Sympathists

Posts Tagged ‘Eric Ambler’

A Post-Leftist in Genre Drag: On Ownership Part I

In 20th c. Literature, Genre Fiction, Questions for the Panel on February 2, 2009 at 10:39 pm

ess_ambler_1M. Standfast, Kyoto

Puritano has beaten me to the punch by offering us a highly ambitious answer to the ownership question.  He narrows down his list of masters to two, Franz Kafka and Emily Dickinson, and explains why he thinks these two will outlast even such established masters such as Faulkner.  My own list is longer, and my efforts to address the ownership question will likewise be at once longer and less ambitious than Puritano’s.  Apologies in advance.

My Authors

Eric Ambler, Walter Benjamin, Pierre Bourdieu, Erving Goffman, Anthony Powell, Paul Theroux.  For each of these writers, I have read both deeply and widely from their ouvre, and I feel on pretty strong ground when speaking about them. Interestingly, I have not read everything by any one writer; the closest would be Powell, but even here I have not read his first novel, Afternoon Men in its entirety.

My Authors To Be

The second list is perhaps more interesting; it contains writers about whom I am working toward a sense of ownership but don’t yet have the expertise on to confidently put a claim on.  These include: Peter Berger, Elizabeth Bishop, Maurice Halbwachs, Herodotus, Machiavelli, William of Occam, Edward Said, Sun Tzu.

Eric Ambler

Ambler comes first for two reasons; he is both first alphabetically and arguably the oddest inclusion.  Ambler is generally remembered, if at all, as a writer of spy novels, and those with longer memories will recall that he was in fact a forerunner of the modern spy thriller.  While it is true that the Ambler books form a bridge between the more patriotic, almost 19th century style of John Buchan (1875-1940) and the prototypically “modern” (by which of course I date myself by still meaning 20th century), disillusioned overtones of LeCarre, Ambler himself wrote very few true “spy” stories.  Instead, most of Ambler’s protagonists come in one of three varieties: i) the small time petty thief, menial, or flat-out loser who is thrust into and manages to come through a dangerous situation in which he is apparently overmatched by relying on an innate cunning and instinct for survival; ii) men of middling status who, because of hubris or a kind of arrogant naivety, get into dangerous situations in which they are very definitely overmatched; iii) a cross between i) and ii). Continue Reading

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