Tuesday, October 09, 2007

so to recap then: wrong and, erm, wrong

Nice to see Philip Hensher standing up for Kingsley Amis in today's Independent after the furore surrounding Terry Eagleton's re-issued book, the introduction of which he uses to have a pop at his new Manchester University colleague Martin Amis and, in slightly less restrained terms (there being no danger of libelling the dead), his father:

a racist, anti-Semitic boor, a drink-sodden, self-hating reviler of women, gays and liberals
The two books which Hensher uses to illustrate Amis' attitudes to homosexuality happen to be two that I haven't read (The Anti-Death League and The Riverside Villas Murder), and there are so few references to Jews or people of other races in the ones I have read (and it's a considerable number) that I don't feel able to comment.

The much more usual accusation levelled at Amis père is that he was a misogynist, and I must say I've never been able to see this one. There's certainly a very general misanthropy running through Amis' oeuvre, humorously so when skewering 1950s attitudes in the early ones like Lucky Jim or That Uncertain Feeling, and with a more corrosive bitterness in the later ones like Stanley And The Women or The Old Devils, but the men get it just as badly as, if not worse than, the women. Characters like Jenny Bunn in Take a Girl Like You and Difficulties With Girls or Christine in Lucky Jim are much more sympathetic than their male counterparts who are generally pompous drunken buffoons.

None of which is to suggest that Amis was anything other than a cantankerous old git, though, because he clearly was. But, for all that, there's no excuse for anyone not having read Lucky Jim, one of the greatest comic novels ever written. And anyone who's ever woken up suddenly in a strange room with a monstrous hangover will recognise the genius of this excerpt:

"Dixon was alive again. Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of the morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he'd somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad."

Eagleton also produced a famously scathing review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, which from line one commits the most fundamental of errors, an error which has also driven a whole fortnight or so of blithering on the Independent letters page (though it's taken until today for someone to invoke the Flying Spaghetti Monster) - PZ Myers calls it The Courtier's Reply. I assume the parallels are obvious.

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