Thursday, October 05, 2006

Playing "Snookers" With Martin Amis.

As of October 4, 2006 there were 103 intrusion attempts on my computer. Most frequent attacker, according to Norton Security, is (new technology allows for "appropriation" of home computers, I am told). In the event that I am unable to write, please see "What is it like to be tortured?" All posting efforts at my MSN group have been blocked as of October 6, 2006. I cannot be certain of providing new material here. I will keep trying. A great thing about America is freedom of expression. I will not allow Jersey hoodlums -- or their Internet hirelings -- to deprive me of my right to free speech. My image-posting feature is still blocked or disabled. I cannot change the photo in my profile or post new essays for now. I will continue to try to post essays at

Martin Amis, "Force of Love," in The War Against Cliche (New York: Vintage, 2001), p. 433.
Kingsley Amis, Memoirs (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991), p. 106.

"Snookers" is either darts or shooting pool (i.e., billiards). I am not sure which one. It seems that English persons of the male persuasion delight in meeting to play "snookers" in pubs. Martin Amis plays snookers. Julian Barnes and (I think) Christopher Hitchens also play this game. Will Self refuses to do so because the game is associated (by him) with members of the despised lower-portion of the upper-middle class, literary division, which must be opposed at all times in the interest of postmodernist anarchy.

Roger Scruton refuses to have anything to do with any these men or snookers, opting for fox hunting and taking aim with his trusty hunting rifle at any ruffians -- like Amis or Hitchens -- who wander on to his estates. There will always be an England.

I have arranged for an imaginary interview with Martin Amis who is visiting New York this week for no particular reason, hypothetically speaking, also "because it looks good for a British writer to visit New York and deal with business matters in a business-like way."

Amis has rented a business suit and is expected to wear it at our meeting. He is a really good writer, clean and sharp sentences fill out leisurely paragraphs. Amis is almost cruel in his observations of men's inner lives. Read the first paragraph of The Information. O.K., now read it again.

I like "Martin's" (we're in New York, where first names are always used) essays better than his novels -- which are also essayistic -- especially the essay collections The Moronic Inferno and The War Against Cliche. 

I feel just the opposite about Julian Barnes who seems (to me) to be a better novelist than essayist. I can't supply accents with this keyboard. I know about the accent in the word "cliche" but -- on principle -- I refuse to supply it. Even if I could supply accents, I wouldn't.

I regard all accents as an intolerable imposition based on class discrimination.

All words should be equally lacking in accents -- as indeed they are in lacking gender, race, or sexual-orientation. Maybe. I have my doubts concerning the sexual preference of the word "pique." The word "pique" displays a tendency to indulge in lesbianism. But then, don't we all?

Martin Amis is about my height, 5,' 8" tall; he is slim, graying, sporting a rumpled, artist-meets-Oxford-tutor "style" that is -- and is likely to remain -- all his own. He smokes; he drinks; despite his best efforts, however, he does not womanize. He is a literary "manly male." Amis is Britain's answer to Norman Mailer for a more touchy-feely generation of Anglo-American men, which includes me.

We agree to meet at a downtown bar where I drink only grape juice or Diet Coke, even as I smoke an impressive "fake" Cuban cigar. Amis is smoking a genuine -- and much more expensive -- Cuban cigar as we shake hands. We chat about politics. We compare our cigars. I think mine is better. I ask about Blair's departure. He smiles in a superior "what-fools-politicians-are" kind of a way. Since we are both tough guys, we decide to discuss our shared admiration for Jane Austen. The subject is Pride and Prejudice.

Little did we expect that Gordon Brown would "come a cropper." (They say that in Dickens' novels.)

Efforts are underway to oust Mr. Brown from Downing Street. There is widespread terror that Mr. Blair will emerge from a coffin in the basement of the Parliament building. Gordon Brown has pounded several stakes through Blair's heart -- was Gordon able to find Blair's heart? --  after spending hours denying that he wished to be Prime Minister.

Unhappily, for Labour, David Cameron has driven a single well-placed wooden stake through Mr. Brown's soft center.

Martin agrees that love is in trouble these days: "love is not quite what it was. Today love faces new struggles: against literalism, futurelessness, practicality, and nationwide condom campaigns. But maybe the old opposition, of passion and prudence, never really changes; it just sways on its axis."

Jane is a cool, shrewd observer of men and women. Bitterness and anger (both of which are understandable) sometimes flash between "Dear Miss Austen's" flawless sentences. Jane is well-aware that a woman's one concern and fragile hope in the world where she finds herself placed by providence is a "successful" marriage. There are no other issues for Jane or her friends. Love is one component of this "success." More important is the economics of a prospective match. Jane is poised between Enlightenment expectations of reason (sense) and Romantic despair at human tragedy in a time of war and crisis (sensibility). There are few acceptable men. Competition is intense. Women tell me that some things don't change. ("Master and Commander.")

Amis notes that all of Miss Austen's novels are comedies. And so they are. They are also, nearly unbearable tragedies of hope and yearning displaced by their fascinatingly mysterious -- almost Shakesperean -- author into these haunting texts that are really dreams made public by a reticent "spinster of the middle class." (W.H. Auden's phrase.)

Jane's way of hiding is to make us laugh by showing us "what fools these mortals be." (See "Frank Kermode and The Man in the Macintosh.")

Miss Austen knows that she is ridiculous for presuming to love any man or even for yearning for happiness -- which is not for the likes of her, but only for those with "ten thousand a year" and the "dark good looks of Mr. Darcy."

She lost her Mr. Darcy. Who was he? What happened? Despite the sad fantasy in Persuasion, she did not see him again. The books are masterpieces that are really bandages for gaping emotional wounds.

Does anyone really know about Austen's inner-life? I doubt it. There was nothing to see on the outside of Jane, everything in her mysterious and enchanted world was happening inside of her mental "Forest of Arden." The novels take you there, in a way, if you can read. ("Shakespeare's Black Prince.")

"Funnily enough, our hopes for Elizabeth and Darcy are egalitarian, and not avaricious, in tendency. We want love to bring about the redistribution of wealth. To inspire such a man to disinterested desire, non-profit-making desire: this is the romantic hinge."

Martin has discovered Jane's "issue" (boy, we really are in the East Village!) and her greatest wound:

"So who is to marry all the poor girls -- the poor girls, how will they 'find a husband'? How will they swerve between passion and prudence, between sensibility and sense, between love and money?"

Not for all the tea in China would Jane marry a Mr. Collins. Clearly, many of her sensible friends would and some did exactly that. Some part of Jane understands this, but can not forgive this suicide of the self in loveless marriage. ("Judith Butler and Gender Theory" and "What you will ...")

Jane chose to conjure a world where poor girls were pretty and married well. She dreams of a place where good women live happily ever after, where cruelty is "transfigured" ("it happened to the Goths!" E.M. Forster reminds us) into mere comical pretension and silly egotism --"Lady Catherine, Mr. Collins."

Martin dances around the big issue in this novel and in much of Jane's work while missing what I think is the crucial point:

" ... 'That, says Mr. Bennett is his [referring to Mr. Collins] notion of Christian forgiveness!' But what is Jane Austen's notion of [forgiveness]? We may well believe that as a Christian she forgives Lydia. But we will want to know whether as an artist she forgives her."

The answer to that question, Martin, is Northanger Abbey. Literature is forgiveness and redemption. Elizabeth Bennett is a mature Jane Austen casting a harsh glance at her earlier, romantic and silly self, as Lydia, at sixteen.

It is not Jane, as an artist, who forgives; but art that forgives Jane, for all that she has given up or lost because -- like Robert Bolt's "Thomas More" -- she "would not bend."

Jane sees, with brutal clarity, the tragic and hopeless, very foolish child that she was. She retains a dream of love and meaning that is given expression only in her books because it was clearly disappointed in her life.

Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey is an English, young and charming Don Quixote, in a self-aware, ironic and very contemporary text where some of us visit her on a regular basis. Jane Austen is, among other things, a postmodernist before the word existed in fancy "lit crit," and maybe the best writer at irony and point of view ever to take up the pen.

Now let us turn to Sterne and Meredith, comparisons anyone? I expect a ten page essay by next week. (See my essay on Gore Vidal's work.)

No more defacements? "Error" insertions?

So many women, like Lydia, have made mistakes at sixteen. Unlike men who continue to make them throughout our lives, sexual mistakes at an early point in a woman's life are often still fatal to her prospects. In Jane Austen's world they always were. This is yet another way in which women display their resilience and courage, by coping with such bullshit.

Martin and I laugh, as we exchange anecdotes about "The Hitch." It is about 2:00 A.M. as we wander through the nearly empty streets that are finally free of the ... uh, superflous people. We discuss Vidal's forthcoming memoir. One of the best reviews of Palimpsest is found in this collection by Amis. We comment on Tony Tanner's book about Jane Austen's work, also Valerie Grosvenor Myer's pleasant biography. We agree not to be intimidated by feminists claiming that Jane Austen should only be read by women, preferably lesbians, with whom one must always associate.

A writer who can only be read or understood by one gender is not a very good writer. Ernest Hemingway? No, Mickey Spillane.

We laugh during the course of the evening. We agree to exchange e-mails about Austen's Northanger Abbey. (Thank goodness, one more "error" inserted and corrected.)

Martin is staying in a hotel in Chelsea where Dylan Thomas spent some unpleasant days and nights. I am tactfully silent on the subject. We shake hands again. I wave as he disappears into the lobby of his hotel. As he enters the building, a stunning blonde emerges, giving a lingering sideways glance to the famous novelist.

For the first time this evening, I envy him.

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