Eagleton, Amis, and the Literary

The Amis-Eagleton controversy
The British literary elite and the “war on terror”

By Ann Talbot 

In giving Eagleton a kicking, the British literary elite are sending a message to younger and less well-established academics, to aspiring writers and to students that Marxism is not acceptable and that they had better adopt the same degenerate stance as Amis if they expect to be published, get promoted or be awarded any grade above a gamma minus.

The full extent of Amis’s project is clear when one considers the trajectory of his development from his days as literary editor of the reformist New Statesman to the publication of Koba the Dread in 2002. Koba purported to be an examination of the phenomenon of Stalinism.

There is a place for the skills of a novelist in such a project. It might even be argued that only novelists can provide us with the textural quality of history and that their work is as necessary as that of the historian to our understanding of the past. The ability of the novelist to reveal the emotional content of social relations is a skill particular to their craft that depends upon the development of their own subjective faculties and the linguistic technique with which to express their vision. That subjectivity which is so essential to their work demands, however, a basis in objectivity. A novel without that objective basis provides a display of technique alone. It may flash before us the images of a lurid fantasy, but the emotional response it elicits is akin to the way a commercial disturbs our emotions in order to deflect our critical faculties.

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