Hello, Failure

Of all the enemies of literature, success is the most insidious

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Failure of the Day: The Luxury!

It takes a little while for the effect to build up but once it has, you realize that intellect can make a person taller. And that’s quite a lucky break because he is, inexplicably, even shorter than last time. As he slipped passed me in the bookstore last night, his expanding bald spot towered nearly an inch over my head, making him roughly on par with the stature achieved by my 90 year old grandma. He could be a dwarf were he not so beguilingly well proportioned. He looks like a version of himself but not quite to scale. It’s a little disconcerting. There is no dodging it: Martin Amis is itty bitty.

He is also one of the last of a dying a breed, I think. There are novelists and there are intellectuals but there seem to be fewer and fewer intellectual novelists, and the subset of those last remaining few who are masters of the sentence, whose sense of the way the words go to together can curl your toes, I think can be counted on one’s fingers these days. I can only hope that Phillip Roth has children, and that he was a bit of a prick as a dad because as near as I can figure, that is one hell of a good recipe for a novelist.

I suppose we have to consider that the breed of people with the education and inclination to read intellectual novels is shrinking as well. I’m barely in it myself, truth be told. I’ll muddle my way through some of them, but a lot of them leave me cold. I tried really hard to get into Infinite Jest but around 150 pages in I had to face that fact that I just don’t care that much about tennis, a fact that may in and of itself be the proof that my intellect was left wanting. I can, however, think up snippy and defensive things to say like “Perhaps Mr. Wallace has confused virtuosity with mere verbosity” but really, it’s just that it was boring.

Martin Amis is occasionally boring (almost half of The War Against Cliché) and occasionally very bad (all of Night Train), but he is usually devastatingly on the mark. Last night he was a good deal less orange than he was in Seattle in 2000 (but still oompa loompaesque) and possibly as much as 2 inches shorter, but he was reading from a much better book, and there was a point at which I realized that I was basking in the absurdly great luxury of being in the presence of one of the people whose art inspires me more than almost anyone else in the world. And in my frame of mind, he looked at least 5’7” I thought.


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