Useless

True art is purposeless, says Victoria Coren. Therefore, she continues (not totally logically, but we’ll get to that), no one gets to critique Martin Amis on his politics:

The young rapscallion (60) is in trouble again, after calling for euthanasia booths where pensioners can be dispatched “with a martini and a medal”. This extreme and evidently unserious solution to what he describes as a “silver tsunami” threatening to flood the domestic coast has been written up in high dudgeon by a disapproving press, studded with furious condemnations from all the obvious places.

They are missing the point entirely, just as they do when they slam Martin Amis for making “misogynistic” or “Islamophobic” statements. He isn’t a politician, a religious leader nor even a philosopher. He’s an artist. It doesn’t matter what he says, as long as he says it beautifully. Which he always does. Never mind the content, feel the form!

The Observer, “All hail Henry Dagg – he’s a true artist”

The Henry Dagg story doesn’t really get us anywhere near to Martin Amis. Dagg’s work – an impossible, impractical sculpture delivered four years after deadline – had no political content (assuming we discount the politics of aestheticism that make a useless, pretty object so desirable to Coren). Amis’ work absolutely does. He cleaves to the modish big issues as compulsively as a newspaper columnist, only his columns come several inches thick, five years late, and with even more made up stuff.

But let’s take a look at Amis the artist’s amazing doings with words. Here he is in an interview with Tom Chatfield of Prospect magazine:

We had a ten-year holiday from this feeling (of imminent apocalypse)  in the 1990s. The nuclear cold war, then a ten-year holiday, then Islam. Islam only up to a point, one mustn’t exaggerate: the number of people killed by terrorism in the west is the same as the number of Americans who drown in the bath. […] But then again, the weather, climate change…

Prospect, “Martin Amis: the Prospect interview”

Here, “the master” before whom Coren thinks all writers should prostrate themselves deftly manages to draw an equivalence between 1. nuclear war, 3. climate change and 2. Islam. Not “Islamist terrorism”. Not even “radical Islam”. Just “Islam”, the world religion. (You could argue that he was provocatively suggesting the objects of sequential modern terrors without endorsing the fear of them – could, only you’ve almost certainly read his “The Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order” interview.)

If we were following Coren’s critical injunctions, we’d never be able to appreciate the delicate way Amis conveys his irrational fright of Islam by weighing it syntactically with potentially civilization-destroying horrors like climate change and nuclear war. You just can’t appreciate how linguistically gifted Amis is until you begin to see what gnarled little bigot he really is.

Text © Sarah Ditum, 2010