Spooky Rapping Amis

Happy Halloween, Internet!  Now, I promised you a Martin Amis post, and dammit, I'll give you one.  It's thematic too, because Martin scared the pants off us all last Tuesday morning in a pre-Halloween surprise tactic, by, well, performing an impromptu rap.  Have a watch of this, and imagine the song at the end performed in a very posh voice by a sixty-year old white man, who would ordinarily be spouting Shakespeare in sonorous tones.  Brilliant.

Anyway, he started off this week by talking about  genre, and asking us whether we each felt our writing was an example of realism, science-fiction, magical realism, etc..  There was quite a wide range of responses - I'd definitely say my own prose is in the realist tradition, though I do love to read some good SF.  He talked more about Don DeLillo and postmodernism - he called it an 'evolutionary genre', with the potential for huge boredom.  He added that literature doesn't, in his opinion, improve; it just evolves.  I liked that.  He referred to the postmodern elements in his novel, Money, and quoted Kingsley Amis as saying 'you shouldn't bugger about with the reader.'  Back to the notion of realism - he said that Nabokov advised writers to 'caress the details', meaning that you should write what you know, but in the way that you, as an individual, know it - and that with this, you would be imprinting yourself on the world.  He told us that Rushdie reckons writers have an inbuilt bullshit detector - you'll feel physically ill if you're going wrong in your work.  He said this happened to him, writing London Fields and trying to get a character to move in a direction that he later abandoned.  He's a big believer in the physicality of writing; more than once he's said that if you feel stuck, just get away from the work and do something else, and your body and brain will fix it up without your conscious intervention.  He talked a little about satire; writing as exaggeration, mockery through ridicule - and claimed that people feel mockery as much as they do pain, that this is present in all great tragedy - the hero's exposure to the ridicule of the crowd, or the other.

We talked about the 'units' of writing - the phrase, sentence, paragraph, chapter - which echoed a similar discussion we'd had our tutor the previous day.  Amis spoke about the importance of having as 'aesthetic sense of the paragraph' and emphasised that the writer has to show that s/he is in control of the text at all times.  He spoke for a while about our set text for the week - Bradbury's The History Man, which I found very funny, but which other people didn't like at all.  I'm not sure Amis himself liked it; he seemed to assign it merely so he could use it to exemplify a selection of practices that he thought writers would be better off avoiding - following a dialogue scene with another dialogue scene, and using long, dense, dialogue-filled paragraphs.

Then he told us all how he dislikes drama and doesn't rate it as an art-form; poetry is highest, on his scale, followed by prose, and the poor old theatre barely gets a look-in, with the exception of Shakespeare, whom he categorises as a poet rather than a dramatist, anyway.  He called drama, 'collaboration through dialogue', referred to Moliere and his contemporaries as '19th century wasters', and said that setting drama up against prose was the equivalent to letting Scunthorpe play Manchester United. We all must have looked a little agape, because our tutor was quick to leap in with the qualification that this was 'a view that not everybody shares.'  But he does like a controversy, does our Prof. Amis, and this is the week that he had a rant in the media against Katie Price.  So there you go.

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