MARTIN AMIS. The Moronic Inferno and Other Visits to America


The Moronic Inferno

and Other Visits to America


The Moronic Inferno

and Other Visits to America

Introduction and Acknowledgments

The Moronic Inferno

The Killings in Atlanta

Truman Capote: Knowing Everybody

Philip Roth: No Satisfaction

Elvis: He Did It His Way

Diana Trilling at Claremont Avenue

Mailer: The Avenger and the Bitch

Palm Beach: Don’t You Love It?

Brian De Palma: The Movie Brute

Here’s Ronnie: On the Road with Reagan

Mr Vidal: Unpatriotic Gore

Too Much Monkey Business: The New Evangelical Right

Vidal v. Falwell

Joseph Heller, Giantslayer

Newspeak at Vanity Fair

Kurt Vonnegut: After the Slaughterhouse

Gloria Steinem and the Feminist Utopia

William Burroughs: The Bad Bits

Steven Spielberg: Boyish Wonder

John Updike: Rabbitland and Bechville

Joan Didion’s Style

In Hefnerland

Paul Theroux’s Enthusiasms

Gay Talese: Sex-Affirmative

Double Jeopardy: Making Sense or aids

Saul Bellow in Chicago

Introduction and Acknowledgments

On a couple of occasions I have been asked to write a book about America; and I must have spent at least four or five minutes contemplating this monstrous enterprise. America is more like a world than a country: you could as well write a book about people, or about life. Then, years later, as I was up-ending my desk drawers to prepare a selection of occasional journalism (and this book is offered with all generic humility), I found that I had already written a book about America — unpremeditated, accidental, and in instalments. Of the hundreds of thousands of words I seem to have written for newspapers and magazines in the last fifteen years, about half of them seem to be about America. I hope these disparate pieces add up to something. I know you can approach America only if you come at her from at least a dozen different directions.

The academic year 1959—60 I spent as a ten-year-old resident of Princeton, New Jersey. I was the only boy in the school — the only male in the entire city – who wore shorts. Soon 1 had long trousers, a crew cut, and a bike with fat whitewalls and an electric horn. I ate Thanksgiving turkey. I wore a horrible mask on Hallowe’en. America excited and frightened me, and has continued to do so. Since that time I have spent at least another year there, on assignment. My mother lived in America for years, and many of my expatriate friends live in America now. My wife is American. Our infant son is half-American. I feel fractionally American myself.

Oh, no doubt I should have worked harder, made the book more representative, more systematic, et cetera. It remains, however, a collection of peripatetic journalism, and includes pieces where the travel is only mental. I have added links and postscripts; I have wedged pieces together; I have rewritten bits that were too obviously wrong, careless or bad. I should have worked harder, but it was quite hard work getting all this stuff together (photocopying back numbers of journals can be a real struggle, what with the weight of the bound volumes and that Xerox flap tangling you up and getting in the way). And it was hard work writing it all in the first place. Journalists have two ways of expending energy: in preparation and in performance. Some exhaust themselves in securing the right contacts, the intimate audits, the disclosures. I am no good at any of that. I skimp it, and so everything has to happen on the typewriter. I find journalism only marginally easier than fiction, and book-reviewing slightly harder. The thousand-word book review seems to me far more clearly an art form (however minor) than any of the excursions of the New Journalism, some of which are as long as Middlemarch.

All these pieces were written left-handed. They were written, that is to say, not for my own satisfaction but for particular editors of particular journals at particular times and at particular lengths. The hack and the whore have much in common: late nights, venal gregariousness, social drinking, a desire to please, simulated liveliness, dissimulated exhaustion — you keep on having to do it when you don’t feel like it. (Perhaps this bond accounts for the hypocritical burnish of the vice-entrapment story, where in the end the reporter always makes his excuses and staggers off nobly into the night.) Insidious but necessary is the whorish knack a journalist must develop of suiting his pitch to the particular client. Luckily it all seems to be done subliminally. You write like this for the London Review of Books, and you write like that for the Sunday Telegraph Magazine. You can swear here but you can’t swear there. (I have greatly enjoyed debowdlerising these pieces — and restoring cuts, some of which, as in the Brian De Palma profile, approached about 80 per cent of the whole.) The novelist has a very firm conception of the Ideal Reader. It is himself, though strangely altered — older, perhaps, or younger. With journalism the entire transaction is much woollier: every stage in the experience seems to involve a lot of people.

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