Englishness, Jewishness, Saul Bellow—and Martin Amis

With his latest book, Inside Story, the English novelist Martin Amis has attempted a hybrid of fiction and autobiography, using the book to discuss his relationships with various literary friends and, of course, with his father—the novelist Kingsley Amis. While most critics have not been kind to the book, David Herman finds that it has its merits, especially when it addresses the themes of “literary fathers, Englishness, Jews, [and] envy.” Herman finds of special interest the portions of the book devoted to the novelist Saul Bellow, whom Martin appears to regard as a sort of substitute father:

If Kingsley was insular and middlebrow, what kind of literary father was Bellow? American, cosmopolitan, he had found his voice in Augie March, he took on “the deeps”: big issues and big ideas. Bellow was the sort of writer who named one of his most famous characters after a minor character in Joyce’s Ulysses and wrote two novels about friends who had died, Delmore Schwartz (Humboldt in Humboldt’s Gift) and Allan Bloom (the title character in Ravelstein).

Above all, Bellow was Jewish. One of the first conversations Martin Amis describes having with Bellow was about Jews. “Why don’t Jews drink?” Martin wants to know. They soon get onto “anti-Semitic culture,” what Bellow calls “the traditional culture of [Ezra] Pound and Wyndham Lewis and T.S. Eliot.” “Well, two nutters and a monarchist,” says Amis.

Herman contrasts this to Inside Story’s occasional references to the elder Amis’s casual anti-Semitism—or, at least hints of it.

Martin writes in Inside Story about a conversation with his wife. “‘Did you ring the Jews?’” he asks her. “‘Yes,’ said Elena [his wife]. ‘And they’re alright?’ ‘They’re fine.’ The Jews were their daughters (and they were full Jews too, by the way, by the ancient law of matrilinearity, and could simply walk into Israel as full citizens).” If Kingsley was the sort of writer who would write, “Yid” in a game of Scrabble, Martin was the sort who would proudly flaunt his children’s Jewishness. [Yet] Amis never explains why Jewishness was so important to him.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Literature, Martin Amis, Saul Bellow

 

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy