Thursday, February 09, 2006

Martin Amis

Like open bags of candy that you dip your hand into each time you walk by. I’m talking about Martin Amis’ essay collections; I bought one set for home and one for work. There are three books in all—"The War Against Cliché", "Visiting Mrs. Nabokov And Other Excursions", and "The Moronic Inferno". I read only a few paragraphs at a time (can’t bear to exhaust them too soon) but have been dipping into them daily for several weeks now. There are essays here on literature, politics, culture, music, film, sports, damn-near-everything. I thought I’d slap a couple of brief passages up here, one on a British poet and the other on "the fillet of the crime genre" (as Jeff Daniels patronized him in "The Squid And The Whale").

Philip Larkin was not an inescapable presence in America, as he was in England; and to some extent you can see America’s point. His Englishness was so desolate and inhospitable that even the English were scandalized by it. Certainly, you won’t find his work on the Personal Growth or Self-Improvement shelves in your local bookstore. “Get out as early as you can," as he once put it. “And don’t have any kids yourself.”

All his values and attitudes were utterly, even fanatically “negative". He really was “anti-life"—a condition that many are accused of but few achieve. To put it at its harshest, you could say that there is in his ethos a vein of spiritual poverty, almost of spiritual squalor. Along with John Betjeman, he was England’s best-loved postwar poet; but he didn’t love postwar England, or anything else. He didn’t love—end of story—because love seemed derisory when set against death. “The past is past and the future neuter"; “Life is first boredom, then fear". . .That these elements should have produced a corpus full of truth, beauty, instruction, delight—and much wincing humour—is one of the many of great retrievals wrought by irony. Everything about Larkin rests on irony, that English speciality and vice.

[on Elmore Leonard]: [He] possesses gifts—of ear and eye, of timing and phrasing—that even the most snobbish masters of the mainstream must vigorously covet. And the question is: how does he allow these gifts play, in his efficient, unpretentious and (delightfully) similar yarns about semiliterate hustlers, mobsters, go-go dancers, cocktail waitresses, loan sharks, bounty hunters, blackmailers and syndicate executioners? My answer may sound reductive, but here goes: the essence of Elmore is to be found in his use of the present participle.

What this means, in effect, is that he has discovered a way of slowing down and suspending the English sentence—or let’s say the American sentence, because Mr. Leonard is as American as jazz. Instead of writing “Warren Ganz III lived up in Manalapan, Palm Beach County”, Mr. Leonard writes: “Warren Ganz III, living up in Manalapan, Palm Beach County." He writes, "Bobby saying", and then opens quotes. He writes, “Dawn saying”, and then opens quotes. We are not in the imperfect tense (Dawn was saying) or the present (Dawn says) or the historic present (Dawn said). We are in a kind of marijuana tense (Dawn saying), creamy, wandering, weak-verbed. Such sentences seem to open up a lag in time, through which Mr. Leonard easily slides, gaining entry to his players' hidden minds.

More: The New York Times archive page on Martin Amis; An interview with Robert Birnbaum; A Tingle Alley reference to his Nabokov worship.

41 Comments:

Blogger girish said...

My mom's pretty darn cool, but...dragging her son along to meet Russ Meyer? Sorry I can't compete.

February 09, 2006 8:03 PM  
Blogger girish said...

CODE UNKNOWN blog-a-thon so far includes ten:
Flickhead, Darren, David, Zach, Eric, Doug Cummings, Matt C., Dennis, Michael, and me.
Pl. let me know if I inadvertently left anyone out.

February 09, 2006 8:13 PM  
Blogger girish said...

I haven't read a word of Amis' fiction.

February 09, 2006 8:19 PM  
Blogger girish said...

There's been so much writing on The New World (Zach's the latest to catch the film) that I have no excuse to not make time to go see it.

February 09, 2006 8:24 PM  
Anonymous Filmbrain said...

Are you familiar with Philip Larkin's book All What Jazz?? You must get a copy -- it's a collection of his jazz reviews for the Daily Telegraph (1961-71).

Never have I enjoyed reading something this disagreeable. Larkin really didn't like jazz, at least anything non-white, or non-big-band. He had no use for be-bop, and his attempts at discussing jazz roots are embarrassing. Yet the man is a poet, and the book makes for an endlessly fascinating and beautiful read, even as he tears into Bird, Miles, Diz, etc. I've never come across anything even remotely like it.

As for Amis -- you need to read some of his fiction. Couldn't even tell you where to begin. Money? London Fields? Time's Arrow?

February 09, 2006 10:12 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Wow, Larkin wrote about jazz? I had no idea!
I'll order the book tonight. No, right now...
Thanks for the tips, Filmbrain. Very much appreciated.

February 09, 2006 10:21 PM  
Blogger Eric Henderson said...

Whoa! I was literally two seconds away from posting my Code Unknown post until I double-checked the date below. (To clarify: my really undercooked entry on Code Unknown, but hey, someone has to bring up the rear in critical perspicacity.)

Oh well, at least I know it's ready come Monday

February 10, 2006 3:28 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

I'm still on the fence about the blog-a-thon, as life feels awfully busy for me right now. But I'll let you know if I finally pop my Haneke cherry with this film on Monday (if I do it might well be late in the day).

February 10, 2006 3:52 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Eric--Re: "bringing up the rear in critical perspicacity", I'll believe it when I see it! :-)

Sounds good, Brian. Let's play it loose.

Filmbrain, I picked up the Larkin book of jazz reviews. Thank you.

February 10, 2006 7:13 AM  
Blogger girish said...

More from Gabe Klinger in Rotterdam, at Zach's place.

February 10, 2006 7:20 AM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

Girish: I saw The New World last week and am glad I caught it on the semi-big screen of the Regal South Beach 18. I'll have to check if Cache is still playing as art and indie films usually zip in and out here. Thanks for the mention of me, my mom and R.M.

February 10, 2006 8:08 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Oh you're most welcome, Peter.

Re: CODE UNKNOWN, since we'll have West Coasters (and mid-coasters like Eric), not to mention work-related constraints, can we say *anytime* Monday, even if it's super-early? I think it might help to be flexible on the time.

February 10, 2006 8:20 AM  
Blogger girish said...

I didn't realize that the Antonioni doc, Eye To Eye, was on the Eros DVD.

February 10, 2006 8:25 AM  
Blogger Dennis Cozzalio said...

I must admit, I'm kind of relieved to find out I won't be the only one writing about Code Unknown who has yet to see a Haneke film (thanks, Brian!) I look forward to the challenge though. Life has been busy for me too this week, so much so that I haven't even unspooled (how's that for a quaint reference?) the movie yet, but I intend to tonight. My impressions ought to still really be dripping wet by Monday morning. And Eric, forgive me if I take that seat at the back of the critical bus for myself on this one-- I seriously doubt you'll deserve it!

February 10, 2006 12:34 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Filmbrain on the Rivette Story of Marie and Julien DVD.
I've never seen the Bogdanovich Rivette singled out (At Long Last Love) but the Cole Porter connection interests me. Also, Cybill Shepherd did a standards record around this time, I believe, with Porter's music on it, that I've never heard but have been curious about.

February 10, 2006 12:39 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Flickhead's chompin' at the bit.

February 10, 2006 12:50 PM  
Anonymous Michael said...

Girish, I've never read a word of Amis's fiction, either, nor have I seen The New World yet (but I must see it while it's in the theaters to get the big-screen experience).

For Code Unknown, I'd say anytime Monday is fine as well (if we go about it that way, mine might not appear until roughly 11 A.M. eastern time, but there's still a chance it'll be up earlier than that).

Dennis, Code Unknown is also my first introduction to Haneke (loved the film, by the way). And I understand how life can interrupt; I haven't even begun writing my blog-a-thon post yet, and given that I can never say anything in less than about a billion words, I better get on it soon!

February 10, 2006 12:53 PM  
Anonymous Filmbrain said...

At Long Last Love is a tough film to love. Listening to Burt Reynolds butchering Cole Porter tunes can be painful, but the film's heart is in the right place. Would kill to get my hands on this again. . .

As for Monday -- I watched CU again this week, but have yet to come up with something original to write about. (Or perhaps I'm wrong in assuming what everybody else will write about.)

February 10, 2006 1:03 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Michael (and other West Coasters)--Just my opinion here, but you should feel free to post before you go to bed on Sunday night if that's more convenient for you.
That way, your posts will be waiting for us all to read when we wake up. :-)

February 10, 2006 1:05 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Burt Reynolds doing Cole Porter? Yikes!

Filmbrain--Just so you know, I'm confident that not a thing I have to say about the Haneke film will be original.
But it'll be fun to say it to and with a bunch of fellow enthusiasts anyway.
And I suspect we might have some interesting comments discussions on our blogs too.
I think that, as in Showgirls, we'll surprise each other by having, each one of us, our own slightly unique and different angle of entry into the film, which should make it interesting and fun.

February 10, 2006 1:11 PM  
Anonymous Michael said...

Girish, that's a good idea about posting Sunday night (that was my original intent, but then I thought about maybe putting it up Monday morning after reading your earlier comments about posting anytime on Monday). So, most likely Sunday night for me.

And I think I feel the way others do here; I'm not certain about my level of originality in thinking about this film, but I believe we'll all have our own interesting personal perspectives. It'll be fun.

February 10, 2006 1:27 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Jen points us to a cool Jonas Mekas entry. And I so agree: his Movie Journal has got to be one of the great proto-blogs.
I posted an entry from it a year or two ago.

February 10, 2006 2:32 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Jeez that was a long while ago.
I actually declare in the post, with embarrassingly straight-faced seriousness...."I love movies." Yeesh.

February 10, 2006 2:36 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Oh, that's something you just gotta say once in a while, girish.

I love movies too.

February 10, 2006 3:27 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

And that's a great rant you grabbed, girish. I bought Movie Journal for four bucks at a library book sale last year and it's four of the best dollars I've ever spent in recent memory.

February 10, 2006 3:31 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Okay, Brian, I don't feel quite so dorky, then.
And I picked up that fabulous Mekas book used too--all yellowed and creased. And if a book could be said to have cigarette breath, this one did...

February 10, 2006 4:28 PM  
Anonymous j said...

G & Brian, you guys are so funny. I like how sincere you are, and I'm glad that you have read Movie Journal too! Jonas Mekas is just the most rad. Sometimes I see him walking around Greenpoint . . .

February 10, 2006 4:44 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Ah the pleasures of living of New York, that I've only heard about.

February 10, 2006 4:57 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

I love movies too.

February 10, 2006 5:08 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Down with cool detachment.
Up with shameless sincerity.

February 10, 2006 5:11 PM  
Anonymous dvd said...

I'm about a paragraph into my Code Unknown post. I'm going out of town for the weekend, but I still should have the piece up on Monday morning...I can finish writing it on the plane, upload it when I get home at 8am! Having never seen the film before, I really wish I'd had time to watch it twice before writing about it

February 10, 2006 6:47 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

ok... I love movies too!

February 10, 2006 7:47 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Jaime Weinman analyzes a Daffy Duck cartoon--in detail.

February 11, 2006 4:50 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Great workplace-related post at Quiet Bubble.

February 11, 2006 4:52 PM  
Blogger girish said...

The sound of keyboards quietly tapping away.

February 11, 2006 4:56 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Interview with Matt Zoller Seitz at Filmmaker magazine.

February 11, 2006 5:18 PM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

On the blog-a-thon: Matt and I have our entries up. Sorry mine is so early but it really would have been not-so-convenient for me to post tomorrow ...

February 12, 2006 10:05 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks for the heads-up, Zach.
Please don't apologize: our goal should be flexiblity and accommodation, not rote rigidity!

February 12, 2006 10:13 PM  
Blogger Campaspe said...

Martin Amis is a great fiction writer as well. Masterpiece: Money. Great: London Fields. Pretty darn good: Time's Arrow, The Information.

I am disappointed I couldn't make the blog-a-thon but I hadn't seen the movie. I just saw Cache on Valentine's Day. I think I liked it a bit better than Mr. Campaspe. If he can come up with something I may have him guest for the Abel Ferrara in March.

February 16, 2006 7:47 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Campaspe, thanks for the Martin Amis recommendations! Much appreciated...
And Mr. Campaspe as guest-blogger is an awesome idea.
(Perhaps the post could be a conversation between the two of you about the film--one for, one against) :-)

February 16, 2006 10:20 PM  
Anonymous Jack Wright said...

Thank you very much for the tip on Larkin's jazz writing - I have read most of the jazz critic/potentate/usual suspects: Gary Giddins, Nat Hentoff, Martin Williams, Marshall Stearns, Ira Gitler, Andre Hodier, et al, but have never read Philip Larkin on the subject. I will. As for Amis' essays, they have always had more influence on me than his fiction, and I have often wondered why. I am still deciding, but I suspect it has something to do with his not being intimidated by the Gore Vidals and John Updikes he interviews and with getting less of "The Martin Amis Worldview" than one does in his fiction.

February 19, 2006 6:00 PM  

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