Describing his cousin Lucy Partington’s memorial service in the summer of 1994, Martin Amis writes, “I had never experienced misery and inspiration so purely combined. My body consisted only of my heart.” One must read this line again and again to fully ‘feel’ as opposed to ‘understand’ what Amis is saying. Most of our moments of supreme grief and joy affect the heart and accelerate its beating. However, there are those rare moments or incidents when it is only the heart that exists – taste, smell, vision and intellect disappear. We tend to casually dismiss such states as ‘has taken leave of his senses’, but I think these are the moments of pure inspiration, moments when you are completely removed from the earthly and very close to the Him. I define Him as all that is good within me, all the potential for good that resides in me & all the good that I will do before I depart from here. If that is the definition of Him, such moments definitely act as a bridge between Him and us. Wordworth in his Tintern Abbey and Ode to Immortality refers to something similar.
Coming from Amis, whose work has always been subject to the most vicious attacks on account of its cold callousness, narcissism, and a lack of emotional depth, these words sound strange. Perhaps that is why critics panned his 2000 memoir ‘Experience’ in which the above line appears. It would seem Amis Jr’s colourful past and his proclivity for hasty brawls, casual flings and peculiar brand of masculine humour has endowed upon him the status of a perennial rake: one who cannot feel deeply, one whose life cannot be changed forever by specific events, one whose restless flitting from one interest to another must remain a lifelong yoke. An alternative seems unacceptable. Yet the above line speaks of exactly the reverse.
It is also interesting to note that Amis’ midlife crisis which was partly triggered by the discovery that his beloved cousin Lucy was one of the victims of the sadistic killer Fred West, the discovery of his daughter Delilah Seale, and his father’s death sowed the seed of a great upheaval and change in his life. His attitude to life and more particularly women changed. It put it succinctly – he discovered the healing power of love, the purity of love without ego, which constituted the ‘transfiguring experience’ at Lucy’s memorial service. Women who once served as badges of achievement, now became his healers and redeemers.
In an odd way the life of Rumi and Shams of Tabriz speaks of a similar transformation. Rumi and Shams stayed together for only 2 years, but the impact of their meeting left an everlasting impression on Rumi and resulted in nearly 70,000 verses of his best poetry which are collected in the Shams-e Tabrizi and Massnavi (Mathnawi). In a universe ruled by randomness, it would look unlikely, if not almost impossible, that two such contrasting characters (a wealthy nobleman and a wandering, mystic) could come together and find joy. I find this oddly humbling too. It reminds us that it is impossible to know where your next inspiration may come from or who will become the conduit for your transformation.