Friday, May 28, 2004

lizard brains

Last year, shortly before it was published, Martin Amis' Yellow Dog was the recipient of a berserk, pre-emptive attack by Tibor Fisher:

Yellow Dog isn't bad as in not very good or slightly disappointing. It's not-knowing-where-to-look bad. I was reading my copy on the Tube and I was terrified someone would look over my shoulder (not only because of the embargo, but because someone might think I was enjoying what was on the page). It's like your favourite uncle being caught in a school playground, masturbating.

Well, I'm two thirds of the way through the paperback and I'm here to tell you that it's Tibor out there astonishing the kiddies, his dick swinging in the wind. True enough, Yellow Dog isn't "slightly disappointing". It's pretty damn good. I was going to say his best since...but it doesn't really work like that.There seem to be some changes at work that make comparisons pointless.

For one thing, it's simple. There's none of the cosmic stuff, where Amis attempts to nail the feelings of his squalid creations to the stuff of the universe itself as they snuffle and hoot their way towards Cosmic Doom. Freed from portentousness, what we have is a day out swimming in the postmodern swamp with a random sample of ethical cripples, some more sympathetic than others, all assailed by a kind of creeping, corrosive worthlessness attendent on an overmediated culture.

Fuck me, I've gone all purple. Mart, boy, what have you done to me? Anyway there's lots of laughs too, deriving as is usual in Amis' stuff, from shame and humiliation.

Reading Koba the Dread, it occured to me that Martin's politics were starting to resemble his dad's, in a less bufferish and commonsensical way. It may also be that his books are turning in the same direction. No-one's a more nifty tap dancer round a thesaurus than Amis junior, but in Yellow Dog he seems content to just show us what he's on about rather than work quantum physics - or whatever - into things to develop a meaning for us all.

So what's he on about, then? One theme seems to be the ability of technology and commerce to both satisfy desire and to push it further than we ever thought possible or desirable. It's also a vision of an Americanised culture in a British context, publicity without style, celebrity without self worth, diffident recklessness, resentful hedonism. People either wallow joylessly in their impulses or squat on their jobs like fat, prehensile toads. Yes, it's the first really successful age of Blair novel. State of England, eh Mart? 'Kinell. State of that!

I've sometimes wondered why we have to use a dumbed-down phrase like dumbing down to describe a dumbed-down culture. Mart's here to tell us why words have failed us. Thing is, it's not that we've got dumber. Naah, geezer. it's just that our impulses have got smarter. Our lizard brains have learned to txt and e-mail and publish newspapers...

"Clint had recently read a piece in a magazine that posited the emergence of a new human type: the high IQ moron. Wised-up, affectless and non-empathetic, high IQ morons...were also supercontemporary in their acceptance of all technological and cultural change - an acceptance both unflinching and unsmiling."