One of the minor consequences of the current international situation has been its desolating impact on literary morale. As Martin Amis repeatedly points out in this slim collection of essays and reviews, not only did 9/11 have the effect of sabotaging practically every work of the creative imagination then laid out on the drawing board (‘the so-called work of progress had been reduced, overnight, to a blue streak of autistic babble’), it also brought home to nearly every serious writer who took an interest in political life just how violently he or she was disliked by large parts of the wider intellectual community. Anyone who has ever accepted an invitation to contribute to, say, a Guardian blog will know what I mean by this. You file your 800 words – temperate words, on the whole, calculated not to give offence – and all of a sudden cyberspace is crawling with online hooligans just itching to scream abuse. It is difficult not to feel that this curious, and curiously abstract, enmity is largely a response to that great contemporary anxiety, disenfranchisement; and that, however obliquely or cursorily, it mirrors some of the wider traffic of the inter-continental skies.
Martin Amis has of course been on the sharp end of a fair amount of this treatment himself, and although The Second Plane went to press some time in advance of the recent verbal muggings by, among others, that amiable old attention-seeker Professor Terry Eagleton and the Guardian’s Ronan Bennett,