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In Conversation: Martin Amis

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What’s beclouding it all now is pornography. No one really knows what the long-term effects of that are going to be.

It’s been a subject of yours for a while, and it’s remarkable just how much the culture of pornography has changed even since you’ve been writing about it.

In my early novels there are references to magazines, which seems quaint now. It didn’t really exist, except pictures of young girls showing their breasts. And then there was the breakthrough with pubic hair, 1970, I think. But it just felt illegal. And now it’s—

It’s sex education.

That’s how they get their sex education now. Watching Desiree Fairweather and some tattooed ex-convict in high-definition close-up. I shudder to think what my girls have certainly already seen. My oldest daughter—I had many candid conversations with her when she was in her twenties, about how certain things were expected, just taken from pornography, which, lest we forget, is a very misogynistic form. Why does every sexual act end with something that girls hate? You know, the facial. When I wrote a long piece about pornography, I hung out with this porn actress, who was incredibly bright, and I said, How many girls, even here in San Fernando Valley, how many of them like that? She said, Well, I like it. I like being spanked and spat on, I like that kind of thing. But she said about 5 percent like it—5 percent don’t mind it. And 95 percent hate it. And yet it’s the sine qua non of the sex scene.

Amateur porn is now a much bigger part of the diet, and yet it’s not any less misogynistic and not any less directed by male desire, even if it’s couples making it.

They talk about pornography becoming mainstream and accepted. And I thought, no, it never will, until masturbation is mainstream and accepted and cool. Women will never assent to it. And the reason is because their great power, gift, procreation, is just ignored in pornography—there’s no talk about getting pregnant, “Don’t make me pregnant.” There’s none of that. It’s as if procreation were caused by something else entirely, like sneezing. But I think that women are coming around to it. There’s a review by a woman I read the other day of that 50 Shades of Grey book. Last sentence is, I wouldn’t wank to it, but it’s not bad. And I thought, Christ, that’s sort of lad’s-mag talk—sort of more male than male.

I wanted to ask about this other book you wrote, long ago, about video games.

Yeah, everyone keeps asking about that. Because video games are so huge.

What do you make of those people who suggest it’s an essentially novelistic, or anyway narrative, art form?

I don’t know what they’re talking about, really. What is very narrative-like, and I remember the fascination of this, is that you do one level and then you go up to another level. That kind of progressive testing of your resources is very addictive. And I think when I got to, what was it, the ninth level of Space Invaders—at that point it goes back to the first level. I was incredibly thrilled when I did that, in a café in Paris. But once I’d done that, the game was over for me.

It’s one of many instances, though, of you kind of slumming it, in terms of subjects—writing about snooker, darts. But there’s nothing muckraking or crusading about that writing.

What was always interesting to me was contrast. And extremes. And there’s less of that, since the poor aren’t there, in cities, in quite the numbers they used to be. My father was a communist as a young man, until the age of about 30—Hungary in 1956 made him change. He wrote a piece where he said how difficult it is to give up that vision of the city on a hill—a Utopia. And Hitch, too.

You’re not that way?

I like the idea of coming up with a society that is a little better than this—a gradualist, ameliorist spirit getting something a little fairer and a little more compassionate. But the idea of a Utopia has always been completely repulsive to me. What would one do in a Utopia? What would one write about? If you are at all artistic you want all those inequalities—that’s what makes life interesting.

It seems like you’ve never really been an avant-gardist as a reader or a writer, ­either—always more interested in extending or editing the tradition, rather than overthrowing it.

Well, Money is postmodernist, really, isn’t it? In that, there’s the author in there, as a minor character. What I felt I was doing there was seeing whether there were comic possibilities in postmodernism.


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