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Jennifer Egan: I learned to be funny from Martin Amis

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I learned to be funny from Martin Amis.

I don’t mean personally – I’m not personally funny, and I don’t know whether Amis was or not. Although our paths crossed several times after he moved to Brooklyn, I didn’t talk to him long enough to find out if the caustic hilarity of his 20th-century novels—which I devoured in the 1990s and then studied tried to understand whether his humor worked—a feature of Amis’s social personality or just his writing.

Amis’s approach to literary comedy is characterized, above all, by excess: push the action to one extreme, then escalate it, then further, until events devolve into a sublime synthesis of slapstick, stand-up, and cartoon. . I try this often; It sounds like a workaround. brief description from Wealth Strategy Displays:

I showered and changed clothes and came in good time. I ordered a bottle of champagne. I drank it He didn’t show up. I ordered a bottle of champagne. I drank it He didn’t show up. So I thought what the hell and decided I might as well get loaded… and, once it’s done, I’m afraid I have to tell you I threw caution to the wind.

In the light of most readers, the narrator was a little wary when he drank the first bottle. when the punch line drops after many More bottles, and who knows what else, finally the debauchery is fixed Start,

Read: A world without Martin Amis

That same comic approach is one of my favorite Amis scenes of all time. Information: Two rival writers are passengers of a small plane that proves too heavy to climb atop a raging thunderstorm. A red emergency light has gone out. Amis ends the chapter, “The cabin light above their heads dimmed and flickered and dimmed again.” He begins the next chapter:

It was when a patch of dirt appeared on the pilot’s cream rump that Richard knew for certain that all was not well. This pile of dirt started life as an isle, Martha’s Vineyard that soon became Cuba, then Madagascar, then an eerie gray Australia. But that was five minutes ago, and nobody cares anymore. True, not a single passenger interpreted the pilot’s pants position as a favorable sign, but that was five minutes ago, that was history, and now nobody cares about it, here Not even the pilot, who was yelling into a microphone, thundering into a world of conflicting metal and screeching rivets, thundering in the language of the storm—its horrors, its atrocious plosives.

What could have been an end point has already been removed, prompting us to a crescendo (the pilot requesting a “avoidance apron”—which passengers hear as “avoidance apron”—to hide the stain on his pants.) for) associated with scatology, rhetoric, and wildly inventive language. I would call this a classic Amis.

Extra serves as more than an aesthetics Wealth And Information, It is also the subject of the novel. their heroes – with them Success And london grounds– Increase appetite for sex, money, status, porn, or some combination thereof – Likely to offend some of 2023’s sensibilities. But it would be impossible to clean up Amis, à la Roald Dahl; Let’s hope no one tries. Although the sharp edge of his provocations may read more clearly now, it was always present. There’s an downside to Amis’s comic excesses, and it’s a concern over a culture that is veering toward the superficial and mediocrity. Our collective lust for wealth and status is, in Amis’s novels, at the expense of her own great passion, which was language: the power of words on a page. Amis used that power with brio, poking and twisting and squeezing language to push past its limits. The dense pace of his prose seems sleepy compared to that of most other writers.

Amis’s vocabulary was apparently limitless. A quick scan of the words I’ve marked in their books includes Bulging out, voulu, totalitarianismAnd mephitic, to name just a fraction. Such experiments might seem unnecessary if Amis did not pay more attention to the sensory properties of language—its existence as pure sound. consider this route from Wealthin which the protagonist refers to the voice of a young actor named Spunk: “His voice—he had a certain valve or muscle working. I recognized that strain. I talked the same way at his age, my wicked fighting the pain and the glottal stop. The glottal itself I only gave in one syllable, a kind of gulp or half-way. Here Spunk was trying to tame his Bronco word-endings and his slippery vowels .

Read: Amis Passion

Even as Amis’s novels revel and frolic in linguistic excess, they evoke the apprehension of loss—a lament that people are turning away from literature. Richard Tull, hero of Information, are novelists of high order whose books do not sell. “His third novel has not been published anywhere,” writes Amis. Neither was his fourth. Not even his fifth. In those three brief sentences we describe the mahabharata of pain. Later, Tull travels through the coach section of an overseas flight, where he is jammed into the middle seat. Given, in first class, is seated his friend, the author of glib best sellers:

Richard looked up to see what everyone was reading, and found that their progress through the plane revealed a startling drop diagonal. Laptop literature in Koch was pluralistic, liberal and humane: Daniel DerondaTrigonometry, Lebanon, World War I, Homer, Diderot, Anna Karenina … And then he stood in a first-class intellectual slum, with all its narcissistic tycoons, and some books lying unthinkingly on slowly bloated bellies, with scenes of hunting or ripe young couples Whirlpools or swoons… No one was reading anything—except a lone seeker who gazed, with a frown of mature skepticism, at a perfume catalogue.

Information was published in 1995, when the word laptop was still usable outside the realm of personal computing. Nowadays, Richard can get through an entire airplane without looking at a single book. Amis’ funniest novel anticipates these changes, but it’s no surprise that, after 2000, her work turned darker.

a scene i marked Wealth involves the first person protagonist of Amis visiting an old friend in prison. Amis writes, “Alec Llewellyn wore a tinge of fear on his face.” “The eyes themselves (at once moist, gland-bright, almost fizzy) were the eyes of a trapped interior, living inside my friend and staring into the distance to see if it would ever be safe to come out. ” are not about Llewellyn’s catch Creature in prison, but about abuse of language In Jail: “Listen. It says ‘Lights Out at Nine’. Light-apostrophe-s. apostrophe-S! It says ‘a cup of tea or “coffee”‘ – coffee in inverted commas. Why? Why? In the library, in the library, it says ‘You can’t spit’ – there can’t be two more words No in capitals. This is a mistake, a mistake.

“‘Well,’ I said uneasily, ‘then the place isn’t run by too many bookworms. Or grammarians. Christ, hold on.’”

I marked that route as ’90s because I found it hilarious. Now I find it haunted. Another lesson from Martin Amis: the two are never so far apart.