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Sunday, April 18, 2021

Martin Amis: Who Could Refute A Hundred Years of Averaging?

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It can take years before we truly understand why we like or dislike a book, as measured by the standard used in major university studies. The next question is what one can hope to say in order to help the real judge, the reader, understand why. These are the same questions that will linger for future generations, even after the author’s work has come to be assimilated into the general literature. And this can be a terrifying prospect for the author, who might have liked it thought just to be known by a book’s style or title or tautology.

… what I’ve long thought that Martin Amis’s work does do is to focus this kind of attention on the basic pleasure principle, the unexamined mystery of happiness or boredom, as a source of fixed human joy. As written in The Information, it’s a method of looking at the finite context of the finite moment in which happiness exists. The idea is that if we dwell too much in the current sensation of pleasure, we can’t keep our eyes on the vague and loving vision that is the thing that needs our understanding. That’s why he writes about the women who dress him, about the very same way he writes about Michael, in Money, as his protagonist: “he was absolutely sure of himself, satters of the word, so clear as to cast too many small spells over many living eyes, very entertaining company in general, the way you would paint a lunchbox when you did not feel like doing a self-portrait.”

… Martin Amis isn’t to be taken literally in terms of the Happy Ever After fantasy. Through pretentious prose — it is a fate to a writer not to be felt through words — he explores people’s relationships to money. The smaller figures are less consequential to a real joy than the large. “It is looking at the wisdom of money in the sixties and seventies, though, that I find myself thinking that Martin Amis’s oeuvre is incomplete,” Jay McInerney writes in his recent autobiography (written prior to Don DeLillo’s recent homage, Money.) If McInerney were a reworking of Amis, you could meet him at this argument, in Martin Amis’s prose, in the process of really paying attention. It makes you rethink your own opinion.

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