MORE SALIENTLY: Pontificating, Amis has little time to view events as a simple spectator.
Naughty, naughty 9/11. Not only did you briefly prostrate Western civilization, you gave Martin Amis permission to go all world-historical on our asses. “If September 11 had to happen,” he admits huskily in the “Author’s Note” to The Second Plane, “then I am not at all sorry that it happened in my lifetime.” I should think not. It might be argued that the clash with radical Islam has provided Amis the writer with the very last thing he needed — license, that is, to crank his prose up to levels of nearly interstellar pomposity. But to Amis the author, the man of letters, it has been — if you’ll pardon the phrase — a godsend. Bumped out of the two-book rut of his previous obsession (Stalinism, which he grappled with in Koba the Dread and then House of Meetings), he has plunged head-first into the biggest issue of the day, more engagé than ever: nearly every one of the reviews, profiles, think pieces, and short stories collected here produced, upon its original appearance, a little media surge of assent or vituperation. He hasn’t had this much press since he fell out with Julian Barnes.
|The Second Plane: September 11: Terror and Boredom | By Martin Amis | Knopf | 224 pages | $24|
The prose in The Second Plane is militantly wordy, expressive of its author’s great disdain for the dumbed-down Western mind. Why write “on the other hand” when you can write “countervailingly”? Or “at the same time” when “co-synchronously” is on tap? The book’s argument might be broadly described as a literary elaboration of the position staked out by his old friend Christopher Hitchens. Religion: bad. “Religious belief is without reason and without dignity, and its record is near-universally dreadful.” Radical Islam: very bad, “insanely Dionysian . . . impossibly poisonous,” an outbreak of “death-estrus.”
The fiction has a wobbly, failed-experiment quality. I am completely unable, for example, to make my mind up about the following sentence, from “The Last Days of Muhammad Atta”: “More saliently, he had not moved his bowels since May.” I should explain that in this story Amis has given Muhammad Atta, lead terrorist of 9/11, a giant case of constipation. To what end? We are not sure. Perhaps to emphasize the terminal non-creativity of the jihadist: he can’t even take a decent shit. “More saliently, he had not moved his bowels since May.” Is that good or terrible? The grotesque conceit (five months of backed-upness!) and the pontifical language strain against one another in a stylistic simulation, I suppose, of long-term ass blockage — but it reads so badly.
, Paul Greengrass, Martin Amis, Christopher Hitchens, More