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The War Against Cliche: Essays and Reviews 1971-2000

by

The War Against Cliche: Essays and Reviews 1971-2000 Cover

 

Awards

An Atlantic Monthly Best Book of 2001
Winner of the 2001 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

Is there anything that Martin Amis can?t write about? In this virtuosic, career-spanning collection he takes on James Joyce and Elvis Presley, Nabokov and English football, Jane Austen and Penthouse Forum, William Burroughs and Hillary Clinton. But above all, Amis is concerned with literature, and with the deadly cliches — not only of the pen, but of the mind and the heart.

In The War Against Cliché, Amis serves up fresh assessments of the classics and plucks neglected masterpieces off their dusty shelves. He tilts with Cervantes, Dickens and Milton, celebrates Bellow, Updike and Elmore Leonard, and deflates some of the most bloated reputations of the past three decades. On every page Amis writes with jaw-dropping felicity, wit, and a subversive brilliance that sheds new light on everything he touches.

Review:

"His reviews are astringent, punkily contemptuous, name-calling, reductive, pissy, prissy, preening. They are also (alas, alack) great fun to read." Adrienne Miller, Esquire (read the entire Esquire review)

Review:

"Most of the essays in this huge and admittedly uneven collection relentlessly, eloquently, and with enormous intelligence support Amis's contention that style 'is not something grappled onto regular prose; it is intrinsic to perception.'" Atlantic Monthly

Review:

"[A] great feast for serious readers..." Donna Seaman, Booklist

Review:

"Amis's critiques cover wide-ranging topics and are well worth reading....His evaluations are lively, scholarly, and, on rare occasion, numbing — though probably less so for those few who know as much about literature as Amis." Library Journal

Review:

"Amis gets you leaning forward so often you're paractically in italics. In the case of The War Against Cliché you first lean forward on the first page of the foreword. Whatever the book, there is no one whose review of it you'd rather read." The Guardian

Review:

"Amis is the best practitioner-critic of our day — just what Pritchett was in his prime...we have here a literary critic of startling power, a post literary-critical critic who, incorrigibly satirical, goes directly to work on the book." Frank Kermode, London Review of Books

Review:

"Distinguished by its hothouse intensity, its singleness of purpose, its nippy aggression — and its stylishness....Amis' journalism is narrowly focused but uncannily vivid — the details are fluorescent." The New York Times Book Review

Review:

"Amis is a force unto himself....There is, quite simply, no one else like him." The Washington Post

Review:

"Funny, impeccably calm, highly intelligent and almost never polite." USA Today

Review:

"[Written] with intelligence and ardor and panache....Speaks not just to a lifetime of reading, but also to a fascination with how individual writers mature, how some distill their language and ideas, while others...misplace or misdirect their energies." The New York Times

Synopsis:

A selection of reviews and essays by Martin Amis, written over the past quarter-century. It contains pieces on a wide range of writers, from Cervantes to John Updike, and covers such subjects as chess, nuclear weapons, masculinity, Andy Warhol, Hillary Clinton and Margaret Thatcher.

Synopsis:

Is there anything that Martin Amis cant write about? In this virtuosic, career-spanning collection he takes on James Joyce and Elvis Presley, Nabokov and English football, Jane Austen and Penthouse Forum, William Burroughs and Hillary Clinton. But above all, Amis is concerned with literature, and with the deadly cliches-not only of the pen, but of the mind and the heart.

In The War Against Cliché, Amis serves up fresh assessments of the classics and plucks neglected masterpieces off their dusty shelves. He tilts with Cervantes, Dickens and Milton, celebrates Bellow, Updike and Elmore Leonard, and deflates some of the most bloated reputations of the past three decades. On every page Amis writes with jaw-dropping felicity, wit, and a subversive brilliance that sheds new light on everything he touches.

Synopsis:

While complacently planning this volume in my mind I always thought I would include a nice little section called — let us say — 'Literature and Society', where I would assemble my pieces on literature and society (pieces on F.R. Leavis and Lionel Trilling, and on lesser figures like Ian Robinson an Denis Donoghue). 'Literature and society' was, at one time, a phrase so much on everyone's lips that it earned itself an abbreviation: Lit & Soc. And Lit & Soc, I seemed to remember, had been for me a long-running enthusiasm. But when I leafed through the massed manuscripts I found only a handful of essays, all of them written, rather ominously, in the early Seventies (when I was in my early twenties). Having reread them, I toyed with the idea of calling my nice little section something like 'Literature and Society: The Vanished Debate'. Then I decided that my debate had better vanish too. The pieces themselves I considered earnest, overweening, and contentedly dull. More decisively, though, Lit & Soc, and indeed literary criticism, felt dead and gone.

That time now seems unrecognizably remote. I had a day job at the Times Literary Supplement. Even then I sensed discrepancy, as I joined an editorial conference (to help prepare, perhaps, a special number on Literature and Society), wearing shoulder-length hair, a flower shirt, and knee-high tricoloured boots (well-concealed, it is true, by the twin tepees of my flared trousers). My private life was middle-bohemian — hippyish and hedonistic, if not candidly debauched; but I was very moral when it came to literary criticism. I read it all the time, in the tub, on the tube; I always had about me my Edmund Wilson — or my William Empson. I took it seriously. We all did. We hung around the place talking about literary criticism. We sat in pubs and coffee bars talking about W.K. Wimsatt and G. Wilson Knight, about Richard Hoggart and Northrop Frye, about Richard Poirier, Tony Tanner and George Steiner. It might have been in such a locale that my friend and colleague Clive James first formulated his view that, while literary criticism is not essential to literature, both are essential to civilization. Everyone concurred. Literature, we felt, was the core discipline; criticism explored and popularized the significance of that centrality, creating a space around literature and thereby further exalting it. The early Seventies, I should add, saw the great controversy about the Two Cultures: Art v. Science (or F.R. Leavis v. C.P. Snow). Perhaps the most fantastic thing about this cultural moment was that Art seemed to be winning.

Literary historians know it as the Age of Criticism. It began, let us suggest, in 1948, with the publication of Eliot's Notes Towards the Definition of Culture and Leavis's The Great Tradition. What ended it? The brutalist answer would consist of a singe four-letter word: OPEC. In the Sixties you could live on ten shillings a week: you slept on people's floors and sponged off your friends and sang for your supper — about literary criticism. Then, abruptly, a bus fare cost ten shillings. The oil hike, and inflation, and then stagflation, revealed literary criticism as one of the many leisure-class fripperies we would have to get along without. Well, that's how it felt. But it now seems clear that literary criticism was inherently doomed. Explicitly or otherwise it had based itself on a structure of echelons and hierarchies; it was about the talent elite. And the structure atomized as soon as the forces of democratization gave their next concerted push.

Those forces — incomparably the most potent in our culture — have gone on pushing. And they are now running up against a natural barrier. Some citadels, true, have proved stormable. You can become rich without having any talent (via the scratchcard and the rollover jackpot). You can become famous without having any talent (by abasing yourself on some TV nerdothon: a clear improvement on the older method of simply killing a celebrity and inheriting the aura). But you cannot become talented without having any talent. Therefore, talent must go.

Literary criticism, now almost entirely confined to the universities, thus moves against talent by moving against the canon. Academic preferment will not come from a respectful study of Wordsworth's poetic; it will come from a challenging study of his politics — his attitude to the poor, say, or his unconscious 'valorization' of Napoleon; and it will come still faster if you ignore Wordsworth and elevate some (justly) neglected contemporary, by which process the canon may be quietly and steadily sapped. A brief consultation of the Internet will show that meanwhile, at the other end of the business, everyone has become a literary critic — or at least a book-reviewer. Democratization has made one inalienable gain: equality of the sentiments. I think Gore Vidal said this first, and he said it, not quite with mockery, but with lively scepticism. He said that, nowadays, nobody's feelings are more authentic, and thus more important, than anybody else's. This is the new credo, the new privilege. It is a privilege much exercised in the contemporary book-review, whether on the Web or in the literary pages. The reviewer calmly tolerates the arrival of the new novel or slim volume, defensively settles into it, and then sees which way it rubs him up. the right way or the wrong way. The results of this contact will form the data of the review, without any reference to the thing behind. And the thing behind, I am afraid, is talent, and the canon, and the body of knowledge we call literature.

From the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Martin Amis is the author of nine novels, two collections of stories, four works of non-fiction and a memoir. He lives in London.

Product Details

ISBN:
9780375727160
Author:
Amis, Martin
Publisher:
Vintage Books
Location:
New York
Subject:
Essays
Subject:
Books
Subject:
English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh
Subject:
Anthologies-Essays
Subject:
essays;criticism;literary criticism;non-fiction;literature;journalism;anthology;literary;literary essays
Subject:
essays;criticism;literary criticism;non-fiction;literature;journalism;literary;anthology;writing;literary essays
Copyright:
Edition Number:
1st paperback ed.
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series:
Vintage
Series Volume:
TR-02-1
Publication Date:
July 2002
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
528
Dimensions:
8.02x5.22x.94 in. .84 lbs.

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Related Subjects


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Product details 528 pages Vintage Books USA - English 9780375727160 Reviews:
"Review" by , "His reviews are astringent, punkily contemptuous, name-calling, reductive, pissy, prissy, preening. They are also (alas, alack) great fun to read." (read the entire Esquire review)
"Review" by , "Most of the essays in this huge and admittedly uneven collection relentlessly, eloquently, and with enormous intelligence support Amis's contention that style 'is not something grappled onto regular prose; it is intrinsic to perception.'"
"Review" by , "[A] great feast for serious readers..."
"Review" by , "Amis's critiques cover wide-ranging topics and are well worth reading....His evaluations are lively, scholarly, and, on rare occasion, numbing — though probably less so for those few who know as much about literature as Amis."
"Review" by , "Amis gets you leaning forward so often you're paractically in italics. In the case of The War Against Cliché you first lean forward on the first page of the foreword. Whatever the book, there is no one whose review of it you'd rather read."
"Review" by , "Amis is the best practitioner-critic of our day — just what Pritchett was in his prime...we have here a literary critic of startling power, a post literary-critical critic who, incorrigibly satirical, goes directly to work on the book."
"Review" by , "Distinguished by its hothouse intensity, its singleness of purpose, its nippy aggression — and its stylishness....Amis' journalism is narrowly focused but uncannily vivid — the details are fluorescent."
"Review" by , "Amis is a force unto himself....There is, quite simply, no one else like him."
"Review" by , "Funny, impeccably calm, highly intelligent and almost never polite."
"Review" by , "[Written] with intelligence and ardor and panache....Speaks not just to a lifetime of reading, but also to a fascination with how individual writers mature, how some distill their language and ideas, while others...misplace or misdirect their energies."
"Synopsis" by , A selection of reviews and essays by Martin Amis, written over the past quarter-century. It contains pieces on a wide range of writers, from Cervantes to John Updike, and covers such subjects as chess, nuclear weapons, masculinity, Andy Warhol, Hillary Clinton and Margaret Thatcher.
"Synopsis" by , Is there anything that Martin Amis cant write about? In this virtuosic, career-spanning collection he takes on James Joyce and Elvis Presley, Nabokov and English football, Jane Austen and Penthouse Forum, William Burroughs and Hillary Clinton. But above all, Amis is concerned with literature, and with the deadly cliches-not only of the pen, but of the mind and the heart.

In The War Against Cliché, Amis serves up fresh assessments of the classics and plucks neglected masterpieces off their dusty shelves. He tilts with Cervantes, Dickens and Milton, celebrates Bellow, Updike and Elmore Leonard, and deflates some of the most bloated reputations of the past three decades. On every page Amis writes with jaw-dropping felicity, wit, and a subversive brilliance that sheds new light on everything he touches.

"Synopsis" by , While complacently planning this volume in my mind I always thought I would include a nice little section called — let us say — 'Literature and Society', where I would assemble my pieces on literature and society (pieces on F.R. Leavis and Lionel Trilling, and on lesser figures like Ian Robinson an Denis Donoghue). 'Literature and society' was, at one time, a phrase so much on everyone's lips that it earned itself an abbreviation: Lit & Soc. And Lit & Soc, I seemed to remember, had been for me a long-running enthusiasm. But when I leafed through the massed manuscripts I found only a handful of essays, all of them written, rather ominously, in the early Seventies (when I was in my early twenties). Having reread them, I toyed with the idea of calling my nice little section something like 'Literature and Society: The Vanished Debate'. Then I decided that my debate had better vanish too. The pieces themselves I considered earnest, overweening, and contentedly dull. More decisively, though, Lit & Soc, and indeed literary criticism, felt dead and gone.

That time now seems unrecognizably remote. I had a day job at the Times Literary Supplement. Even then I sensed discrepancy, as I joined an editorial conference (to help prepare, perhaps, a special number on Literature and Society), wearing shoulder-length hair, a flower shirt, and knee-high tricoloured boots (well-concealed, it is true, by the twin tepees of my flared trousers). My private life was middle-bohemian — hippyish and hedonistic, if not candidly debauched; but I was very moral when it came to literary criticism. I read it all the time, in the tub, on the tube; I always had about me my Edmund Wilson — or my William Empson. I took it seriously. We all did. We hung around the place talking about literary criticism. We sat in pubs and coffee bars talking about W.K. Wimsatt and G. Wilson Knight, about Richard Hoggart and Northrop Frye, about Richard Poirier, Tony Tanner and George Steiner. It might have been in such a locale that my friend and colleague Clive James first formulated his view that, while literary criticism is not essential to literature, both are essential to civilization. Everyone concurred. Literature, we felt, was the core discipline; criticism explored and popularized the significance of that centrality, creating a space around literature and thereby further exalting it. The early Seventies, I should add, saw the great controversy about the Two Cultures: Art v. Science (or F.R. Leavis v. C.P. Snow). Perhaps the most fantastic thing about this cultural moment was that Art seemed to be winning.

Literary historians know it as the Age of Criticism. It began, let us suggest, in 1948, with the publication of Eliot's Notes Towards the Definition of Culture and Leavis's The Great Tradition. What ended it? The brutalist answer would consist of a singe four-letter word: OPEC. In the Sixties you could live on ten shillings a week: you slept on people's floors and sponged off your friends and sang for your supper — about literary criticism. Then, abruptly, a bus fare cost ten shillings. The oil hike, and inflation, and then stagflation, revealed literary criticism as one of the many leisure-class fripperies we would have to get along without. Well, that's how it felt. But it now seems clear that literary criticism was inherently doomed. Explicitly or otherwise it had based itself on a structure of echelons and hierarchies; it was about the talent elite. And the structure atomized as soon as the forces of democratization gave their next concerted push.

Those forces — incomparably the most potent in our culture — have gone on pushing. And they are now running up against a natural barrier. Some citadels, true, have proved stormable. You can become rich without having any talent (via the scratchcard and the rollover jackpot). You can become famous without having any talent (by abasing yourself on some TV nerdothon: a clear improvement on the older method of simply killing a celebrity and inheriting the aura). But you cannot become talented without having any talent. Therefore, talent must go.

Literary criticism, now almost entirely confined to the universities, thus moves against talent by moving against the canon. Academic preferment will not come from a respectful study of Wordsworth's poetic; it will come from a challenging study of his politics — his attitude to the poor, say, or his unconscious 'valorization' of Napoleon; and it will come still faster if you ignore Wordsworth and elevate some (justly) neglected contemporary, by which process the canon may be quietly and steadily sapped. A brief consultation of the Internet will show that meanwhile, at the other end of the business, everyone has become a literary critic — or at least a book-reviewer. Democratization has made one inalienable gain: equality of the sentiments. I think Gore Vidal said this first, and he said it, not quite with mockery, but with lively scepticism. He said that, nowadays, nobody's feelings are more authentic, and thus more important, than anybody else's. This is the new credo, the new privilege. It is a privilege much exercised in the contemporary book-review, whether on the Web or in the literary pages. The reviewer calmly tolerates the arrival of the new novel or slim volume, defensively settles into it, and then sees which way it rubs him up. the right way or the wrong way. The results of this contact will form the data of the review, without any reference to the thing behind. And the thing behind, I am afraid, is talent, and the canon, and the body of knowledge we call literature.

From the Hardcover edition.

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