It feels like it’s been a while since there was a proper bun-fight in the miniscule world of theatre. Obviously there was the bit of unpleasantness in the comments section under Lyn Gardner’s recent blog piece on Masque of Red Death, but as that seems to have sorted itself out there is no need to dwell.
I think I spy the opportunity for one in Tim Carroll’s new piece, but that rather hinges on Chris Goode making good on his Edinburgh promise of a moratorium list - all the elements of devised and avant garde work that should be forbidden for a few years due to overuse. Puppets were right up there, along with accordions, if I recall correctly*.
Instead, this week we’ve had the exciting spectacle of a literary bun-fight. Terry Eagleton has said some disobliging things about Martin Amis. It all hinges on the introduction that Eagleton has written for his new book Ideology: An Introduction, in which he calls Kingsley Amis, “a racist, anti-Semitic boor, a drink-sodden, self-hating reviler of women, gays and liberals” and attacks a fairly old essay by Amis, which barely caused a ripple on publication and was met mostly with polite indifference, on much the same grounds. In the essay Amis indulged some hair-raising rhetorical flights of fancy regarding the position of Muslims in Britain post-9/11 and 7/7. Eagleton likens the remarks in question to those of a “British National Party thug”
Following the furore blowing up, Eagleton took the opportunity to defend his corner in the Guardian. Odd behaviour, one might think, since it was after all Eagleton who started it - indeed Amis Jr. has yet to comment** - although his father’s widow and gay brother-in-law did both write letters to the Telegraph. But, given a majority of the British press’s pronounced antipathy toward left-wing academics, his defensiveness is quite understandable. Except that he then seems to spend a lot of the time arguing with John Sutherland’s perfectly reasonable Guardian Books Blog post.
Less credible is Eagleton’s bald assertion that “there is something rather stomach-churning at the sight of those such as Amis and his political allies, champions of a civilisation that for centuries has wreaked untold carnage throughout the world, shrieking for illegal measures when they find themselves for the first time on the sticky end of the same treatment.”
As opposed to the enormous, state-operated mechanisms of oppression that have been introduced by every Marxist/Marx-inspired government ever to seize power? Isn’t there an arguable short-sightedness in a "Marxist" criticising someone for racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia and, most laughably, alcoholism, when one remembers the Marxist governments of Zimbabwe, Russia, Cuba, Burma and China?
Eagleton would no doubt plead that those were hardly powers with whom he would associate himself or condone. But surely tarnishing Amis with advocating “centuries of untold carnage” is precisely the same sort of tactic. Much the same, in fact, as implicating all British Muslims in the activities of a dangerously fanatical few. This sort of broad-brush, impressionistic, mud-slinging does nobody any favours. If people are to disagree then it would be helpful if the disagreer disagreed with what the disagree-e actually says, rather than simply bracketing them in with some things that the disagreer finds objectionable.
Interestingly, doing a quick search for Eagleton on the Guardian’s website turns up this interesting slew of letters from July. It seems that Mr Eagleton’s bonnet-style bee containment unit is full to overflowing. I miss the good old days of Harold Bloom and Naomi Wolf. At least that featured the mostly absurdly overwrought chat-up line ever delivered.
Still, onwards and upwards. If the West End Whingers (brilliantly funny) review of War Horse is anything to go by, the world needs that moratorium list and needs it soon...
* Which I may well not - see comments.
**Although his condemnation of Saudi Arabia for, uh, everything his father is accused of by Eagleton is faintly reassuring.