among the latter was Kingsley Amis, father of the novelist Martin Amis, who died last week. Amis Senior moved from the high-spirited iconoclasm of Lucky Jim to a Right-wing clubman’s view of the world, and we shall see later that in one respect at least, Amis Junior followed suit.

Amis’s own clique — Salman Rushdie, Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan, Christopher Hitchens, James Fenton, Clive James — were a formidably talented bunch of wits and whiz kids, almost all of them products of Oxbridge in an era of intense cultural creativity, the Sixties and Seventies. Between them they have produced superlative fiction, caustic satire, and devastating humour. Hitchens, who wrote that the life of the “poxed and suppurating” John F. Kennedy was remarkable not for being cut short but for lasting so long, described Prince Charles (as he was then) as a “morose, bat-eared and chinless man, prematurely aged, with the most abysmal taste in royal consorts”. Ian Fleming was “a heavy sadist and narcissist and all-round pervert” with a particular penchant for the human bottom.

Hitchens’s spiritual twin, Martin Amis, easily matched him for mordant wit. He was the great poet of the postmodern metropolis, his finger unerringly on the pulse of its hardboiled, streetwise, sexually libidinous inhabitants. His sensibility belonged as exactly to its time and place as that of Dickens or Faulkner. We are ushered into a depthless, deregulated world of appetite, self-interest, and purely vacuous freedom in which anything goes, held together only by the rigour of literary style. Style in Amis is what rises triumphantly above the squalor of his material. Its shapeliness, equipoise and finesse constitute an implicit critique of contemporary culture, which saved him from anything as uncool as having to pass explicit moral judgements on it. He once remarked that he would sell his grandmother for a finely turned phrase, and if I were his grandmother I would have taken this comment seriously enough to go into hiding. In a literary milieu in which style is sometimes considered “elitist”, few modern writers can handle a sentence so superbly.

Part of Amis knew this frenetically consumerist culture from the inside, while an alter ego submitted it to savagely entertaining satire in the name of a moral norm which is present only by its absence. His fiction thus refutes the old cliché that satire requires a stable standard by which to judge. If anything goes, however, nothing has value — not even shock-value, which is why calling a book Dead Babies smacked of clamouring for attention in an offence-proof world. The great modernist writers had the good fortune to confront a readership that was still eminently shockable. Indeed, the title Dead Babies would have been unthinkable in the Sixties, only a decade before the book appeared. In a postmodern world where the monstrous and psychopathic are routine, Amis didn’t have the modernists’ advantage. This was a civilisation in which nothing could be said, which was both the object of his satire and a source of his endless verbal fertility.

There’s a disparity in Amis’s writing between the sordid or macabre events it narrates and the tamely conventional views which silently underpin it. It’s a discrepancy which is true in different ways of Rushdie and McEwan. These writers portray a late-capitalist world which shows up the bankruptcy of liberal values, yet they have no real alternative to such values themselves. Like most liberals, they are nervous of convictions and commitments, which appear them as dogmatism and soulless system. (When Boris Johnson was asked in an interview whether he had any convictions, he replied warily that he had picked up one or two for speeding.) Amis dismissed socialism and Christianity as obsolete ideologies, but in his view all ideologies were obsolete. Except, of course, middle-class liberalism, which is no more than plain common sense. One of Clive James’s favourite slogans was “pas de zele”, though one imagines that his aversion to ardour didn’t apply to opposing General Strikes.

The contemporary world is divided between those who believe too much (Islamists, for example) and those who believe too little (the metropolitan literati). It was logical, then, that when Islamism struck in New York on 9/11, having first invaded the London literary world in the shape of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, Rushdie should wrap himself in the Stars and Stripes, apparently unconcerned by the fact that 30 years to the day before 9/11, the USA overthrew the democratically elected government of Chile and installed in its place an odious dictator who proceeded to murder far more people than died in the World Trade Centre.

Martin Amis’s response to the tragedy was more discreditable. The Muslim community would have to suffer, he suggested, and Muslims — even entirely innocent ones — should be hounded and harassed, with deportation further down the line. This, we should note, was the view of a liberal. God knows what retribution the far-Right were dreaming up. Amis’s vile pronouncement exposed the limits of liberalism, which can move quickly into a violent defence of the status quo. Christopher Hitchens mounted a shabbily disingenuous defence of his old chum, claiming that Amis had merely been engaged in a “thought experiment”. It’s remarkable how Hitchens’s much-sung passion for truth and justice failed to extend to his literary cronies.

All of the Amis coterie launch their critiques of contemporary culture from a privileged position within it. As a young journalist, Hitchens was the ultimate champagne socialist, though as his career progressed the champagne gradually took over from the socialism. His desire to belabour the Establishment was matched only by his eagerness to belong to it. A practising Trotskyist at Oxford (though he never really practised enough to get good at it), he ended up admiring George Bush, dining with the architects of Western butchery in Iraq and generally cosying up to the neocons. James Fenton also began his adult life as a Leftist revolutionary before leaving such infantile fantasises well behind him.

These aren’t just biographical issues, but they aren’t to be mistaken for literary judgements either. The relation between politics and letters is more complex than that, as a glance at the great modernist writers would suggest. Joseph Conrad was a deep-dyed conservative and misogynist with a virulent hatred of the political Left. Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis supported the fascist cause, while W.B. Yeats, a champion of plans to stop the poor from breeding, flirted with fascism as well. D.H. Lawrence was racist, sexist, homophobic and antisemitic, while T.S. Eliot was a high Tory who championed a quasi-fascistic French movement. Yet all of these figures were radicals — radicals of the Right rather than the Left — and the fineness of their work is related to the depth and breadth of their challenge to a liberal democracy in profound crisis. Besides, there were plenty of modernist experiments on the political Left as well.

Almost all of these writers thought deeply about politics, philosophy and the shape of a whole civilisation, which is hardly true of Clive James. Some of them were powerful visionaries, which is not quite how one would describe Julian Barnes or Ian McEwan. This is one reason why their work, taken as a whole, has never been equalled in the century or so which has passed since it appeared, and certainly not by the Amis group. It’s surely no accident that the finest artist among the latter, Salman Rushdie, has moved between different cultures, idioms. and literary forms like so many modernist authors before him, transcending provincial pieties and decencies.

As for Amis, he and I crossed swords once or twice in public, not least because of what I took to be his slur on a whole people. But he spoke in a moment of panic and withdrew his words later, though as far as I know he never apologised to those he had offended. He was a fabulously gifted writer, and though I never met him (he wouldn’t share a TV studio with me) his relatively early death is a sore loss to the republic of letters.


Terry Eagleton is a critic, literary theorist, and UnHerd columnist.


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N Satori
N Satori
11 months ago

It’s a pity that Amis no longer alive to defend himself against Eagleton who, it appears, was particularly rattled by Amis criticism of Islam, post 9/11. As detailed in Douglas Murray’s Islamophilia, this is an example of what Eagleton quaintly dismisses as ‘crossing swords’:

Eagleton himself returned to the semi-literary fray to accuse Amis, in the Guardian, of advocating ‘punitive measures against all Muslims, guilty or innocent . . . that by hounding and humiliating them as a whole, they would return home and teach their children to be obedient to the White Man’s law.’ He also explained that he had been morally forced to respond because he identified ‘something rather stomach-churning at the sight of those such as Amis and his political allies, champions of a civilisation that for centuries has wreaked untold carnage throughout the world, shrieking for illegal measures when they find themselves for the first time on the sticky end of the same treatment’.

Quite a rant. Not so much anti-Amis as anti-West – the kind of sentiment we hear so often from the Woke. It sounds, just a tad, like Eagleton is slurring a whole people. Sadly, Amis did not stand firm in his criticism of Islam and tried desperately to backtrack.
No such backtracking from Eagleton:

…when Islamism struck in New York on 9/11, having first invaded the London literary world in the shape of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, Rushdie should wrap himself in the Stars and Stripes, apparently unconcerned by the fact that 30 years to the day before 9/11, the USA overthrew the democratically elected government of Chile and installed in its place an odious dictator who proceeded to murder far more people than died in the World Trade Centre.

apparently unconcerned by the fact that throughout the past century Marxism has led directly to some of the most odious and murderous dictatorships the world has ever known Eagleton continues to wrap himself in that flag which is deepest red.
Perhaps UnHerd could publish a piece on the theme of Marxist complacency. There won’t be a shortage of material.

Neil McNab
Neil McNab
11 months ago
Reply to  N Satori

You give Pinochet the mass murderer of defenceless civilians a free pass while delivering the usual ‘You see that Stalin, that’s you that is!’ rebuke to anyone to the left of Gordon Brown. You omitted to mention Cultural Marxism, other than that, a screed that could easily have been curled off at the recent Nat. C fash-fest.

David Sloan
David Sloan
11 months ago
Reply to  Neil McNab

Pinochet the ‘mass murderer’ What adjective can replace ‘mass’ when we talk about Mao Tse-tung, Stalin and of course Herr Shicklebruber?

John Holland
JH
John Holland
11 months ago
Reply to  Neil McNab

Don’t be rude to the UnHerd herd of knee-jerk ranters- this is a ‘safe-space’ for them, and alternative ideas (or ideas per se, not to mention ‘upsetting’ facts) are thoroughly unacceptable.
You are hereby cancelled.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
11 months ago
Reply to  John Holland

Good to see you back ‘Thorax’.

Andrew F
Andrew F
10 months ago
Reply to  John Holland

What alternative ideas?
Communism and Islamofash**sm?
As you can see certain words are forbidden on Unherd but not vile creed of communism.

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
11 months ago
Reply to  John Holland

Good to see you back ‘Thorax’.

Andrew F
Andrew F
10 months ago
Reply to  John Holland

What alternative ideas?
Communism and Islamofash**sm?
As you can see certain words are forbidden on Unherd but not vile creed of communism.

David Sloan
David Sloan
11 months ago
Reply to  Neil McNab

Pinochet the ‘mass murderer’ What adjective can replace ‘mass’ when we talk about Mao Tse-tung, Stalin and of course Herr Shicklebruber?

John Holland
JH
John Holland
11 months ago
Reply to  Neil McNab

Don’t be rude to the UnHerd herd of knee-jerk ranters- this is a ‘safe-space’ for them, and alternative ideas (or ideas per se, not to mention ‘upsetting’ facts) are thoroughly unacceptable.
You are hereby cancelled.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
11 months ago
Reply to  N Satori

I pegged him fairly quickly for a particularly obnoxious variant of left-winger and skipped the rest.

John Holland
John Holland
11 months ago
Reply to  Jerry Carroll

You “pegged him” did you Jerry?
Well done. Not a chap to risk delving too far into the frightening vortex of intellectual engagement, are you Jerry? Why, I wonder, do you bother even trying to read this sort of stuff at all? You could just stare at a mirror and applaud enthusiastically.

polidori redux
polidori redux
11 months ago
Reply to  John Holland

Beware of the potholes when you go delving into that “frightening vortex of intellectual engagement”, as Amis wouldn’t have said.

Last edited 11 months ago by polidori redux
polidori redux
PR
polidori redux
11 months ago
Reply to  John Holland

Beware of the potholes when you go delving into that “frightening vortex of intellectual engagement”, as Amis wouldn’t have said.

Last edited 11 months ago by polidori redux
John Holland
John Holland
11 months ago
Reply to  Jerry Carroll

You “pegged him” did you Jerry?
Well done. Not a chap to risk delving too far into the frightening vortex of intellectual engagement, are you Jerry? Why, I wonder, do you bother even trying to read this sort of stuff at all? You could just stare at a mirror and applaud enthusiastically.

Richard Craven
RC
Richard Craven
11 months ago
Reply to  N Satori

Thanks for dealing with the communist-fascist tankie scum

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
10 months ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

Great rhetorical addition to the debate! Well done. Can you just explain ‘tankie scum’ for me? Sorry to be ignorant of your no doubt ironic vocabulary.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
10 months ago

A tankie is a western “liberal” who indulges in apologetics for the terror, torture, mass murder, and famine inflicted by communist-fascist regimes on their victim populations during the 20th century. The term became current in the late 1950’s following the Warsaw Pact’s subjugation of the 1956 Hungarian uprising.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
10 months ago

A tankie is a western “liberal” who indulges in apologetics for the terror, torture, mass murder, and famine inflicted by communist-fascist regimes on their victim populations during the 20th century. The term became current in the late 1950’s following the Warsaw Pact’s subjugation of the 1956 Hungarian uprising.

Andrew F
AF
Andrew F
10 months ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

How did you manage to get fascism past the censors?
Maybe Unherd is changing?

Last edited 10 months ago by Andrew F
Andrew McDonald
AM
Andrew McDonald
10 months ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

Great rhetorical addition to the debate! Well done. Can you just explain ‘tankie scum’ for me? Sorry to be ignorant of your no doubt ironic vocabulary.

Andrew F
Andrew F
10 months ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

How did you manage to get fascism past the censors?
Maybe Unherd is changing?

Last edited 10 months ago by Andrew F
Andrew F
AF
Andrew F
10 months ago
Reply to  N Satori

Yes, for this Marxist creature problem is Pinochet while Pol Pot, Mugabe and other assorted lefties dictators are Freedom fighters.
Like the ones making success of Venezuela and Cuba.

Neil McNab
NM
Neil McNab
11 months ago
Reply to  N Satori

You give Pinochet the mass murderer of defenceless civilians a free pass while delivering the usual ‘You see that Stalin, that’s you that is!’ rebuke to anyone to the left of Gordon Brown. You omitted to mention Cultural Marxism, other than that, a screed that could easily have been curled off at the recent Nat. C fash-fest.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
11 months ago
Reply to  N Satori

I pegged him fairly quickly for a particularly obnoxious variant of left-winger and skipped the rest.

Richard Craven
RC
Richard Craven
11 months ago
Reply to  N Satori

Thanks for dealing with the communist-fascist tankie scum

Andrew F
Andrew F
10 months ago
Reply to  N Satori

Yes, for this Marxist creature problem is Pinochet while Pol Pot, Mugabe and other assorted lefties dictators are Freedom fighters.
Like the ones making success of Venezuela and Cuba.

N Satori
NS
N Satori
11 months ago

It’s a pity that Amis no longer alive to defend himself against Eagleton who, it appears, was particularly rattled by Amis criticism of Islam, post 9/11. As detailed in Douglas Murray’s Islamophilia, this is an example of what Eagleton quaintly dismisses as ‘crossing swords’:

Eagleton himself returned to the semi-literary fray to accuse Amis, in the Guardian, of advocating ‘punitive measures against all Muslims, guilty or innocent . . . that by hounding and humiliating them as a whole, they would return home and teach their children to be obedient to the White Man’s law.’ He also explained that he had been morally forced to respond because he identified ‘something rather stomach-churning at the sight of those such as Amis and his political allies, champions of a civilisation that for centuries has wreaked untold carnage throughout the world, shrieking for illegal measures when they find themselves for the first time on the sticky end of the same treatment’.

Quite a rant. Not so much anti-Amis as anti-West – the kind of sentiment we hear so often from the Woke. It sounds, just a tad, like Eagleton is slurring a whole people. Sadly, Amis did not stand firm in his criticism of Islam and tried desperately to backtrack.
No such backtracking from Eagleton:

…when Islamism struck in New York on 9/11, having first invaded the London literary world in the shape of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, Rushdie should wrap himself in the Stars and Stripes, apparently unconcerned by the fact that 30 years to the day before 9/11, the USA overthrew the democratically elected government of Chile and installed in its place an odious dictator who proceeded to murder far more people than died in the World Trade Centre.

apparently unconcerned by the fact that throughout the past century Marxism has led directly to some of the most odious and murderous dictatorships the world has ever known Eagleton continues to wrap himself in that flag which is deepest red.
Perhaps UnHerd could publish a piece on the theme of Marxist complacency. There won’t be a shortage of material.

polidori redux
polidori redux
11 months ago

I found Amis amusing. As amusing as a literary giant can be.
We should note that Jeremy Clarke, The Spectator’s “Low Life” columnist has also just died. Clarke possessed a sense of humanity completely lacking in Amis. He was just as fine a writer as Amis, but he didn’t waste his life seeking attention. If I had to choose, I know whose funeral I would attend.

Last edited 11 months ago by polidori redux
Steve Murray
LL
Steve Murray
11 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Thanks for bringing that to our attention. I’m absolutely no fan of Eagleton, but he gets something right in his assessments of Amis and the coterie of that period. It’s now passed, both literally and metaphorically. Some will mourn, but not many.

Last edited 11 months ago by Steve Murray
Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
11 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Hear hear!

Karen Jemmett
KJ
Karen Jemmett
11 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

It’s worth reminding ourselves of the cultural and political limitations imposed by a protracted postmodern experience. Is is appropriate to blame writers of that age – remember Amis was an ironist, after all – for what I believe the contemporary diagnosis is the consistent use of dark and negative themes? Although I really wish he’d never articulated those ‘experimental’ thoughts that time, I will always remember him fondly for his heroic defence of Jane Austen in The War Against Cliche and his somewhat plucky attempt on Radio 4 one day to rescue Satan from the ethical fires of hell. He was rather funny, at the end of the day, and that’s something we’re all in danger of underestimating the importance of these days…. RIP

Jerry Carroll
JC
Jerry Carroll
11 months ago
Reply to  Karen Jemmett

Heroism is needed to defend Jane Austen?

Jerry Carroll
JC
Jerry Carroll
11 months ago
Reply to  Karen Jemmett

Heroism is needed to defend Jane Austen?

Steve Murray
LL
Steve Murray
11 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Thanks for bringing that to our attention. I’m absolutely no fan of Eagleton, but he gets something right in his assessments of Amis and the coterie of that period. It’s now passed, both literally and metaphorically. Some will mourn, but not many.

Last edited 11 months ago by Steve Murray
Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
11 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Hear hear!

Karen Jemmett
Karen Jemmett
11 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

It’s worth reminding ourselves of the cultural and political limitations imposed by a protracted postmodern experience. Is is appropriate to blame writers of that age – remember Amis was an ironist, after all – for what I believe the contemporary diagnosis is the consistent use of dark and negative themes? Although I really wish he’d never articulated those ‘experimental’ thoughts that time, I will always remember him fondly for his heroic defence of Jane Austen in The War Against Cliche and his somewhat plucky attempt on Radio 4 one day to rescue Satan from the ethical fires of hell. He was rather funny, at the end of the day, and that’s something we’re all in danger of underestimating the importance of these days…. RIP

polidori redux
PR
polidori redux
11 months ago

I found Amis amusing. As amusing as a literary giant can be.
We should note that Jeremy Clarke, The Spectator’s “Low Life” columnist has also just died. Clarke possessed a sense of humanity completely lacking in Amis. He was just as fine a writer as Amis, but he didn’t waste his life seeking attention. If I had to choose, I know whose funeral I would attend.

Last edited 11 months ago by polidori redux
JR Stoker
JS
JR Stoker
11 months ago

There used to be a tradition that controversial figures should at least be buried before their characters were shredded. Especially by those who had so much less talent

Vincent Gould
Vincent Gould
11 months ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

The jealousy is palpable. At least he can write novels Terry! Eagleton could not wait for the body to cool before getting the knives out. SAD.

Vincent Gould
VG
Vincent Gould
11 months ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

The jealousy is palpable. At least he can write novels Terry! Eagleton could not wait for the body to cool before getting the knives out. SAD.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
11 months ago

There used to be a tradition that controversial figures should at least be buried before their characters were shredded. Especially by those who had so much less talent

Jeff Butcher
JB
Jeff Butcher
11 months ago

Thanks for an enjoyable article. This in particular made me laugh:
‘Hitchens was the ultimate champagne socialist, though as his career progressed the champagne gradually took over from the socialism’
I guess it happens to us all eventually….

Douglas H
Douglas H
11 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

I was going to paste the same quote but you beat me to it!

Neil McNab
Neil McNab
11 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

Which is why the policies of government are made for and by the old. With the present results.

james goater
JG
james goater
11 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

Interestingly, Amis, in his last book (“Inside Story”) touchingly relates being at his great friend Hitchens’ dying bedside and hearing his last words. According to Amis, Hitchens said, “Capitalism….” and upon being asked if he had anything more to say, he added “…downfall.” So perhaps some shards of his earlier socialism remained, after all.

Jeff Butcher
JB
Jeff Butcher
11 months ago
Reply to  james goater

Very interesting – perhaps you never entirely lose your earlier enthusiasms.
Interesting that his brother Pete was also a Trot.

Jeff Butcher
JB
Jeff Butcher
11 months ago
Reply to  james goater

Very interesting – perhaps you never entirely lose your earlier enthusiasms.
Interesting that his brother Pete was also a Trot.

David Shipley
DS
David Shipley
11 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

Not TE. he has kept the faith, regardless of how absurd it makes him look.

Douglas H
Douglas H
11 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

I was going to paste the same quote but you beat me to it!

Neil McNab
NM
Neil McNab
11 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

Which is why the policies of government are made for and by the old. With the present results.

james goater
JG
james goater
11 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

Interestingly, Amis, in his last book (“Inside Story”) touchingly relates being at his great friend Hitchens’ dying bedside and hearing his last words. According to Amis, Hitchens said, “Capitalism….” and upon being asked if he had anything more to say, he added “…downfall.” So perhaps some shards of his earlier socialism remained, after all.

David Shipley
DS
David Shipley
11 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

Not TE. he has kept the faith, regardless of how absurd it makes him look.

Jeff Butcher
JB
Jeff Butcher
11 months ago

Thanks for an enjoyable article. This in particular made me laugh:
‘Hitchens was the ultimate champagne socialist, though as his career progressed the champagne gradually took over from the socialism’
I guess it happens to us all eventually….

Jake Prior
Jake Prior
11 months ago

Thank god for an article not fawning over the ghost of Martin Amis. I’ve only read Money, which I found uninspiring, but the whole lot were, perhaps unfairly, tarnished with the brush of Ian McEwan’s Saturday which I found to be the most self-satisfied, turgid dross I’ve ever wasted my time on. I’m probably more familiar with Martin Amis from interviews, which, in common with Hitch and the rest of the gang, are notable to me primarily for their un-laughing, sneering humour. They appeared to me to inhabit a cultural ivory tower but lacked the story telling ability of Don Delillo or the human touch of Irvine Welsh. As a child of the nineties and noughties there was nothing I recognised, and as the author well describes, nothing to learn. Long may they be forgotten. But this is just my opinion of course.

David Sloan
DS
David Sloan
11 months ago
Reply to  Jake Prior

The time for such remarks may be not now but, for the sake of taste and decorum, a little later.

james goater
JG
james goater
10 months ago
Reply to  David Sloan

Agree. For the time being I’d rather read more personal tributes to the departed Amis such as this piece by his good friend McEwan ,Losing a Brother in Martin Amis | The New Yorker

james goater
JG
james goater
10 months ago
Reply to  David Sloan

Agree. For the time being I’d rather read more personal tributes to the departed Amis such as this piece by his good friend McEwan ,Losing a Brother in Martin Amis | The New Yorker

David Sloan
DS
David Sloan
11 months ago
Reply to  Jake Prior

The time for such remarks may be not now but, for the sake of taste and decorum, a little later.

Jake Prior
JP
Jake Prior
11 months ago

Thank god for an article not fawning over the ghost of Martin Amis. I’ve only read Money, which I found uninspiring, but the whole lot were, perhaps unfairly, tarnished with the brush of Ian McEwan’s Saturday which I found to be the most self-satisfied, turgid dross I’ve ever wasted my time on. I’m probably more familiar with Martin Amis from interviews, which, in common with Hitch and the rest of the gang, are notable to me primarily for their un-laughing, sneering humour. They appeared to me to inhabit a cultural ivory tower but lacked the story telling ability of Don Delillo or the human touch of Irvine Welsh. As a child of the nineties and noughties there was nothing I recognised, and as the author well describes, nothing to learn. Long may they be forgotten. But this is just my opinion of course.

Sophy T
ST
Sophy T
11 months ago

A practising Trotskyist at Oxford (though he never really practised enough to get good at it.
How does anyone get ‘good’ at Trotskyism?

Martin Smith
MS
Martin Smith
11 months ago
Reply to  Sophy T

Talk and write endlessly about the evils of ‘late’ capitalism?

Last edited 11 months ago by Martin Smith
Neil McNab
NM
Neil McNab
11 months ago
Reply to  Martin Smith

There’s no ‘late capitalism’, just everyday capitalism that destroys everything it touches.

Andrew F
AF
Andrew F
10 months ago
Reply to  Neil McNab

How did you write and post this reply?
Using technologies created by capitalist system.
Tell us what communism ever delivered apart from poverty, censorship, violence and mass murder?

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
10 months ago
Reply to  Neil McNab

Do you have a smart phone? Gas central heating? A bank account? A fridge? Access to a reasonable standard of healthcare? Do you wear clothes? Do you have enough to eat? Do your kids have a school to go to? Are there shops within a reasonable distance?

Andrew F
AF
Andrew F
10 months ago
Reply to  Neil McNab

How did you write and post this reply?
Using technologies created by capitalist system.
Tell us what communism ever delivered apart from poverty, censorship, violence and mass murder?

Richard Craven
RC
Richard Craven
10 months ago
Reply to  Neil McNab

Do you have a smart phone? Gas central heating? A bank account? A fridge? Access to a reasonable standard of healthcare? Do you wear clothes? Do you have enough to eat? Do your kids have a school to go to? Are there shops within a reasonable distance?

Neil McNab
NM
Neil McNab
11 months ago
Reply to  Martin Smith

There’s no ‘late capitalism’, just everyday capitalism that destroys everything it touches.

Richard Craven
RC
Richard Craven
11 months ago
Reply to  Sophy T

Famine, torture, mass murder etc

Andrew F
Andrew F
10 months ago
Reply to  Sophy T

Surely, the author of this article can tell us?

Alan Osband
AO
Alan Osband
10 months ago
Reply to  Sophy T

You need a head for ice- picks .

Martin Smith
MS
Martin Smith
11 months ago
Reply to  Sophy T

Talk and write endlessly about the evils of ‘late’ capitalism?

Last edited 11 months ago by Martin Smith
Richard Craven
RC
Richard Craven
11 months ago
Reply to  Sophy T

Famine, torture, mass murder etc

Andrew F
AF
Andrew F
10 months ago
Reply to  Sophy T

Surely, the author of this article can tell us?

Alan Osband
AO
Alan Osband
10 months ago
Reply to  Sophy T

You need a head for ice- picks .

Sophy T
ST
Sophy T
11 months ago

A practising Trotskyist at Oxford (though he never really practised enough to get good at it.
How does anyone get ‘good’ at Trotskyism?

Simon Neale
SN
Simon Neale
11 months ago

Yes, there is a kind of moral emptiness and heartlessness in Amis’s novels, but isn’t it interesting that Eagleton ignores the one work by Amis where the moral outrage is evident, and there is no need to invent gruesome details: Koba the Dread.

Simon Neale
SN
Simon Neale
11 months ago

Yes, there is a kind of moral emptiness and heartlessness in Amis’s novels, but isn’t it interesting that Eagleton ignores the one work by Amis where the moral outrage is evident, and there is no need to invent gruesome details: Koba the Dread.

Douglas H
DH
Douglas H
11 months ago

Thanks, Mr E. nice piece – wonderful dissection of Hitchens- but to be honest you could have been tougher on Amis and depressing, snobbish, miserable view of humanity. I still feel soiled after reading Money almost 40 years ago.

polidori redux
PR
polidori redux
11 months ago
Reply to  Douglas H

I enjoyed Money. Perhaps I have a soiled streak in me. I know what you mean though. I wonder how I would react if I read it now.

polidori redux
PR
polidori redux
11 months ago
Reply to  Douglas H

I enjoyed Money. Perhaps I have a soiled streak in me. I know what you mean though. I wonder how I would react if I read it now.

Douglas H
DH
Douglas H
11 months ago

Thanks, Mr E. nice piece – wonderful dissection of Hitchens- but to be honest you could have been tougher on Amis and depressing, snobbish, miserable view of humanity. I still feel soiled after reading Money almost 40 years ago.

geoffrey cox
GC
geoffrey cox
11 months ago

Amis Senior appears here to be lazily described as the inevitable ‘racist’ (‘ethnicity’). Presumably Eagleton has never read his reactions to the US Deep South.

geoffrey cox
GC
geoffrey cox
11 months ago

Amis Senior appears here to be lazily described as the inevitable ‘racist’ (‘ethnicity’). Presumably Eagleton has never read his reactions to the US Deep South.

Richard Craven
RC
Richard Craven
11 months ago

A communist-fascist calling a liberal a fascist is never terribly edifying.

Richard Craven
RC
Richard Craven
11 months ago

A communist-fascist calling a liberal a fascist is never terribly edifying.

Alan Osband
AO
Alan Osband
11 months ago

Iove how Terry’s vendetta against our King has carried over from his last essay . Unless the King’s ‘bat ears’ and ‘taste in consorts’ is integral to his point about Amis .

Alan Osband
AO
Alan Osband
11 months ago

Iove how Terry’s vendetta against our King has carried over from his last essay . Unless the King’s ‘bat ears’ and ‘taste in consorts’ is integral to his point about Amis .

Peter Kwasi-Modo
PP
Peter Kwasi-Modo
10 months ago

Could one of you grammar gurus settle a family dispute over this sentence:”Among the latter was Kingsley Amis, father of the novelist Martin Amis, who died last week.” The way it is witten, does the “, who” refer to Kingsley or Martin? My point is that, without the comma, it may not be great style but it unambiguously refers to Martin. With the comna, it’s 50/50 and you need to rely on semantics to disambiguate.

Last edited 10 months ago by Peter Kwasi-Modo
james goater
JG
james goater
10 months ago

I have a “hunch” that you’re correct — omitting the comma between “Amis” and “who” would surely remove any ambiguity in the full sentence by making it clear that it is Martin who is being referred to as dead.

Richard Craven
RC
Richard Craven
10 months ago

I think you’re right.

james goater
JG
james goater
10 months ago

I have a “hunch” that you’re correct — omitting the comma between “Amis” and “who” would surely remove any ambiguity in the full sentence by making it clear that it is Martin who is being referred to as dead.

Richard Craven
RC
Richard Craven
10 months ago

I think you’re right.

Peter Kwasi-Modo
PP
Peter Kwasi-Modo
10 months ago

Could one of you grammar gurus settle a family dispute over this sentence:”Among the latter was Kingsley Amis, father of the novelist Martin Amis, who died last week.” The way it is witten, does the “, who” refer to Kingsley or Martin? My point is that, without the comma, it may not be great style but it unambiguously refers to Martin. With the comna, it’s 50/50 and you need to rely on semantics to disambiguate.

Last edited 10 months ago by Peter Kwasi-Modo
John Tangney
JT
John Tangney
11 months ago

p***k

Last edited 11 months ago by John Tangney
Neil McNab
NM
Neil McNab
11 months ago
Reply to  John Tangney

An unusual introduction,, but hi!

Richard Craven
RC
Richard Craven
11 months ago
Reply to  John Tangney

Sorry about the downvotes. Have an upvote from me

Daoud Fakhri
DF
Daoud Fakhri
11 months ago
Reply to  John Tangney

I’ve frequently seen people write a note and forget to sign their name; this is one of those rare occasions I’ve seen someone sign their name and forget to write a note.

Neil McNab
NM
Neil McNab
11 months ago
Reply to  John Tangney

An unusual introduction,, but hi!

Richard Craven
RC
Richard Craven
11 months ago
Reply to  John Tangney

Sorry about the downvotes. Have an upvote from me

Daoud Fakhri
DF
Daoud Fakhri
11 months ago
Reply to  John Tangney

I’ve frequently seen people write a note and forget to sign their name; this is one of those rare occasions I’ve seen someone sign their name and forget to write a note.

John Tangney
JT
John Tangney
11 months ago

p***k

Last edited 11 months ago by John Tangney
Mark Kennedy
MK
Mark Kennedy
10 months ago

OMG! Talk about a sensibility belonging “exactly to its time and place,” this so-called critic (?) has simply internalized every bromide of his era and here re-externalizes it in the form of tedious, entirely predictable, virtue-posturing cliche, apparently without having critically examined the amalgam even once. Sad to say, taking up some other line of work would be the most effective blow he could strike against print evidence of intellectual and moral “complacency.”

Even taking into consideration the fact that self-knowledge is the hardest kind to come by, Eagleton’s obliviousness to the wisdom of “We have met the enemy and he is us” is astonishing. What cataclysm would it take to alert him to the fact that the Nazis, too, were moral purists, firmly convinced they were saving the Fatherland from the malign influence of homosexuals, communists and Jews? Admittedly, Eagleton has plenty of company in his rank and file torpor; but shouldn’t a ‘critic’ and ‘literary theorist’ at least have read George Bernard Shaw: “Must a Christ perish in torment in every age to save those that have no imagination?”

Poor Martin Amis: apparently, virtue now requires sword thrusts through the corpse, along with the corpses of any similarly erring historical figures who come to our era’s attention. Without doubt this is an exacting standard that should supply rich fodder for many articles to come–and we should read them all. Original and imaginative Eagleton and fellow clones may not be, but they’re the last word in ethical enlightenment (it should say so on their passports, and on their tombstones for the edification of future generations).

Last edited 10 months ago by Mark Kennedy
Mark Kennedy
MK
Mark Kennedy
10 months ago

OMG! Talk about a sensibility belonging “exactly to its time and place,” this so-called critic (?) has simply internalized every bromide of his era and here re-externalizes it in the form of tedious, entirely predictable, virtue-posturing cliche, apparently without having critically examined the amalgam even once. Sad to say, taking up some other line of work would be the most effective blow he could strike against print evidence of intellectual and moral “complacency.”

Even taking into consideration the fact that self-knowledge is the hardest kind to come by, Eagleton’s obliviousness to the wisdom of “We have met the enemy and he is us” is astonishing. What cataclysm would it take to alert him to the fact that the Nazis, too, were moral purists, firmly convinced they were saving the Fatherland from the malign influence of homosexuals, communists and Jews? Admittedly, Eagleton has plenty of company in his rank and file torpor; but shouldn’t a ‘critic’ and ‘literary theorist’ at least have read George Bernard Shaw: “Must a Christ perish in torment in every age to save those that have no imagination?”

Poor Martin Amis: apparently, virtue now requires sword thrusts through the corpse, along with the corpses of any similarly erring historical figures who come to our era’s attention. Without doubt this is an exacting standard that should supply rich fodder for many articles to come–and we should read them all. Original and imaginative Eagleton and fellow clones may not be, but they’re the last word in ethical enlightenment (it should say so on their passports, and on their tombstones for the edification of future generations).

Last edited 10 months ago by Mark Kennedy
Andrew Boughton
AB
Andrew Boughton
10 months ago

Don’t know much about it, but recall an impression of the son as lightweight compared with the father. ‘The Egyptologists’ was adult and clever.

Richard Craven
RC
Richard Craven
10 months ago

… says Terry Tankie.

Richard Craven
RC
Richard Craven
10 months ago

… says Terry Tankie.

Roger Mortimer
RM
Roger Mortimer
10 months ago

What is it about Amis that even people writing about him descend to the use of sixth-form words like “equipoise”?

Catherine Conroy
CC
Catherine Conroy
11 months ago

Great article. Thank you Mr Eagleton.

Catherine Conroy
CC
Catherine Conroy
11 months ago

Great article. Thank you Mr Eagleton.