Thursday, October 04, 2007

In Praise of Amises

It is with a sigh that I read that Terry Eagleton has criticised the Amises in his new book, according to the Independent, via Ready Steady Book. This is all 2nd and 3rd hand of course, and Terry's an old hand at self-promotion for his somewhat endless stream of books, yet there's something disconcerting of this Marxist critics continued criticising of writers, in the case of both Kingsley and Martin Amis, for their politics (and personal life), rather than their books. But of course, Eagleton's take on literary criticism always seems to be pop-cultural lite, leaving the book at the door as soon as he can, and then going on about his same old tropes. I'm far more interested in Kingsley Amis than I ever will be in Terry Eagleton, and the description of him as "a racist, anti-Semitic boor, a drink-sodden, self-hating reviler of women, gays and liberals" doesn't ring true from what I've read. Its a reductionist reading, partly of a (deliberate) persona, and partly retrofitting contemporary mores to earlier times. Yet, I can only defend the books, not the man, and they have far more humanity, and humour, than this preposterous description would admit. Yes, "Stanley and the Women" is a misanthropic piece, but its one of his very worst novels as a result. As for Martin, it should be obvious that his politics are the least interesting part of him; somehow he needs the big threat, the big subject, to kickstart the baroque satires of his best fiction. Our interest in both father and son is for their writing, primarily their fiction. Eagleton, 9 books this decade and counting, doesn't interest me in the slightest. A quote from Eagleton's Manchester University profile reads "'Pure' literary theory - Formalism, semiotics, hermeneutics, narratatology, psychoanalysis, reception theory, phenomenology and the like - have taken something of a back seat these days to a more narrowly conceived theoretical agenda, so it would be agreeable to see a resurgence of interest in these regions." Not sure what that keen Grammarian, Kingsley, would have thought of these being called "regions" (like the North West or the Midlands perhaps?), but its the "agreeable" I like. I was lucky enough to avoid theory during my university literature career, and actually read the books, not the meta-texts about the books. It still seems the only correct approach.

No comments: