Sunday, September 23, 2007

Amis in St.Anns

I'd kind of forgotten that its a "new era" at my alma mater, University of Manchester, where a newly minted (and suddenly taken serious Creative Writing school has been established.) Martin Amis begins to earn his crust in a debate (sold out, and I'm busy anyhow) with Will Self and John Banville at St. Ann's church this evening. As an alumni of the old creative writing course, wonder if we're being written out of history, Stalinist style? Perhaps not, the events are on their website if you can find them, and I can get ready for Christmas with a further dose of Amis, this time on "Literature and Terrorism", perhaps proving that my idea for a "9/11 101" course wasn't too far fetched. It will be interesting to see what he covers. I'm always a little dubious of thematic books/courses/lectures etc. since inevitably you go hunting around for works that fit the theme, rather than necessarily what's good, what's bad. Of course, you often get a better sense of how writers are wrestling with issues from bad books as good books. Back to tonights event I'd have loved to hear what they've got to say, "literature in the 21st century", being the theme. In about 1998 I wrote an essay about the fiction writer in the 21st century, calling for more stories, more engagement with the times, more proper books, big and small, rather than the fag ends of postmodernism and the like. I suggested as well, that the era demanded the earnest Edwardians, rather than the shock of the new that would come with the modernists. In retrospect I was complaining about a literature that doesn't engage, that avoids the issues of the day, and which hides behind new orthodoxies of "literary fiction." The prediction pretty much came true, of course, from "The Life of Pi" to "White Teeth", from Michael Faber to Sarah Waters, from "The Corrections" to "Atonement", "proper novels" have been in vogue. Even David Mitchell's valid success is based upon a love of the story, a lack of obfuscation. It will be interesting to see what Amis - with a decade out of the fictional world before his more recent "Yellow Dog" and "House of Meetings" - Self, masterly in "The Book of Dave", but with a few years when his drug habits were more important than his literary habits, and Banville, belatedly given an award for "The Sea", and in many ways, the kind of post-Joyce novelist I felt whose time had gone, will think about the 21st century novelist. All of them, of course, are 20th century novelists. Will they be predicting the future? Tearing up their own books in despair at the Young Turks? Or upping the drawbridge against anything that doesn't conform to their own ideal. I hope that someone who goes feels able to post on their own blog, or in reply here.

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