by James Parker, The Atlantic, November 2012
Unfresh usage upsets Amis. (That sounds like a crossword clue.) “Herd writing, herd thinking.” Be vigilant, young word-slinger. Be moral. The journo-clunker, the stale mandarinism—root them out! In this regard, I have to say, I think he has improved me. He’s the reason I won’t write woefully inadequate or use any form of the verb limn; why I will never describe a person as drug-addled, a biography as magisterial, or a piece of high-tempo music as hyperkinetic.
Here’s the thing, though. The refusal to use drug-addled brings with it—entrains, as Amis would say—an obligation to come up with something else, something better. Drug-demented? Drug-bespattered? Burning heretically on his/her pyre of drugs? For me, a non-genius, this obligation is something of a strain. I tend to think in lumps, not in language. I have to translate my thoughts. And this word isn’t good enough, and that word isn’t good enough, and round and round we go … In this state, it can be hazardous to read Martin Amis—to suffer the thrills of envy (I want it!), larceny (Can I steal it?), resentment (Bastard!), all leading where? Ah, you know where: into a writer’s dark night, the meat-locker chill of professional despair. The ego, inverted. I might as well give up. Pete Townshend and Eric Clapton, watching Jimi Hendrix at The Scotch of St James in London, were (according to Townshend) so harrowed with fear and wonder that they found themselves meekly holding hands. The apprentice writer reads Martin Amis, and whose hand can he hold but his own? A circuit, a misery loop—down you go, in sobbing spirals. You’ll never be able to write “As the horses now nobly loomed …”