Two things struck me about the Martin Amis interview that appears in September's Smithsonian, the first of which came flying out of the first paragraph:

Many in the U.K., especially those who have read Lionel Asbo, his viciously satiric new novel that is subtitled State of England, have taken his move to America as a bitter farewell to the U.K., a land that has become, if you read the new work, dominated by sinister yobs (U.K. slang for vulgar, often violent bullies) and an ignorant, toxic tabloid- and porno-obsessed culture.

And I laughed, partly because we have no shortage of the same cultural defects Stateside, but mostly because "Asbo" is an acronym, standing for "Anti-Social Behaviour Order," a construct of the British legal system during the Tony Blair years, intended to curb said yobs. Not yet having read the novel, I'm guessing that the yobs come out on top.

But what I really wanted to talk about was this statement by Amis, about three-quarters of the way through the interview:

At the heart of the new novel, he told me, is an innocent couple in love and a threatened child.

"That's what I seem to prize, the child or the ingénue, the less worldly characters. You can say that the world may not be getting worse — in a pinch you can say that. But it absolutely incontrovertibly is getting less innocent. You get the feeling that childhood does not last as long as it used to. Innocence gets harder to hold on to as the world gets older, as it accumulates more experience, more mileage and more blood on the tracks.

"Your youth evaporates in your early 40s when you look in the mirror. And then it becomes a full-time job pretending you're not going to die, and then you accept that you'll die. Then in your 50s everything is very thin. And then suddenly you've got this huge new territory inside you, which is the past, which wasn't there before. A new source of strength. Then that may not be so gratifying to you as the 60s begin, but then I find that in your 60s, everything begins to look sort of slightly magical again. And it's imbued with a kind of leave-taking resonance, that it's not going to be around very long, this world, so it begins to look poignant and fascinating."

I'd trace the evaporation of my own youth to my middle thirties, when it dawned on me that (1) I was far more of a douchebag than I'd previously imagined and (2) it was imperative that I do something about that. Instead of pretending I wasn't going to die, though, I started trying to come up with some means of speeding up the process, on the semi-honorable (or so I thought) basis that I, in my then-current state of willful blindness and deadass lassitude, would never be missed anyway. I bottomed out, and eventually crawled my way back, if not to the top exactly, at least to a place from which the top could be seen, or maybe just imagined. Whatever the actual distance between myself and the light, I did manage to get my hands on "a new source of strength." I wrote this on my 50th birthday:

So I have to clean yet another house, sort through the emotions, the neuroses, the random thoughts, find out what's worth keeping and what can be tossed. It's a scary proposition, to say the least. Yet somehow, I'm not particularly scared.

And maybe, just maybe, that's what's changed. Fear may do you some good when you're younger; at fifty, it's just one more thing that gets in the way.

I hasten to add that my sixties don't arrive for another fourteen months. But it's true, as 62-year-old Amis says, that aspects of life have indeed started to look "sort of slightly magical": my long-standing general irritation with a world that doesn't work is now occasionally supplanted by delight in the small things that do. And maybe this has something to do with the idea that I'd better appreciate them now while I still have time, but by and large I don't spend that much time these days contemplating my own demise, except maybe to select songs for the funeral.

This, of course, does not explain why I'm spending so much time of late with various outcroppings of the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic universe, except to the extent that, well, it does. Maybe, as Amis says, it's an attempt to keep hold of something resembling innocence, even as it's being taken away. Or maybe it's the realization that it just might be there anyway, whether I'm paying attention or not:

"What's the opposite of magic?" Twilight asked.

"I think that would be me," Brush drawled. "Completely devoid of the stuff, I am."

"Not true," said the Princess. "As an earth pony you are connected to the mana, the magic that underlies all of Equestria. The mana helped to heal you after your surgery, and it gives you strength every day. You will learn these things in time." She smiled. "Twilight, you have your work cut out for you."

"I love my work," Twilight Sparkle said.

Cut to Hamlet gently telling off Horatio for failing to realize the sheer breadth of the universe. At some level, philosophy has to come up with something resembling a value for infinity. And the only way to approach that, I'm starting to believe, is to push aside whatever limitations make it impossible to estimate. Is that slightly magical? Life itself is slightly magical, if only because the rigidly logical mind — you probably know someone who claims to possess exactly that — has to perform the cosmic equivalent of deep knee bends to explain why life is even here in the first place.

The late Arthur C. Clarke famously posited that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic; Barry Gehm subsequently suggested a corollary to the effect that any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced. And the mythos in the MLP:FiM universe seems to be that any sufficiently well-understood magic is indistinguishable from technology. It's all blurred together, though not deliberately so; it's just that none of us possess the ability to distinguish these things reliably. I see it as my job, in my sixties and thereafter, assuming the existence of "thereafter," to spot the occasional flash of clarity in that blur. And I hope to be as enthusiastic about my work as Twilight Sparkle is about hers.

The Vent

#789
  16 September 2012

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