A Diagonal of Shocking Decline

Remember this, from the plane trip to America in The Information by Martin Amis?

"... Richard looked to see what everyone was reading, and found that his progress through the plane described a diagonal of shocking decline. In Coach the laptop literature was pluralistic, liberal, and humane: Daniel Deronda, trigonometry, Lebanon, World War I, Homer, Diderot, Anna Karenina. As for Business World, it wasn't that the businessmen and businesswomen were immersing themselves in incorrigibly minor or incautiously canonized figures like Thornton Wilder or Dostoevsky, or with lightweight literary middlemen like A. L. Rowse or Lord David Cecil, or yet with teacup-storm philosophers, exploded revisionist historians, stubbornly Steady State cosmologists or pallid poets over whom the finger of sentimentality continued to waver. They were reading trex: outright junk. Fat financial thrillers, chunky chillers and tublike tinglers: escape from the pressures facing the contemporary entrepreneur. And then he pitched up in the intellectual slum of First Class, among all its drugged tycoons, and the few books lying unregarded on softly swelling stomachs were jacketed with hunting scenes or ripe young couples in mid swirl or swoon. They all lay there flattened out in the digestive torpor of midafternoon, and nobody was reading anything -- except for a lone seeker who gazed, with a frown of mature skepticism, at a perfume catalogue. Jesus, what happened on the Concorde?"

Ignoring the dig at Dostoevsky -- the rule "do not attempt to decanonize Dostoevsky in a snarky aside" must be in Strunk and White somewhere -- this is a clever way to get Richard, the literary novelist who can only afford a cheap seat, to the other end of the plane, where sits his nemesis Gwyn, the bad commercial novelist. What Amis describes here is indeed the sort of thing Richard might notice along the way -- and it's also funny because Amis labors things we already know, such as that the businessmen aren't reading A. L. Rowse.

Also, it rings true -- the culture of the business world is anti-intellectual. Perhaps for good reason. If the "lone seeker" has a multi-million-dollar deal to close in the next twenty four hours, might a thriller not be more conducive than Thornton Wilder to attaining the required frame of mind?

Scroll to Top