Thursday, March 24, 2005

Zut alors !

From The Martin Amis Web

[Site manager's note: I encouraged Peg Eby-Jager to submit her account of the April 20 2004 Amis-Hitchens appearance at UCLA after reading an early draft written shortly after the event. In her own words, Peg Eby-Jager "has been a habitué of author-talk venues for ten years, a librarian for twenty and an avid reader for forty." Although she added that "she only recently read Martin Amis," her acute perceptions and discriminating judgments deserve a wide audience. Her essay is divided into five sections, linked by navigation buttons to the left on this page and at the end of each section on subsequent pages].

Reading Martin Amis I

Strange conection between this and previous 4 pages. It includes 'fellow panelists Robert Conquest and Simon Sebag Montefiore' who I didn't notice mentioned at the beginning?! The debate is nonetheless fascinating.

[1] Fun to watch/listen to /read writers with massive egos slagging each other and rival writing off. In this case a writer who started off apolitical, then tried politics in his novels and failed, talking to a 'former'-Trotskyite, renowned for debunking TV documentary on Mother Teresa, made long after the famous documentary on her by Malcolm Muggeridge, in which fault in film print Muggeridge insisted was angelic halo, divine presence et cetera, et al. And there, St. Mugg., a man who said TV was lies! Well yes, but only because people chose to film man opening door, stop shooting, move camera inside, re-shoot door opening....

[2] The talk of Stalin has strange parallels with writer's world. An attempt to formulate something along those line fizzled out but you get the idea: Dacha, Stalin, evening, vodka, pipe smoke, lists, the ticking of...writers acting like God with their words which are a world of specific creation. They believe they alone control their words, yet when read something else happens [see quotes in previous post] writers go to inordinate lengths, sometimes, to defend the words they have created when others can see the defences are suspect...

Other notes, which will be appended and amended later, included:

* 'report' of a meeting: also a fiction. Every report loses something with the reporting, like the retelling loses the dream. Pitty no snippets of dialogue scribbled down...

** It is interesting to see their views on Stalin. A recent docu-drama on Stalin's last hours by Simon Sebag Montefiore, on BBC TV, gave a hint of some of the things these people were discussing: the idea that Stalin's subordinates did not believe he was capable of organising the Terror, hints at the perpetual waiting, waiting. In the same way as the Berias of this world, we can see a good writer waiting for the better writer to pass away or give up writing, while at the same time the top man doing his best to 'torture', 'obtain confessions', 'imprison' and 'kill' his lesser writerly foes by using yet more words.

[25 march 05]
And, of course, Hitchins - his ways now 'mended' - a man who, one imagines, (was it he I sat beside at that strange party in South Ken. in the late 60s, when first went out with that French girl who later became my wife?} might have spent many a drug- fuelled evening in the Swinging 60s on a downward dialectical spiral. I wonder who the bright spark was who mentioned Koestler's, Darkness at Noon and how loud the shouting down...

[25 March 05]
Noel Annan, Our Age, p. 214

(What is it then that makes Waugh a deviant in the history of our culture? Not surelt that he was a man of the right, an apologist for Mussolini and Franco, who despised parliamentary politics.} After all, the generation before his, Proust, Mann, Joyce, Lawrence, Yeats, Shaw and T.S. Eliot, despised democracy.

This book needs re-reading. If you have never read Our Age, it is a must, on the lists of books to read or not.

The theme of the novelist and his beliefs is one I need to return to. It reminds me of Michael Harrington's Accidental Century, for some reason: conjuring up the words decadence, ennui, accidie. Even if his thesis is no longer relevant, Harrington is must: no quicker way to bone up on certain areas of the scoiology of literature. Mann is comprehensively covered, for example.

After much aggravation I find my disintegrating paperback copy to find it spliced by a dozen blue book marks: p. 53 Hetaera Esmerelda in Dr.Faustus. So, do novelists try a bit of mimicry (in their lives or in their work?) when the chips are down?

*** Suggestion that Stalin was well read seems incomprehensible set side by side with his control by killing. And yet and yet....think of the western writers like Bernard Shaw who said everything in Russia was hunky-dory, going along with Webbs et al, returning to say had seen the future. Did he write any plays or fiction following his trip to Russia?

Coming immediately to mind is how Amis turned towards apocalyptic themes (and how he got it so wrong...) after many apolical bnovels. And now (have I got this right?) is aguing for the demise of the novel...he was in central America recently according to my newspaper doing a piece on the downtrodden...

**** Image (again): Dacha outside Moscow: study. Desk, lamp, tobacco smoke, arbitrary ticking of names on lists. Many of these condemned he didn't even know! Suddenly it becomes what a a few writers attempt: complete control over every word on the page turns into a feeling of omnipotence. Delusions and illusions.

**** Did nothing Stalin read (Tolstoy, Dostoevsky? Classic literature? ) tell him it would all end in tears? No amount of killing and torturing to maintain leadership would amount to a string of beans in the eyes of history. Or did it work this way: history didn't matter. He wanted - had - to stay on top [as all gangsters do... caught in a trap of own making..] and knew that unless he killed and killed and killed, someone in his entourage would recognise they were more ruthless and get the courage to take over? Perhaps some writers keep on writing not because they have something new or special to say - or need the money - but to grind other writer down...we tend to assume writng adds to the richness of the culture....


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