You might remember that two weeks ago, Jim Sleeper defended Martin Amis against what he perceived as the worst excesses of Michiko Kakutani‘s assault on The Second Plane, Amis’s collection of essays and stories on 9/11. So when Leon Wieseltier stomped all over Amis in the NY Times Book Review last Sunday, Sleeper was ready to weigh in, saying that Wieseltier’s scorn for “‘fine’ writers who stray into public intellection” was entirely predictable. “What is surprising,” he adds, is that Wieseltier’s review is itself so preening and melodramatic,” to which a regular reader of the Review might well respond, “This surprises you how, exactly?” I especially love how Wieseltier goes out of his way to slam Nicholson Baker again at the end, four years after Checkpoint.
Sleeper actually agrees with Wieseltier that “Amis is too often grandiloquent and preening, his virtuosity sometimes outrunning reason and even reporting,” but he finds the long string of insults Wieseltier unleashes odd, and indulges in a bit of psychobiography to explain how his “gravitas for hire” writing style emerged, as well as discussing Wieseltier’s status as a fellow traveler with the neoconservatives who foisted the invasion of Iraq on us. “Wieseltier cannot condemn Amis honestly without condemning himself,” Sleeper argues. “So he condemns him dishonestly. And his writing assumes the flat, vacant intensity he imputes to Amis.”
(Mind you, Sleeper’s argument with Wieseltier has long roots.)
Of course, it wouldn’t do the Review much good if Sleeper were the only person talking about the article—one might well consider the possibility that Wieseltier is invited back to the Review over and over again because he creates controversy. And, lo, Leon Neyfakh rounds up some reactions from the likes of Tony Judt, Mark Lilla, and Ian Buruma, which allows Wieseltier an opportunity to get in another cheap shot: “If Buruma believes that one should write stylishly about important things, then he should begin to do so.”
(photo of Amis: David Levene/Guardian)