Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Welcome to Planet Blitcon: Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie and Ian McEwan Dominate British Literature-And They're Convinced That Islam Threatens Civilisation as We Know It

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Welcome to Planet Blitcon: Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie and Ian McEwan Dominate British Literature-And They're Convinced That Islam Threatens Civilisation as We Know It

Article excerpt

The names of the most famous contemporary writers have become international brands. When they speak, the world listens. And increasingly, they speak not just through their fiction, but also via newspaper opinion pages, influential magazines, television chat shows and literary festivals. Novelists are no longer just novelists--they are also global pundits shaping our opinions on everything from art, life and politics to civilisation as we know it.

What we want from them is clear: insight into the human condition. From the most favourable conditions in human history, we have generated terror, war and a proliferation of tensions grounded in mutual fear and hatred. Humanity is unquestionably in need of help. But is it amenable to literary soundbites? Do literary pundits provide us with the best insight into our conundrums or serve as useful guides to the future?

The British literary landscape is dominated by three writers: Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie and Ian McEwan. All three have considered the central dilemma of our time: terror. Indeed, Amis has issued something of a manifesto on the subject he terms "horrorism". In their different styles, their approach and opinions define a coherent position. They are the vanguard of British literary neoconservatives, or, if you like, the "Blitcons".

Blitcons come with a ready-made nostrum for the human condition. They use their celebrity status to advance a clear global political agenda. For all their concern with the plight of the post-9/11 century, they do not offer a radical new outlook on the world. Their writing stands within a tradition, upholding ideas with deep roots in European consciousness and literature. They are by no means the first to realise that fiction can have political clout; but they are the first to appreciate the true global power of contemporary fiction, its ability to persuade us to focus our attention in a specific direction. How conscious Blitcons are of their traditionalism may be in question. But it is a question that must be put to them. Where are you coming from? And where do you want to take us?

The Blitcon project is based on three one-dimensional conceits. The first is the absolute supremacy of American culture. Blitcon fiction is orientalism for the 21st century, shifting the emphasis from the supremacy of the west in general to the supremacy of American ideas of freedom. This shift can be traced back to Allan Bloom, the influential academic and author of The Closing of the American Mind (1987), who argued that American culture was the best in this best of all possible worlds. Bloom was a close friend of the novelist Saul Bellow, who promoted Bloom's ideas in his fiction: his 1970 novel about a "western-civ" thinker, Mr Sammler's Planet, is a good example. By the time Bellow wrote his last novel, Ravelstein, in 2000, his views had become more overtly aligned with the political establishment--it includes lightly fictionalised and highly sympathetic portraits of both Bloom and Paul Wolfowitz, the former Bush administration apparatchik, now head of the World Bank.

Bellow is the godfather of the Blitcon movement, and his influence on the thought and writing of Amis, Rushdie and McEwan is obvious. Like Bellow, Amis is obsessed with the preservation of the canon. The War Against Cliche (2001) insists that "there is only one type of writing--that of talent". But who are the talented ones? Only those who are part of the western canon, which happens to be "wall-to-wall white men": writers such as John Updike, Anthony Burgess, Gore Vidal and Vladimir Nabokov. Women (apart from Jane Austen) and non-western writers (apart from the Islam-hating V S Naipaul) need not apply.

If we are to read McEwan's beliefs and intentions through his fiction, the western canon is the very essence of humanity. His novel Saturday (2005) is set on 15 February 2003, when almost two million people marched in London to protest against the imminent invasion of Iraq. …

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