MA Week Nine - Amis

We read A Clockwork Orange this week - one of my favourite books from my teenage years, and one I still love.  I read it and then I find myself thinking in Nadsat; people on the street become horrorshow malenky malchicks, and I'm a starry ptista (that one kicked in when we went to a club on Saturday night and realised we were all almost twice as old as everybody else there.  We went home and had cups of tea and hung our ancient heads.) Anyway, the class generally really liked the novel, and when Prof Amis did his usual trick of going round the room and asking us all to give it a mark out of ten and a one-word summary (I said nine and ultra-violent, taking a cheeky hyphen there) it mostly got eights and nines, and nothing under six.  Amis himself gave it an eight and called it funny, and then chastised us for saying nine, claiming that hardly any nines exist at all, and he's probably right, but when I love a book I do tend to love it a lot, so I'll stand by my superlative.

He talked then about dystopias, said that speculative novelists are always satirists because they look at what's around already, and make it worse, and quoted Burgess, who said that you shouldn't write directly from an idea (the notion of free will in A Clockwork Orange, for instance), that novels are always made out of sense data. (I've just been reading a collection of essays by Flannery O'Connor that repeatedly makes the same point; use your eyes, she says, that's where it all comes from.)  He pointed out how structured the novel is - three parts, of seven chapters each, with repeated motifs like the sandwiching device of the milk bar and the phrase 'what's it going to be then, eh?'  He emphasised that structure and patterns should be integrated into the novel, not something awkward or artificial.  Looking at the character of Alex, he quoted Updike, who said that the people we like in fiction aren't the people we like in real life, and that what we like in fiction is life itself: if the characters really live, we'll like them, or at least want to follow them around.  This definitely fits Alex; he's so compelling.

We then had a bit of a class discussion about whether the writer has a duty to deal with the issues of his/her age - Burgess's issue being the rise of youth culture - and we were all agreed that it wasn't a duty, but a choice that could be exercised.  Amis reckons it's best to wait about three years to let an issue close to your heart settle into you, before writing about it; I think he's probably right, if the work isn't to be polemical.  An Australian student in our class spoke about politics regarding Aboriginal people in her country, and how she'd like to eventually deal with that; some people wondered if the youth in Britain today, or people in their twenties anyway, weren't increasingly apolitical, and I disagreed with that, saying I have a huge number of friends and acquaintances of that age group in England who are very politically active, especially with climate change and environmental issues.  Amis said that Rushdie says  it's impossible to be apolitical, you're in the sea of politics whether you like it or not; I agree, it's just a matter of awareness or willingness to recognise that fact. Nabokov said that you shouldn't deal with the issues of the day directly, because the work will then resemble bloated topicalities with no wider application. 

So that was all very lively, and we also had a bit of a rant about Sarah Palin before heading to the pub.  Normally my Martin Amis seminar is on Tuesdays mornings, but they swapped the schedule this week so that the Tuesday group had our session on Monday evening and could go down to the local with Martin afterwards for a pint, like the Monday group usually do.  I ended up sitting beside him for a while and we talked about the cinema and it turns out he's a Mel Gibson fan; he thinks Mel's a raving racist loon, but enjoys the movies.  And we agreed that the first forty-five minutes of The Day After Tomorrow was an excellent spectacle, and wondered what 2012 is like.  Then he went back to his hotel and we proceeded to the Corner house where we came seventh out of twenty-one in the pub quiz; not great, but not bad.  A good night was had!

(Tuesday was spend reading in bed and dozing and pissing about online. Ace day.)


TOM J VOWLER said...

Loving these posts; feel like I'm in your class!

Have you seen The Age of Stupid? Not so dramatic, a little too polemical for that, but an important film anyway, methinks.

Valerie O'Riordan said...

Hey Tom, no, I haven't seen it yet, though everyone's telling me I should! I was afraid it might be a bit too 'Michael Moore' for me - the man makes me want to hunt him down and kill him - but I'm told it's probably not, so i reckon I'll get round to it eventually. Important issues, definitely.

Elizabeth Baines said...

That was interesting. Agree so much about the novel having to come from the senses primarily.

Valerie O'Riordan said...

Hi Elizabeth,

yes, it's such an astute summary of it. The sensory detail is what brings it all to life, so often. Martin Amis has also said a few times that he thinks that writing is itself a very physical process - you absolutely feel it in your gut when it's working, and (less pleasantly!) when it's not.