Saturday, September 9

Reading between football contests

Mahfouz: A calm voice of dissent
Mahfouz's Nobel lecture
Flaubert: A Biography
Foucault the Neohumanist?
Donald Barthelme's Syllabus
What I Did at Summer Writers’ Camp
Saunders: The Cats of 9/11
Amis: The Age of Horrorism

3 comments:

LTS said...

Good stuff (in the midst of an ugly win)...

Anyway, I hope we all get to discuss some of these very thoughtfully selected links.

For starters, there is a lot one might say about Amis's 'trenchant critique of the grotesque creed [of extreme Islamism],' but certainly standing out in light of some recent Book-Loop comments was this one formula of his: 'militant irony...is what satire is.'

And to my surprise, so it is--or at least should be, if it is to transcend sheer pettiness--and with potentially interesting implications, given my understanding of the word 'militant.'

This idea is especially intriguing when contrasted with the horrible pragmatism of, in this case, Islamic militancy. One can conclude from the essay that Amis conceives of nearly every phenomena in literary terms (and thus the excerpts from Nabokov, Updike, Mailer, Larkin, and Conrad), and yet it seems even to him that the literary mode of satire 'shrivels and dies' in the face of a 'total malignancy' such as extreme Islamism (and why should any other literary mode be different?).

In connection with this, he refers to a wave of 'boredom' that is sweeping the West, but it seems more fair to characterize it as an impotency. This 'boredom,' as Amis conceives it, has to do chiefly with 'the global confrontation with the dependent mind,' and as he would seem to argue, the futility of that confrontation. Of course, futility is insured if one refuses to engage with one's opponents on terms that they can and will acknowledge--hence the supreme importance of rhetoric to great statesmanship, according to such serious thinkers on the subject as Leo Strauss. Unfortunately, the defining characteristic of Amis's attitude throughout the essay is precisely his relentless antagonism towards everything that is in any way touched on by religion, revelation, or for that matter, any sort of overt ideology, which of course only differs from Amis's own latent ideologies in its singularity, intensity, and commitment, not its nature.

Or so I'd contend. Even then, I cannot deny that rhetoric must have its limits, but if the confrontation is truly between 'minds,' I can see no better weapon. Instead, Amis's conclusion seems to verge on a tacit justification for what are sometimes called 'more extreme measures,' i.e., when carefully chosen words just won't do, when 'a measure of impatience' must be allowed for. I'm not saying that in desperation I haven't expressed similar sentiments, but surely we can come up with a better justification than an old Larkin poem about a country church.

Anyway, the essay did little to change my conception of Mr. Amis or of the issues involved, and yet it is always interesting to see the new ways people have found to probe the same questions and new attempts at reframing old debates. (And, Ben, I know you loved the partial glimpse into the writing process and one writer's experience conceiving, developing, and eventually abandoning a work.)

Anyway, thanks, again, and I'd be curious to know if any of the other links resonate especially with anyone.

LTS said...

Oh, and as for, "Foucault the Neohumanist?," I can only answer that question with another question:

"Neohumanist the Foucault?"

(You see, as far as I'm concerned, the one is just as significant as the other. Or perhaps, Ben, you see some way of enlightening me.)

LTS said...

(Going for the hat trick...)

Author of the Times Literary Supplement book review: (if it is the Victor Brombert) none other than my favorite professor from college (and one of the few I even bother to remember).

A truly great and beautiful man, to whom I owe my introduction to Gogol, Tolstoy, Kafka, Mann, Eliot, Frisch, Bassani, and others.

That is, if he is the Victor Brombert.