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Wednesday, September 13, 2006


More Amis

Someone called Conventrian has pasted my post dealing with the telepathic powers of Martin Amis into the comments of Inayat Bunglawala’s latest Comment is Free piece.

There, DaveD responds directly to me, calling me a twit. Martin Amis is not a social scientist, he argues, so why should he have a materialist understanding of history? Because, I reply, in his essay he is pretending to be just that, a social scientist of some kind. He is not writing fiction. He is not writing literary criticism. Amis’ essay is an attempt to understand aspects of society from a pseudo-rational perspective.

I use the term pseudo-rational because that is exactly what the essay is. Rather perform the hard graft of finding evidence Amis speculates from prejudice. As DaveD patronises: “I'm not sure if you read much, but extrapolation from outward appearances to inward psychology is a common literary device, designed to dramatise and add interest. In effect, as you say, it tells us more about the imaginer than the imaginee--but that's quite often the purpose of it.”

Quite. But Amis was not writing a piece that claimed to expose what he felt about Muslims and Islam, but one that claimed to offer insight into the minds and motivations of others. His use of the omniscient authorial mind in this case is not a fictionalisation of a truth – in the manner of a non-fiction novel – derived from evidence gathered; say a generalisation based on a collection of interviews. No. His mind-reading act with the gatekeeper of the Dome of the Rock is invention from start to finish.

Invention matters not in itself, but because of what this essay claims to be, and what so many others are reading it as; a dissection of the modern Muslim mind. It claims to be a rational enquiry. It asks to be taken as a piece of writing with a claim on the truth. This way of understanding the world is in contrast to Amis’ imagined Other. Amis writes:

“No doubt the impulse towards rational inquiry is by now very weak in the rank and file of the Muslim male.”

Again Amis exposes only himself. No doubt? Where can we find the rational enquiry in Amis’ own sentence? Does Amis have any evidence for differential degrees of ‘impulse towards rational enquiry’ between cultural and gender-based groupings? Or is he pulling ‘facts’ from his… imagination with the same degree of unreflexive arrogance that led him to demand special exemption from the rules when visiting Jerusalem?

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