Thursday, November 22, 2007

Enabling Martin Amis

"Though he was forced to squirm a little, Amis refused to recant or apologise. His demeanour throughout was the ostentatious weariness of the unfairly traduced, and he called for an end to the whole dull business. "Can I ask him [Eagleton], in a collegial spirit, to shut up about it?" he wrote in a letter to this newspaper.

Do we let the homophobe off the hook just because he tells his critics to shut up? Do we pass over the rantings of the antisemite just because he did not commit the poison to the page? To judge from the response of most liberal commentators, the defence seemed to work, and Amis's wish to have a line drawn under the affair was granted. While Eagleton was attacked as a clapped-out marxist, Amis was commended, by a writer in the Observer, for "owning up - bravely, as it turned out - to what amounted to a revenge fantasy". His "thought experiment" was the incautious but challenging musing of one of the most vivid and verbally energetic modern writers in English. In the Guardian, one writer concluded that although he was often irritating, Amis had raised important questions, while among the rhetorical questions asked by Professor John Sutherland was whether Eagleton's - Eagleton's! - position at Manchester University was tenable after labelling a colleague a bigot and a racist..."