Thursday, February 15, 2007

Martin Amis Lives Upstairs (or at least in the humanities building)

It's fascinating to hear that Martin Amis is to be the new Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Manchester. The new university has stated its ambitions, and this must be a sign that it means them, though one wonders how this one came to pass - coinciding as it does with his return from Uruguay - did Amis's agent tout him around or did the University wine and dine him? I suspect a bit of both. But what's more intrigueing is what is he actually going to be "professor of." I studied on the MA in creative writing there in 1997-1999, which was then four or five years into its life, created by Michael Schmidt and Richard Francis, and so unloved by the university that it wasn't even in the English department (which seemed to be mostly made up of Anglo-Saxon experts) but in American Studies. Richard left for Bath Spa, and Michael moved to MMU, taking not only himself, but quite a lot of kudos with him. Although for a couple of years after I finished I would meet fellow alumni of the University course, since 2001 or so, the only people I've met on the Manchester literary scene have come from the Writing School at MMU. The University's course had, as far as I knew, withered a little on the vine. Yet, Amis's arrival will surely require more than just a continuation of what's already gone on. I would imagine a flood of applicants - particularly from overseas. For too long English writers have been sniffy about these saw of roles, whilst universities, often happy to employ a certain kind of academic timeserver, have been sniffy about writers as somehow not "proper" intellectuals. No more, it seems. Rather than a berth for a hard-up poet, we've now got the most legendary of English writers. I hope the university gives him the support he needs (not least in fielding the much greater application postbag you might expect.) Checking on their site, they do at least have a poetry strand as well, which will be interesting. Amis, despite his father being a poet as well as a novelist, never having shown much interest here. I've his essay collection here, "The War Against Cliche", and there's Milton and Donne (that first at Oxford, remember?) but not much recent. I hope he finds time for the poets as well as the novelists; and of the novelists, avoids like a plague, those - like myself, I have to admit - who were so enraptured by his style c. "Money." It makes a lot of sense in many ways, him taking on such a role, and in Manchester as well. There's no Ladbroke Grove here; but he might wander down Stockport Road and check out the melting pot of Levenshulme. But more than that - Amis has always been serious about what he does - so like him, or loathe him, (I remain firmly in the former camp), he is a voice to be reckoned with; authoritative even when he is wrong. It's interesting that in the Guardian feature he talks about having become more right wing in being away; and finding fault with the increasing anti-Israeli, anti-American bias he finds in the UK. He's right about that - much of it's hysterical - but he might find himself a target, being here. After all, the Mancunian left is very pro-Palestine, and sees any opposition to America or Israel as an unfortunate byproduct of that belief, rather than as something to be worried about unduly. I imagine a few robust chats with Terry Eagleton in the corridors of power; though as always these professorships don't guarantee attendance. Manchester is no Ivy League campus; I doubt we'll find him in Kro2 or the Sand Bar, like his equivalents at MMU. I'm particularly intrigued - as well as jealous that he's come here so long after my own masters - because he's been more than just an indirect influence on my writing. One of my few published stories (in Main Street Journal) was a tale of literary paranoia called "Martin Amis Lives Upstairs." What was - then - a fiction, could a decade on, be something of a truth.

No comments: