In the last decade of his 50-year career as a novelist, the late Martin Amis had a reputation for being controversial. This makes more sense in his native England than in the Americas where he later moved, and whose mostly non-literary provocateurs tend to speak in an aggressive frankness that verges on – and recently, pushed well into the territory of – vulgarity. “Intellectual snobbery has been largely overlooked,” says Amis in the Big Think interview clip above. His plea was to “care more about how people express themselves and have more respect, not for people of high social status, but for people with proper education and training.”
It is against populism, which “relies on the sentimental and very antiquated view that the uneducated population knows better, in its instincts, than an overly refined elite, leading to anti-intellectualism, which is self-destructive for all”: lionization, in a word another, of the kind of figure given to declarations like “I follow my instincts”.
In every other land, as Amis sees it, “brains have triumphed over guts, but in America they still divide the nation.” It would be one thing if the innards-believing buggers were actually working to further the interests of the common man, but in any real-world scenario it turns out to be quite another. “That’s action, populism. It’s always acting.
An admirer of American democracy, Amis recognizes the right to free speech as an essential element of that system. “You either get it or you don’t,” he says in the clip just above, “and any reduction of free speech reduces everyone, and reduces the currency of free speech.” But he also offered a warning: “Such controversial statements must be accepted. Can’t just throw it away. You have to be able to support him.” He even describes himself as a “political correctness enthusiast” – not “outside fringe PC, but raising the bar on what can be said.” This process comes with its own set of challenges, and “you have to get over it a bit.” But as greater restrictions demand, and reward, more skilled delicacy, a proficient writer will always be two-minded about free speech. It will surely be a long time before we see another writer as accomplished as Martin Amis.
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Martin Amis Explains How To Use Thesaurus To Actually Improve Your Writing
Norman Mailer & Martin Amis, No Strangers to Controversy, Talk in 1991
PJ O’Rourke (RIP) Explains Why You’ll Never Win over Your Political Opponents by Mocking Them
Based in Seoul, Colin MArsall writes and broadcastst about the city, language and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter book about cities, book The City Without a State: A Journey through 21st Century Los Angeles and video series City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarsall or on Facebook.