something very much amis
The following Facebook conversation represents my best attempt, in concert with my friend Brendan, to make sense, somehow, of the staggering revelation that Martin Amis, at one point in the early 1980s, wrote a (bizarre pastiche simulation of a) young adult guide to beating arcade video games. You don’t have to take my word for it.
As they say on MathNet: the names are made up, but the problems are real.
Vladimir: Some of the quotes pulled from this read like amazing parody – as if you were given the comic task of using a favorite author’s voice to narrate a ridiculous piece of pop. Estragon, I’m not sure if you are a Martin Amis fan, but if so I think you’d get as much joy out of this as I did.
Estragon: In a way, doesn’t this would-be Onion article sum up everything that’s vexing about Amis? Here he writes this cheeky, fascinating book, freely mixing literary styles and even literary *objectives* (does he want you to be better at Pac-Man, or does he want you to recover from your Pac-Man addiction? Which?), only to immediately distance himself from it as something regrettable and trite, despite the fact that he takes that very position within the book!
And then, on a case-by-case basis, he’s simultaneously positioning himself as an indifferent channel for The Voice of the People (who he knows will hate economic simulations) and as a player in the scene who’s seen enough of Donkey Kong to hate it the way I hate tUnE-yArDs.
Vladimir: But isn’t that also what’s great about him? If you’re going to be so militant in your ridiculous standards, it’s made even better by at the same time being comically hypocritical. And he would have to distance himself from it, or it would just look ironic. He’s the guy you love to hate, and this just makes it even better.
There’s something so delicious about Amis being a devout video game nerd – a total encapsulation of the excess and distance he is so critical of – and in doing so turning himself into the type of caricature he likes to write about. I swear, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say he planned the whole thing.
Estragon: Right — he’s so invested in himself as the figure of the writer, and it leads him to all these amazing reversals. He’s somehow cool enough to have written the book, then too uninterested in cool to claim it, but then right back on the subject of cool within the novels that he’s promoting instead.
Vladimir: What I don’t understand is that it happened relatively late – it’s not like he wrote this book in 1971. He wrote it in 1981, almost a decade after winning the Maugham Award, and well on the road to being a touchstone. So why do it?
Estragon: I swear, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say he planned the whole thing. Unless this map I’ve made with 3×5 cards and yarn across a whole wall contains an error of some sort, I think this is the missing piece we’ve been looking for. We can go public with it tomorrow. Forget what you thought you knew: Martin Amis IS Kilgore Trout.
Estragon: Well, regarding that particular issue, all Maugham recipients tend to have a sudden midlife crisis whenever they finally sit down, re-read “Of Human Bondage,” and realize it’s just not particularly good.
Vladimir: Most mid-life crises aren’t quite so apt, though. There’s something amazing about becoming one of the characters you are deriding in your novels, and that’s what this smacks of to me. I’ve been trying to come up with a similar situation that would give me the same warm sense of true irony that this does, but the only one that comes to mind is if Nabokov had turned out to be a pedophile. Which isn’t especially romantic.
We stopped there, despite the wonderful possibility of bringing Nabokov to bear: my fault. My only excuse is that if I don’t spend a little time each day working on my queenside openings, then every Tuesday night I’m going to keep on luzhin.