A BAD NOVEL WITHIN THE BAD NOVEL OF THE PLAGUE YEAR: A REVIEW and WARNING

Art-Making is a compulsion, when it is pure, and maybe that’s regrettable, but who are we to complain when the results can do so much to amplify the pleasures of existence? It’s my theory that you can judge the purity (the genuineness) of Art-Making according to the extent to which it’s accompanied by the parallel (perhaps also regrettable) compulsion of Truth-Telling.

Great Art is an aestheticized Truth-Telling and Lie-Telling “Art” (a lá Disney) is not really Art at all but high craft at its best. So much of the greatness is in the capital-T “Truth”.

But there’s the problem: Lie-Telling “Art” (a lá Disney) is the most lucrative, dominant,  kind. Compulsively Truth-Telling, Art-Making people are going through a bit of a bad patch, Now, ever since the worst part of the ’80s stamped out the best part of the ’70s. Leaving us with the viciously self-satirizing late early-21st century. With its bizarre apparent (recently acquired) inability to define “Art” or “Truth” or “Fascist” or  “Bullshit” or any number of important words. I’m going to critique a piece of attempted Art-Making, in this essay, that attempts also to address questions of Art while ignoring (or misrepresenting)  the meaning of “Fascist,” and the importance of “Truth,” while conveniently skirting the question of to what extent the attempted Art-Making’s author, himself,  is a purveyor of “Bullshit”. I won’t be skirting that question.

I’m going to critique a piece of attempted Art-Making in this essay and I should stick to that aim, so I will not mention the C-word. I will not. But…

Nearly the worst thing about the C-word is trying not to talk about the C-word, or, that is, trying to avoid filling half the day with discussions of every day’s worth of  Neo Medieval, C-word related absurdities. Life has become a C-word pantomime that we are strongly cautioned to humor as though the police are preschoolers and if you don’t do a good job of pretending to be afraid of the C-word witch or dragon, they’ll crack you with their truncheons and give you a vindictive, lunch-money-depleting  fine. Are the police preschoolers or do they think we are?  Though many of us are. Especially the smug-looking,  blue-haired crones with vertical visors strapped to their heads.

“Excuse me, smug-looking, blue-haired crone!” you feel compelled to shout and wave, “How are you expecting to protect yourself from an imaginary, hypothetically-lethal, microns-sized airborne pathogen, wielding an open-sided visor less effective than a salad bar’s sneeze-guard  as your only shield?”

Yes, and, speaking of which, there’s supposedly a C-word plague raging across most of the Facebook-accessible nations of the planet and all the salad bars that I’m aware of are still providing salad. How would an open public container of meats, beans, cheeses, beets, diced tomatoes,  cucumbers and leafy greens, manipulated with shared tongs and scoopers, be allowed in the event of an actual C-word plague? Are the C-word pathogens supposedly only infectious horizontally, at a certain height and velocity, yet harmless to inhale or ingest as they drift like spores from a dandelion; harmless to the touch on every goddamn surface they would obviously be coating?  Oh, never mind.

Sick as I was of having my intelligence insulted by all this (When AIDS was a thing, were the authorities forced to threaten to fine people for bare-backing bisexual intravenous drug users? No: because the supposed “plague” was plausible that time: you knew people who’d caught it, you saw people dying in a strange new way and that frightened you;  it scared me off intercourse for two or three years; nobody is dying a strange new way with the re-purposed Flu) , I did something foolish and walked across town and bought a brand new Novel.

2.

Picture me trying to grunt and wince my way through Martin Amis’ latest endurance test, INSIDE STORY,  a book I actually paid cash money for (before They ban cash as too “erm, unhygienic”)  because, despite reading blatantly payola-greased “reviews” of Martin’s latest sweat-drenched effort, I thought it seemed that a return to a subject he understood and genuinely cared about (his own youth) would revitalize the writing. I thought perhaps little Martin might even try to have a go at some Truth-Telling, these days, as he enters his 70s (looking to be in his 80s) and the sobering shadow of the monolith signposting his Exit falls across the writing-page.

I (and Martin Amis) should have known better.

First off:  Truth-Telling is not what Novelists with serious publishing contracts jeopardize their livelihoods with in the late early 21st century.  Secondly:  even with the noblest of goals illuminating the author’s soul, writing autobiographical fiction is a terribly (terribly) difficult chore. I’d rather juggle chainsaws and gladioli. Four out of five times I set out to blend autobiography with fiction, I am forced to concede and abandon the effort. I once started, completed and revised three wholly fiction-driven and functioning novels while a fourth, bioFiction-freighted thing, which I’d started before the other three,  gasped and struggled and dies a gill-flapping death. I can still hear it in the back of that figurative desk-drawer.

You try to beat the messy random message-free facts of your life into a fetching, rational, allegorical shape and you end up losing perspective on just how much of it (that may have seemed exciting to you at the time) is as uninteresting as someone else’s unfinished soup. Martin’s INSIDE STORY is a heavily-autobiographical novel that occasionally gets coyly pseudo-meta-texty by changing bits and pieces of the truth, here and there, into superfluous inventions. The first lesson of any fiction (or song-writing) course should involve the teacher asking the students to ask themselves why anyone else should be interested in reading or hearing the result of their efforts.  We know why you’re interested in what you’re creating, but why should anyone else be?

Not only are the stingy, carefully-clenched flights of fictive fancy in INSIDE STORY of little interest, but they are irritatingly confusing when Martin names most of his characters as they are named in real life, yet gives other characters, who are just as drawn from real life as the others, fake names, rendering it very difficult to keep track of these people: you know Amis’ second wife is named Isabel, so who is this “Elena” who keeps popping up? Ah, that’s right: it’s Isabel, who bumps right up against the factually-named Saul Bellow in her guise as “Elena”. Amis’ wife becomes two characters, subliminally,  and part of your (or at least this reader’s) consciousness is irritated about being taxed with handling the tracking of these translations. Why is Martin giving me extra (trivial) work to do as a reader/decoder of his novel? Why am I tapping my foot and glancing at my watch and fuming after accepting Martin’s invitation to meet his Janus-named wife?

Ditto with Amis’ Janus-named kids and siblings. I suppose you had to be name-drop-worthy (and un-libeled) to keep your actual name in this semi-Autobiographical text, but the wiser route with such hybrid (or “fusion”) texts is to come up with compelling and shapely streams of well-crafted Story, synchronize them meaningfully and leaven the results with tantalizing chunks, or stabilizing rivets, here and there, of Autobiography. Carefully-rationed amounts of the stuff. Dispersed sparingly.

It’s a question of proportion as surely as it would be in baking a cake. Why? Because Real Life is a shitty (shitty) Writer and you steal too thoroughly from such a hack at your own authorial risk. Real Life writes boring stuff, largely, and Martin’s INSIDE STORY is largely boring. And just try baking a cake with fifteen times the standard volume of flour and half the recommended number of eggs.  Frost liberally and serve.

3.

Ah, but wait. In the middle of attempting to write this critique of Martin Amis’ latest doggedly oblivious attempt at Art-Making, I happened to read the following (below)  on a website identifying itself as representing the goals and beliefs of the World Economic Forum.

The World Economic Forum was founded by a German Plutocrat called Klaus Schwab. Schwab (who talks like a Bond villain crossed with Elmer Fudd) is a powerful and influential chum of the even more powerful and influential (there is something quite telling in the fact that any given person’s “power and influence” are pegged directly to the money they have, no? We live in a society in which a vast fortune functions as a Universal Default Qualification) Bill Gates. Schwab has been quite chatty, lately, in panels and forums and global summits, propounding his passionate feeling that the C-Word Plague is an amazingly convenient excuse/ opportunity/ alibi for something Schwab, with pants-peeing excitement,  calls The Great Reset. So bear that catchphrase in mind as you read this excerpt of what I read at Schwab’s WEF website in the middle of this attempted book-review (emphases mine):

Welcome to the year 2030. Welcome to my city – or should I say, “our city”. I don’t own anything. I don’t own a car. I don’t own a house. I don’t own any appliances or any clothes.

It might seem odd to you, but it makes perfect sense for us in this city. Everything you considered a product, has now become a service. We have access to transportation, accommodation, food and all the things we need in our daily lives. One by one all these things became free, so it ended up not making sense for us to own much.

First communication became digitized and free to everyone. Then, when clean energy became free, things started to move quickly. Transportation dropped dramatically in price. It made no sense for us to own cars anymore, because we could call a driverless vehicle or a flying car for longer journeys within minutes. We started transporting ourselves in a much more organized and coordinated way when public transport became easier, quicker and more convenient than the car. Now I can hardly believe that we accepted congestion and traffic jams, not to mention the air pollution from combustion engines. What were we thinking?

Sometimes I use my bike when I go to see some of my friends. I enjoy the exercise and the ride. It kind of gets the soul to come along on the journey. Funny how some things seem never seem to lose their excitement: walking, biking, cooking, drawing and growing plants. It makes perfect sense and reminds us of how our culture emerged out of a close relationship with nature.

In our city we don’t pay any rent, because someone else is using our free space whenever we do not need it. My living room is used for business meetings when I am not there.

Once in awhile, I will choose to cook for myself. It is easy – the necessary kitchen equipment is delivered at my door within minutes. Since transport became free, we stopped having all those things stuffed into our home. Why keep a pasta-maker and a crepe cooker crammed into our cupboards? We can just order them when we need them.

Oh, don’t worry. These are just the ramblings of pathological fantasists who have the power and influence to make their dreams come true.

Back to the task of dealing with Martin’s pathological stab at “Truth,” then.

4.

It’s as though it was so long ago that Martin became incontinent in his control of matters of scale and proportion that he just can’t,  anymore, simply describe any character, like an adult novelist would,  in order to put any kind of picture, or a personality,  in your head. Amis fills your head with exclamation marks instead. Do actual people make any impression on Martin Amis anymore?

Passages about a Great Love of Martin’s 20s, meant to make her sound like the most alluring thing on Earth, leave zero impression,  like listening to a manic 8-year-old describe a hypothetical battle between the Hulk and a thousand (no, I mean ten thousand!) great white sharks. Martin’s attempt to describe (an almost invariably hot) female character is, to use a more adult metaphor,  like listening to an old friend tell an old story about a “stunning” conquest that he doesn’t, conveniently, have a verifying photograph of to prove it. It takes a certain talent to pull that off. Martin used to have a tellingly-lopsided version of that talent and he made it work in the 1980s and 1990s but something happened and the 1980s/’90s ended; depleted, perhaps, after stomping out the best part of the 1970s.

INSIDE STORY’S second-most grating conceit is that it is meant to function, on top of being a Creative Autobiography,  as an elder statesmen’s interstitial treatise on the Art of Fiction (ergo the book’s double-entendre title), a conceit that is embarrassingly impossible to detach from an unavoidable awareness of the book’s stylistic failures. Failures in matters of pacing, wit, universality, lightness of touch and vitality of imagination. It’s that “universality” thing that opens the deepest portal into Martin’s evolving problems with the craft. Martin is constantly, in this book and others, presuming to strike the resounding chord of the “universal” while, instead, hitting the dissonant little bell of his personal feeling-tones and proclivities. As Martin wrote, in Experience:

“I tell myself what I have always told myself. It is what all writers have always told themselves, consciously or otherwise. The things you feel are universal.”

Well, no, Mart. Not all of the things you feel are universal; that’s not how it works. Knowing the difference is how it works.  In that well-received memoir, Experience, Amis also wrote:

“When I have handled my babies I have had the wayward thought, the thought suggested by their beauty and their innocence. It feels like a sexual thought but in essence it is a violent thought. To act it out in any way would be like dashing the naked body to the bathroom floor.”

And I thought: that’s not a Universal kind of thought, Mart.

It isn’t.

INSIDE STORY is a c. 500 page book and after owning it for weeks I’m up to page 200. A similar thing happened when I went out and bought Amis’ The Pregnant Widow, in which case I reached page 100 and decided to collect my reward (not finishing it). Is Mart even a writer anymore? Are his publishers having top secret meetings about him behind his back?  I wonder if his wife “Elena” ever thinks: “Who is this fucking gnome-like alcoholic I betrayed my best friend to marry?” 

Mart and “Elena” famously had to move out of their impressive NY brownstone after it burned,  owing to a supposed “chimney malfunction,” but you can easily imagine Mart in a boozed-up slump, with a foreshadowingly smoking cigarillo in one claw and a tipping drink, like a clever Medieval clock,  cradled in the other, the sofa then going up, with a whoosh, followed by the drapes and the black-bubbling ceiling, as Mart toddles in self-pitying terror toward the lift.

No worries, Mart.

You’ll just get to start again.

5.

What’s worrisome is how apparent long-term plans for RESET 2030 dovetail so neatly with the convenient emergence of the C-Word Plague in the Spring of 2020. It’s almost as though the same committee (like the committee responsible for the Bin Laden/TSA twofer) came up with both.

The Financial Times published this video (below) in DECEMBER of 2019 (I recall being baffled that a famously conservative magazine would attack Late Phase Capitalism: why? What could their agenda be…? To presume the agenda to be in any way noble or even just neutral would be to indulge in a dangerously naive ahistoricism, for, and this is a maxim worth tattooing in the lower vicinity of the small of your back:  power works only to help itself by increasing itself ):

Why capitalism needs to be reset in 2020 | FT

61,303 views

  • Dec 30, 2019

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3MKvVcQuD4E

Soon after (January 2020) came this, a DAVOS talk that appeared to be forecasting a drastic change in Capitalism As We Know It… but, again: Why? What had happened to suddenly change the view, of Conservative Institutions, regarding the primacy of Capitalism as it was currently practised? What Davos/ IMF/ Bilderberg/Gates Foundation memo changed everything and how long ago was it issued? Why is “2030” being predicted to be a world very different from the world of 2020?

Reskilling Revolution: Better Skills for a Billion People by 2030 | Davos 2020

78,878 views

  • Jan 22, 2020

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mlpMomsOWxA

And then the penny dropped...

“There is an urgent need for global stakeholders to cooperate in simultaneously managing the direct consequences of the COV*D-19 crisis.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8rAiTDQ-NVY

And this is the WEF video released on FACEBOOK in 2017, putting a grinning young moron’s vaguely James-Franco-like face on the “ideas” expressed in the WEF essay I excerpt (above) in part 3:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mlpMomsOWxA

If we can read at all, the writing’s on the wall.

Maybe Klaus Schwab thinks his “ideas” are Universal.

They aren’t.

6.

INSIDE STORY seems to be the uncannily unselfaware account of members of a preening upper-middleclass in the latter quarter of the 20th century who felt that everything they said, did and experienced was epic and/or hilarious and/or profound by default, a self-delusion familiar to anyone who remembers being 15-21. But Martin and his friends kept and keep doing it, well into their late-20s, straight across their 30s and 40s, into their 50s and beyond.. and so did their Betters. Some write novels while others write History. It must be exhausting to be an aging self-mythologizer narrating even the morning toilet-call, forced to sub-vocalize those same old sentences, in the same old cadences, followed by the same old valedictory wink in the WC mirror.

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