Like all his fellow Neocons, Adam Kirsch scores his points by lying; the techniques he prefers are creepy sleight-of-hand, or the 20th-Century propagandist’s sadistic favorite, which is to assert, with a wink, that Blue is Red or a Cow is a Butterfly or that a Fundamentalist Guerrilla and a Secular Dictatorship are chummy together (for example). It only works if you aren’t paying attention… or if you really want to believe.
In his eulogy to Frank Kermode, the mendacious Adam quotes a review Kermode wrote about a collection of essays by Martin Amis. Kirsch would have the reader believe that Kermode’s introduction to his review of “The War Against Cliché” is a quietly devastating put-down:
“The last book he published before he died was Bury Place Papers, a collection of his LRB essays, which shows that he was a tough and witty critic as well as a learned one. His review of Martin Amis’s essay collection The War Against Cliché is a master class in quiet devastation: “The main title of this collection may at first seem wantonly non-descriptive, but it turns out to be exact,” Kermode begins. “The first thing to see to if you want to write well is to avoid doing bad writing, used thinking. The more positive requirements can be left till later, if only a little later.” It takes a minute to realize that Kermode’s verdict on Amis has just been delivered and that there will be no appeal.”
From the review, by Kermode, Kirsch quotes:
“That said, or, as Amis allows himself to say, ‘simply put’, we have here a literary critic of startling power, a post-literary-critical critic who, incorrigibly satirical, goes directly to work on the book. Often, being right and being funny are, in this book, aspects of the same sentence. Often, as one reads on, one finds oneself quietly giggling, or gigglingly quiet. The precision of the attack is astounding, and is matched by the bluntness of the condemnation.”
“The long central New Yorker essay on Larkin is probably the most considered and the most permanently valuable part of the book. It recycles some earlier remarks to great defensive effect. More than any other piece it confirms one’s opinion that Amis is the best practitioner-critic of our day – just what Pritchett was in his prime, though without the bad punctuation and the jangling train-wrecks.”
Seems, strangely, like very strong praise, doesn’t it? Well I’m afraid you’ll have to keep reading it, again and again, until it doesn’t.
Neil Bush 2012.