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Martin Amis on the 'terrorism of alienation'


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Martin Amis on the 'terrorism of alienation'

He is known as the ‘enfant terrible’ of British letters. His good looks once earned him the title of ‘The Mick Jagger of literature’. Martin Amis is now on his 13th book.

The author of The Rachel Papers, Money and London Fields, among others, is considered one the best British novelists alive.

Earlier this month, he attracted a large crowd at the International Novel Sittings in Lyon, in south-east France. He was there to promote his latest book, Lionel Asbo, but speaking with euronews also talked about his soon-to-be published novel, set during the Holocaust.

Chiara Reid, euronews:
I am very happy to be here with the British writer, Martin Amis. You are about to publish a new book – perhaps in the new year – about a love story set in a Nazi concentration camp. You have written about the Holocaust before, in ‘Times Arrow’. Why is the Holocaust so important to you?

Martin Amis:
“Well, I think it is important to everyone in some strange way. W.G. Sebald, the German-English writer, said that no serious person ever thinks about anything else, which is a slight exaggeration, but there is a certain sense in which the Holocaust as a subject defines you and judges you, and you find out a bit more about yourself in your response to it.”

euronews:
You said before that you can’t write about the Holocaust without suffering, you can’t just type it away on the keyboard: why do you have to feel it?

Martin Amis:
“A writer’s life is half ambition and half anxiety, and there has to be both. It is no good writing a novel and feeling fine, and it is no good writing a whole novel feeling miserable. It has to be both, that mixture of anxiety and ambition, and you get that with every novel, but more so when you write about these epics of human suffering. I felt that just as much when I wrote about the Gulag. Every writer knows what that is. The process goes… you have to think: ‘This novel I am writing is no good.’ Then you have to think: ‘All my novels are no good.’ And then, when you reach that point, you can begin.”

euronews:
You also wrote a lot about violence and the British underclass, in Lionel Asbo for example. At the Woolwich barracks we have seen a British man, a Muslim, kill another British man, a soldier, in broad daylight in central London. The London you have written about so much, how do you think it could produce this?

Martin Amis:
“Well it has many traceable threads. What we are probably going to have for a while is what they call “anomic” terrorism, terrorism of alienation, anomic terrorism, where a deep misery, which might well have to do with feeling separated from your roots and might well have to do with your feelings about your brothers and sisters in foreign countries, who have suffered at the hands of the West, but basically it’s an alienation and depression on your part, and you want to do something spectacular about it.”

“Joseph Conrad, in a novel of 1908 – which is incredibly prescient, it is about terrorists, anarchists in London – said the two elements are vanity and laziness. So, because you are conceited and vain, you want to make a huge impression on the world, you want to be remembered, but because you are lazy the only way you can do it is in this explosive way. It is a very deep urge in human beings to be immortal, to make your name live, it is why we have children up to a point, to continue, to go beyond death.”

euronews:
Do you think you will go beyond death with your books?

Martin Amis:
“If everyone wants immortality, then writers want it more than most I think, it is true. Because, in fact, only time judges the quality of art, nothing else does. The rest, criticism and so on, it is just rhetoric.”

euronews:
How much time does time need to judge?

Martin Amis:
“A century… if you are still around in a century, then that’s a great tribute. That’s why when I see young readers of my books I look at them with a special interest because I know that, when I die, it will go on for at least another 30 or 40 years. You don’t want to disappear completely and having young readers guarantees that, at least for a while.”

euronews:
One last question: you left Europe to go to America for family reasons – we know that you haven’t turned your back on Europe. But don’t you feel that, in a way, you left a sinking ship, looking at the crisis in Europe, how does it look from the other side?

Martin Amis:
“It seems a very good time to leave, the weather is collapsing and various sorts of social turbulence… I think Europe is resilient enough and has an enormous history, five centuries of being the centre of the world and producing the ideas that shaped the world. It may be that it is in decline like all the individual countries in it, in geo-historical decline.”

euronews:
Is this theme of crisis, economic crisis, of interest for your novels? Maybe we will read this in your next novel, is the Holocaust novel a parody of what is happening now?

Martin Amis:
“Maybe the novel after. It takes three or four years before the present day sinks in to you as a novelist. It has not just to be accepted in the mind but travel down your spine and fill your body and you can’t respond immediately to immediate events, there is this incubation period.”

euronews:
So you are incubating it now?

Martin Amis:
“… Beginning to incubate it, yes.”

Image credit: Maximilian Schönherr (CC)

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