Friday, September 15, 2006

Martin Amis seems to be drinking too much neocon Kool-Aid

Good social satire is a kind of high-wire act and requires a mental gymnast's sense of balance. A certain native misanthropy is probably essential to the satirist's makeup, but it needs to be balanced with enough wit and lightness of touch to produce an entertaining result. This balance is hard to maintain, which may be one reason so many satirical novelists tend to fall off the high wire as they age. Either they lose their bite and meander off into facile irrelevance, or they lose the facility and end up as ranting old misanthropes -- like Kingsley Amis and now, apparently, his son Martin. Or maybe the younger Amis has just been drinking too much neocon Kool-Aid with his buddy Chris Hitchens.

His recent anti-Islamic rant in the Observer makes explicit his dislike for a religion that was only lurking in the background of "The Last Days of Muhammad Atta," the story I posted about here and here. (In all fairness, he does express a dislike for all religions, but clearly Islam is first among equals in this respect.) He titles the 3-part article "The Age of Horrorism" (Islamic terrorism is apparently so evil that it requires a whole new word of its own).
Suicide-mass murder is more than terrorism: it is horrorism. It is a maximum malevolence. The suicide-mass murderer asks his prospective victims to contemplate their fellow human being with a completely new order of execration. It is not like looking down the barrel of a gun.
Amis, as it turns out, has experienced this "maximum malevolence" himself. He saw it in a Muslim's eyes once. Really.
I will never forget the look on the gatekeeper's face, at the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, when I suggested, perhaps rather airily, that he skip some calendric prohibition and let me in anyway. His expression, previously cordial and cold, became a mask; and the mask was saying that killing me, my wife, and my children was something for which he now had warrant. I knew then that the phrase 'deeply religious' was a grave abuse of that adverb. Something isn't deep just because it's all that is there; it is more like a varnish on a vacuum. Millennial Islamism is an ideology superimposed upon a religion - illusion upon illusion. It is not merely violent in tendency. Violence is all that is there.
I guess that's why novelists make the big bucks -- they can discern so much in a mere glance.

The entire piece is constructed as a long, convoluted disquisition on why "Islamism" has made it impossible for him to finish his satirical novella about horrorism, "The Unknown Known" -- because, you see, Islamism has made his form of satire "shrivel and die." Because of, you know, the horror.
I could write a piece almost as long as this one about why I abandoned The Unknown Known. The confirmatory moment came a few weeks ago: the freshly fortified suspicion that there exists on our planet a kind of human being who will become a Muslim in order to pursue suicide-mass murder. For quite a time I have felt that Islamism was trying to poison the world. Here was a sign that the poison might take - might mutate, like bird flu. Islam, as I said, is a total system, and like all such it is eerily amenable to satire. But with Islamism, with total malignancy, with total terror and total boredom, irony, even militant irony (which is what satire is), merely shrivels and dies.
You've got to say that, as an explanation for writer's block or even flagging novelistic powers, this certainly goes far beyond "the dog ate my homework" and is really breathtaking in its audacity.

If you're masochistic enough to take on the whole thing, follow the links above. If you're looking for a comprehensive analysis and deconstruction of the sources Amis uses in his rant, you might try this at Lenin's Tomb.

1 comment:

BabakTheOldSport said...

gr8 piece. I enjoyed it.