In the hallowed halls of bygone days, a remarkable encounter took place between our Founder and CEO Ksenija Pavlovic McAteer and the luminary of literature, Martin Amis.
In the year 2012, amidst the bustling metropolis of New York, these the two sat down in the New York Public Library resulting in a captivating interview.
Ksenija Pavlovic McAteer engaged in a thought-provoking dialogue with Martin Amis, exploring various facets of his life and literary perspective. Amis reflected on reconciling the divergent worlds of his upbringing, where the rebellious rock ‘n’ roll culture clashed with his father’s establishment status. He emphasized that while he was never a rebel in life, his writing may have possessed a touch of rebellion. The conversation delved into Amis’ creative process, where he described the enigmatic moment when a novel springs to life—an inexplicable sensation that signals the birth of a literary work.
The interview also touched upon the media attention Amis receives, which he modestly attributes to his father’s renown, likening himself to Prince Charles. He acknowledged that his work stirs controversy, evoking both admiration and criticism, which he believes is why he rarely wins prizes. Amis discussed his connection to America, having lived there during his childhood, and how that experience shaped his ability to write and understand American culture and rhythms.
The conversation then turned to Christopher Hitchens, a close friend of Amis, and the potential of memorializing him in a future book. Amis revealed that he has already written about Hitchens in several of his works but didn’t rule out the possibility of a dedicated book in the future. The discussion further explored the impact of pornography on society, with Amis expressing concern that it diminishes the significance of love and relationships.
Amis also commented on the diminishing appreciation for poetry in today’s fast-paced world. He highlighted the importance of poetry in capturing a moment and engaging in self-communion, but noted that contemporary society’s obsession with constant connection and distraction impedes the introspection necessary for poetry’s appreciation. Amis observed a general trend towards numbing down rather than embracing sensitivity, with literary circles being the exception rather than the norm.
Throughout the interview, Amis offered candid insights into his life, writing, and societal observations, painting a nuanced picture of a writer deeply engaged with his craft and the world around him.
In remembering Martin Amis, we pay homage to a luminary who graced the literary world with his extraordinary talent and intellectual prowess. His words, resonant and poignant, continue to reverberate through the corridors of literary history, their echoes inspiring generations to come. As we celebrate his life’s work, we find solace in knowing that Amis’ creative spirit will forever imbue the realm of letters with its unique brilliance, perpetually kindling the fires of literary enlightenment.
Martin Amis: I Was Never A Rebel
Ksenija Pavlovic McAteer: You grew up in 1960s Britain with all that rebellious rock ’n’ roll culture, but your father, Kingsley Amis, was part of the establishment and knighted to boot. How did you reconcile those worlds?
Amis: I was never a rebel. I mean not in my life, in my writing a bit, perhaps. My father was a communist when he was young. And by the time I was a teenager, he was an anti-communist. So there was no question of being very left-wing. I had very left-wing friends, who were revolutionaries and were busy in Paris in 1968 turning cars upside down and throwing Molotov cocktails. But I used to think of myself as completely apolitical. I think I’m more political now than I used to be. I was just interested in literature, not in politics.
Ksenija Pavlovic McAteer: Well, let’s talk about literature, then. At what point do you realise that you have a novel springing to life?
It’s a fascinating question. It’s all decided in a moment, I think. You get a funny feeling, you see something or read something and almost at once you get a kind of throb, which goes through you — a shiver. And you think: this is a novel I can write. You don’t know much about it, but you know how you’re going to begin, perhaps. It’s a situation, it’s a setting, but it’s deeply mysterious. The whole process is deeply mysterious.
Ksenija Pavlovic McAteer: Why do you get so much media attention?
Well, I naively think it’s all to do with my father, because he was a well-known writer… I’m like Prince Charles! Everyone thinks there’s no reason why he’s there, he just inherited it. He didn’t earn it. But I work hard, so it’s a silly supposition that people have. I’d like to think it’s also because my writing stirs people up, and they don’t agree about it. Some people think I’m great and other people think I’m shit. That’s why I never win any prizes.
Ksenija Pavlovic McAteer: Even the Booker Prize?
I stopped thinking about it long ago. There’s nothing inevitable about winning it. I’d like to win any prize, let alone the Booker Prize! The last time I won a prize for fiction was 40 years ago. It’s because prizes are given by committees, and they’re not the same committee every year, and every time there’s a committee there’s at least — out of five — two or three people who think I’m shit. So they can’t agree on it. That’s all right.
Ksenija Pavlovic McAteer: Has moving to America changed your Britishness or added some flavour to it?
I haven’t been here long enough for it to — but I lived here when I was a child for a year. I’ve always felt very connected to America. I lived from the age of nine to ten in America. If I’d lived in, say, Germany, I would be able to speak German, or France, French. But I can speak American. I can write American. And when I read other English writers, when they try to do American, they can’t. It’s because the rhythms are strange to them, and I don’t think they are to me. I learnt American when I was young. It’s easy to learn a language when you’re young.
Ksenija Pavlovic McAteer: You are a big admirer of Saul Bellow. Do you ever think about doing something similar to his Ravelstein and memorialising your friend Christopher Hitchens?
There’s quite a lot about him in three of my books: Experience, the memoir; Koba the Dread, the book about Stalin; and the novel The Pregnant Widow — he’s the main character’s brother. When I say ‘is’, I mean changing what I had to change. So I feel I’ve already done him a bit, but maybe, maybe I’ll write a book called Hitchens.
Ksenija Pavlovic McAteer: The title character of Lionel Asbo is a fan of internet porn. How do you think pornography has affected our culture?
No one knows, but I would say that it’s an attack on love and on significance in relationships, significance in sex. Years and years ago, someone defined pornography as hatred of significance in sex. That’s what pornography does. There’s no more talk about love in pornography than there is about having babies, is there? It doesn’t come up. It’s as if you made babies by some other way, like sneezing at each other or something, but certainly not with sex; that has nothing to do with it at all. And I think that’s a big disconnection for human beings. It wouldn’t have occurred to anyone 30 years ago that sex wasn’t connected with reproduction. But now, the chasm between the two is huge. I think it will be tremendously significant if and when women assent to pornography. And more and more are. This is what feminist literature is saying: Ariel Levy, Natasha Walter. It’s still only partial, but once most women like pornography, it’s all over. Even the most educated young women who are at Cambridge or Oxford say they don’t want emotion in their relationships with boys. They don’t read poetry, either.
Ksenija Pavlovic McAteer: Why not?
History has speeded up in the last generation, and that is antithetical to poetry. What a poem does, what a lyric poem does, is stop the clock and say we’re going to examine this moment. Shh! Stop the clock. And people are too hyper for that now. They don’t like to stop the clock. The clock is running too fast for them. And also, a huge part of poetry is self-communion. When you read a poem, you’re communing with yourself in a deep way. People don’t like that. Why do you think they’re on their phones all the time? They don’t like being alone. They’re like children; they get all frantic if they’re alone, they feel lost. So people go around mumbling to their associates. They have that wire. You see them mumbling. And it’s not an introspective culture. They talk about dumbing down, but there’s also such a thing as numbing down. They don’t want to be sensitive.
Ksenija Pavlovic McAteer: But surely writers are still sensitive — still writing emotional books?
Literature is always full of emotion. But that doesn’t mean that everyday life is, and it’s only the literary people who feel things any more. The rest — they’ve given up.
The interview by Ksenija Pavlovic McAteer was originally published in the Spectator Magazine.