Well, the civil war appears to be over. And Islamism won it. The loser, moderate Islam, is always deceptively well-represented on the level of the op-ed page and the public debate; elsewhere, it is supine and inaudible. We are not hearing from moderate Islam. Whereas Islamism, as a mover and shaper of world events, is pretty well all there is.Amis pairs this appraisal with a critique of Western moral passivity and laziness, couched in occasionally deadpan rhetoric.
Male Westerners will be struck, here, by a dramatic cultural contrast. I know that I, for one, would be far more likely to beat my wife to death if she hadn't answered the telephone. But customs and mores vary from country to country, and you cannot reasonably claim that one ethos is 'better' than any other.My initial problem with the article was that it seemed 1) overly sensationalist and 2) guilty of generalization (two flaws that often come hand in hand). During my second read, however, I felt as though someone had gone through the text with a hi-liter pen and marked the moments that betray a secondary layer of meaning: Amis' implicit distrust and distaste for pluralism--buried within an ostensibly liberal agenda.
Our ideology, which is sometimes called Westernism, weakens us in two ways. It weakens our powers of perception, and it weakens our moral unity and will. As Harris puts it:
'Sayyid Qutb, Osama bin Laden's favourite philosopher, felt that pragmatism would spell the death of American civilisation... Pragmatism, when civilisations come clashing, does not appear likely to be very pragmatic. To lose the conviction that you can actually be right - about anything - seems a recipe for the End of Days chaos envisioned by Yeats: when "the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity".'
It seems fitting that a writer whose prose relies on generalizations would also prefer sweeping moral and cultural axioms. More interesting, however, was Amis' bio, which I subsequently read in wikipedia.
Aha, I thought--of course a writer who hates postmodern lit would also hate multiculturalism, relativism, localism. But are the two necessarily connected? Establishing a correlation between literary and political tastes seems dangerous, and sheds light on the stumbling blocks I initially faced with my senior thesis.
Like deconstruction--and the two are not one and the same--postmodernism regularly takes a (reductive) beating in the media. As Rapaport writes in The Theory Mess, David Lehman's definition of deconstruction as "a controversial analytics method which turns literature into a play of words, robbing it of any broader significance" gained currency because it appeared in Newsweek (1988).
My friend Matt Morello sent me a link to this article, which appeared in today's Times. In his review of Frank Rich's The Greatest Story Ever Sold, an account of the Bush administration's fraudulent rationale for going to war, Ian Buruma begins by writing:
What is fascinating about the era of George W. Bush, however, is that the spinmeisters, fake news reporters, photo-op creators, disinformation experts, intelligence manipulators, fictional heroes and public relations men posing as commentators operate in a world where virtual reality has already threatened to eclipse empirical investigation.
Remember that White House aide, quoted by Rich in his introduction, who said that a “judicious study of discernible reality” is “not the way the world really works anymore”? For him, the “reality-based community” of newspapers and broadcasters is old hat, out of touch, even contemptible in “an empire” where “we create our own reality.” This kind of official arrogance is not new, of course, although it is perhaps more common in dictatorships than in democracies. What is disturbing is the way it matches so much else going on in the world: postmodern debunking of objective truth, bloggers and talk radio blowhards driving the media, news organizations being taken over by entertainment corporations and the profusion of ever more sophisticated means to doctor reality.
Like Amis, we have another writer who is suspicious of postmodernism--not necessarily a bad thing. I googled Buruma, and found a link to this article--also in the Observer, published in 2001
The dek reads:
They are free to speak their minds, so why don't western thinkers tell the truth about tyranny in the Muslim world?To again return to the question between literary and political beliefs: Is Buruma (in today's article) shrouding a political remonstration in a book revew? And, as Matt wrote in his email, "Why so much hate for postmodernism? Don't these people read Stanley Fish?"