Blogophobia: an irrational fear, intolerance of, or aversion to the blogosphere. Martin Amis has been accused of far worse, but after hearing him talk at RADA yesterday evening, this was the only accusation we felt it safe to lodge against him.
The offending remark came early in the evening when, during his reading from the recently published The Second Plane, Amis effectively dissed Londonist and its ilk as “semi-literate windbags of the blogosphere”. Gauntlet, thrown down. (Admittedly, the example he cites, a comment on Blair and his ties to the Bush administration, is notably cringe-worthy: “So! The poddle of Downing Street once agian feel’s the tug of his masters leish!” Eek.)
Given the considerable backstory and controversy surrounding Amis and this book, it might come as a surprise that the discussion wasn’t more contentious. The past year has seen Amis involved in a public catfight with Marxist critic Terry Eagleton, in which Eagleton compared Amis to a “British National Party thug” for the latter’s statements on Islamism and later added:
I have no idea why we should listen to novelists on these matters any more than we should listen to window cleaners.
Let’s take this argument to the schoolyard, boys.
If only the stakes weren’t so much higher than that. The Second Plane, which collects into a single volume many of those statements for which Eagleton and others decry Amis, has been greeted by largely mixed reviews and has been denounced by some for being “disturbingly bigoted” and for possessing a “strong whiff of racial prejudice”.
The conversation at RADA last night (clocking in at an hour, which led us to wonder whether Amis was getting paid £3,000 to be there) never strayed far from the familiar tropes and themes on display in The Second Plane. Indeed, “conversation” might be a misnomer, as interviewer Anthony Holden, of the Observer, did little more than propose questions to Amis, without pressing him on any particular points or challenging any of his claims.
And so the audience was basically treated to highlights of the book: questions of whether writers have a duty to engage in political thought (Amis’s response, in a word: no); his objection to the use of the epithet 9/11 to refer to September 11 (the former is a “glib, lifeless Americanism”); difficulties with ideology (“indefensible by the mind alone”) and religion (“the trouble with God is he’s a bloke”); whether, as a writer, whose role it is to engage with the Other, he could empathise with jihadists (his retort: “it strains my imagination to a twang”); and his appeal that Islamism be considered troublesome if from no other angle than that of feminism.
Whether one agrees or disagrees with Amis (and there are plenty of reasons to find his opinions problematic), we found ourselves reflecting that much of what can be found objectionable in his statements may also be said to embody the plentiful contradictions with which the West grapples following September 11. We may be letting him off the hook a bit, but in the end, we suppose we were just grateful to have Amis contributing to the dialogue.
However, we really do take issue with the anti-blogger slur. Martin, shall we settle this in the schoolyard?