The real difficulty, I’ve found, in pasting passages from books here is that few paragraphs fully explain themselves. A paragraph is a vehicle taking you from one idea, the preceding paragraph, to the next one. So few are self-contained — they rely on what comes before and after. So few stand independent of context.
But the following paragraphs are worth reading with a sense of background. They’re from Martin Amis Experience: A Memoir.
To set the scene:
Amis has just taken his best friend Christopher Hitchens to meet his friend and mentor, Saul Bellow, at Bellow’s summer house in Vermont. Expecting the two to get along swimmingly, Amis is surprised when, during a long dinner, Hitchens and Bellow (who share Jewish blood and an intense interest in the state of Israel) get into a fiery dispute about Edward Said and the future of Palestine. Amis and Hitchens leave the Bellow’s home in a polite but tense silence the following morning.
In returning to his vacation home on Horseleech Pond in Cape Cod, however, Amis is struck by a more shattering revelation: his marriage is dissolving and his life – his midlife – is in a state of crisis. This is a seismic moment: his world is shaking, shifting beneath him. So these paragraphs come at that point in the memoir, in a chapter called ‘Thinking with the Blood’.
“I see [Saul] Bellow perhaps twice a year, and we call, and we write. But that accounts for only a fraction of the time I spend in his company. He is on the shelves, on the desk, he is all over the house, and always in the mood to talk. That’s what writing is, not communication but a means of communion. And here are the other writers who swirl around you, like friends, patient, intimate, sleeplessly accessible, over centuries. This is the definition of literature.
In one of his most stunning utterances Nietzsche said that a joke is an epigram on the death of a feeling…[And] feelings were being mourned: feelings about the first half of life. Youth can perhaps be defined as the illusion of your own durability. The final evaporation of this illusion parches the skin beneath the eyes and makes your hair crackle to the brush. It was over. There would be hell to pay. Dying suns of a certain size perform the alchemist’s nightmare: they turn gold into lead. And there we were, in 1989, heading towards base metal. Transmutation had come to him, and would soon come to me.
But here, for a little while longer, is the house on Horseleech Pond. Here are the trees where Christopher and I, at the age of thirty-six, stood posing for photographs with our sons in our arms: Louis, Alexander. The women taking the photographs were Antonia and Eleni. And there would be other births: Jacob, Sophia. All this is going to go. All this is going to disappear. This will fail. I will fail. I said to myself, Look at it: Look at what you’ve done. There is the rented car, a different rented car, in which you will drive alone to Logan. There is your wife, crying in the drive. Beyond her are your boys on the patch of grass, with that zoo of theirs – the frogs, the turtles.”