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Postmodern Elements In Martin Amis Three Novels English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 3274 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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His major works in English literature include his first novel The Rachel Papers (1973) won the Somerset Maugham Award. Dead Babies (1975), Success (1978), Other People: A Mystery Story (1981), Money (1984) subtitled A Suicide Note, London Fields (1989), Time’s Arrow (1991), The Information (1995), Night Train (1997), The memoir Experience (2000), Koba the Dread (2002), Yellow Dog (2003) In September 2006, Amis published House of Meetings, and in 2006, Amis published The Pregnant Widow which marks the beginning of a new four-book deal in 2008. Amis has also released two collections of short stories (Einstein’s Monsters and Heavy Water), three volumes of collected journalism and criticism (The Moronic Inferno, Visiting Mrs. Nabokov and The War Against Cliché), and Invasion of the Space Invaders. In this study three of his famous novels would be discussed: Success, Money, and London Fields.

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Success (1978) is a brilliantly schematic satire on the meaning of the word that provides the book’s title, structured around the lives of two foster brothers who share a London flat. As the novel opens, Gregory Riding is the apparent embodiment of success, a paragon of effortless superiority as he moves seductively through a world of glamorous parties, envious men and willing women. Terry Service, by contrast, ‘a quivering condom of neurosis and ineptitude’, represents failure writ large. As the book progresses, the roles are dramatically reversed. Gregory’s life slides out of control just as Terry’s begins to move upward and onward. Both Dead Babies and Success are dark morality tales in which Amis never allows readers the comfort of knowing for certain where the moral centre lies.

In many ways Money is the archetypal 1980s novel. The central character, John Self, is willing to sell what remains of his soul if only he can receive the immediate gratifications that consumer culture offers. Excess is what the culture teasingly offers, if you have the money to pay for it, and excess-of booze, drugs, sex and food-is what Self craves. Yet, beneath this absorption in the now, he senses the weight of future retribution. ‘Something is waiting to happen to me. I can tell. Recently my life feels like a bloodcurdling joke. Recently my life has taken on form. Something is waiting. I am waiting. Soon, it will stop waiting-any day now. Awful things can happen any time.’ Money is subtitled A Suicide Note, and the suicide is that of a culture. Steeped in Amis’s deeply ambivalent reactions to America-at once ‘moronic inferno’ and epicenter of all that is energetic and vibrant-the story of John Self’s crisscrossing of the Atlantic in search of funding for his film, and of his ultimate downfall at the hands of those more in tune with the Zeitgeist and with the almost mystical, underpinning influence of money, becomes a grotesquely comic voyage into a world that both fascinates and disgusts the writer. Much of the elaborate verbal stylization of Money illustrates the extent to which those who object to Amis’s fiction-and they are as numerous as his admirers-seem to miss one of its fundamental qualities. Amis is not, in any sense, a ‘realistic’ writer and to apply the same criteria to his hypercharged satire and self-consciously manipulated characters as one would to a work of social realism is, rather drastically, to miss the point. He is a comic writer and his own brand of apocalyptic comedy is built around the imaginative power of exaggeration.

In London Fields (1989) his astonishing linguistic invention is used to summon up a London that is not a real city so much as a fantastic conglomerate of everything he despises in contemporary culture. It told the story of how the Keith figure and the Nicola figure move towards each other until he murders her. Amis restored to one of his favorite devices-doubling. One of the central themes of the novel is the link between reading and information-gathering, and the unreliability of written information, of narrators and narrative. This novel is a pure example of “metafiction”. Samson Young (Sam), the narrator of the novel, is a metafictional device in London Fields, allowing Amis to pose questions about the status and purpose of fiction. Samson’s twenty-year writer’s block is Amis’s way of saying that literature, too, is suffering from exhaustion.

II. Statement of the Problem:

Raised in a household of writers, writing has always been a topic of major interest to Amis throughout his working lifetime. Literature as David Thomson points out, ” is a prominent feature of every novel” by Amis. He has admitted to a fascination with the varieties of narrative perspectives that can be used to throw fresh light on the subjects that he handles in his fiction. His narrators in the three novels mentioned above are highly intrusive narrators offering observations to the reader on the action or commenting metafictionally on the narrative act in which they are involved. To add to this use of a self-conscious intrusive voice, Amis sometimes introduces what is called “narrative involution,” which involves the entry into the fictional world of the author. This use of narrators and authorial stand-ins creates multiple levels of narrative. The present researcher will study how the narrator in each of the three above mentioned novels operates.

1. Postmodernism: A complex term, that most often relates to the artistic practices that have become increasingly dominant in art and culture from the 1960s onwards in Western societies. As can be seen by the term itself, it offers a critical dialogue with modernism, a form of art and culture prominent in the 1920s and 1930s. Postmodernism tends to take an ironic or cynical approach to all art, even that which is done in its name. It is often the art form most associated with consumer capitalism, although the approach varies amongst artists and writers. Some of them celebrate the release from grand narratives such as religion and patriarchy. Others see consumer society as a system that devalues art and social relationships and use postmodern literary techniques to produce a critique of postmodernity.

2. Intertextuality: Julia Kristeva coined it from her reading of Mikhail Bakhtinin the later 1960s (being fully articulated in Revolution in Poetic Language) to refer to the way “any text is the absorption and transformation of another” (Kristeva 1986: 37).This means that literary language “is at least double,” the transposition of one or more sign systems into another(Kristeva 1986: 37). No text is wholly intelligible unless seen in relation to other texts with which it is inscribed. In particular, the differential relations between one text and others are productive of multiple meanings.

3. Dialogic Form: A term coined by Mikhail Bakhtin, by which he means the characters are liberated to speak “a plurality of independent and unmerged voices and consciousnesses, a genuine polyphony of fully valid voices.” In Bakhtin’s view, however, a novel can never be totally monologic, since the narrators reports of the utterances of another character are inescapably “double-voiced” ,and also dialogic ( in that the author’s discourse continually reinforces, alters, or contests with the types of speech that it reports).

4. Metafiction: A term relating to fiction that self-reflexively and self-consciously

announces itself as fiction. It typically draws attention to the use of narrative conventions and techniques and thereby parodying or critiquing them. Although metafiction is nothing new and examples can be found from the eighteenth century (such as Lawrence Stern’s Tristram Shandy) it has been closely associated with postmodernist fiction.

Robert Scholes has popularized metafiction as an overall term for the growing class of novels which depart from realism and foreground the role of the author and reader in inventing and receiving the fiction. Richard Todd claims that “many, possibly all, of these double relations in Amis’s fiction are metafictional in nature […] one or more characters attempts explicitly to control the fate of other characters, or allow themselves to be so controlled” (Todd 2006: 23). As an example we can mention Amis’s sadistic treatment of John Self in Money, and Nicola Six’s psychosexual manipulation of all three male characters in London Fields, where she is both the controller and the controlled.

5. Linear and Non-Linear Narrative: Linear narrative is one of the structural conventions of the realist novel. It is based on the assumption that events occur one after the other in a logical order and that each event has some causal relationship

with the events that precede and follow it. Postmodern narrative techniques have often upset this framework by using nonlinear structures, thus problematizing the logical relationship between events that you might expect to find in the realist mode. For example, events can be presented in an order that jumps between historical time frames.

IV. Significance of the Problem:

In A Glossary of Literary Terms, M. H. Abrams, defines novels as “extended works of fiction written in prose”. He also gives an account of fiction which in “an inclusive sense is any literary narrative, which is invented instead of being an account of events that in fact happened”. Regarding these definitions novels have always (by definition) induced the imaginary world of the artist’s creation. Yet with the emergence of Realism which was a reaction against Romanticism this issue became somewhat blurred. Jeremy Hawthorn in Studying the Novel maintains that realistic writers made enormous efforts to ensure that “‘factual details’ in their works were ‘correct’-that is to say, capable of being checked against an external reality by empirical investigations”. The novels of nineteenth-century realism made significant attempt to create a world which resembled our familiar, everyday world. These novels are stocked with people and places which seem real even if they are imagined. The early twentieth century gave rise to modernist works which according to Hawthorn “tend to be self-conscious” they deliberately remind the reader that they are art-works, rather than seeking to serve as “windows on reality. However they are often implicit rather than overt. Contemporary metafictional writing is both a response and a contribution to the postmodern thought that reality or history are provisional, no longer a world of eternal verities but a series of constructions, artifices, impermanent structures mainly gained through the opaque medium of language. The materialist, positivist and empiricist world-view on which realistic fiction is premised no longer exists.

Metafictional novels by employing different strategies which would be discussed in this study offer innovation through the reworking and undermining of familiar conventions. In fact according to Patricia Waugh “They explore a theory of fiction through the practice of writing fiction”(2).What they actually achieve in spite if much hostility is to re-examine the conventions of realism in order to discover a fictional form that is culturally relevant and comprehensible to contemporary readers.

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This thesis has also found its inception in investigations done by the present researcher on contemporary authors. In order to understand the recent novels we should be familiar with the main features which characterize contemporary works. Moreover, when dealing with postmodern fictions, critics talk about some poststructural concepts. Thus, reading postmodern fiction should be informed with the poststructural notions, for they go hand in hand. Poststructuralism has deconstructed the concepts of reality and fiction. Ideas of thinkers like Hayden White, Roland Barthes and Derrida have been the major sources in this regard.

V. Limitation and Delimitation:

In our time the ideas of author and authorship have come to signify a complicated criterion. Many postmodern writers and philosophers have explored these areas. Martin Amis is among the postmodern writers who have investigated the notions of writer, reader and text. Therefore the researcher has chosen three of his major works which are self-reflexive to look into the concepts of reader, writer and text. The researcher’s motivation for this study initiated with the ideas of Ronald Barthes and Michael Foucault, especially their notion of textuality and author.

The study would inevitably explore linguistic domains of contemporary fiction writing as well as major linguists-critic’s viewpoints and doctrines related to metafiction. Also, in the works of the critics and literary theorists mentioned the focus would mostly be on their ideas related to the notions of concretizing the texts, contextualizing, and analogous conceptions.

Critics like Susan Brook, James Diedrick and Nicholas Tredell have studied Martin Amis’s life and novels from mostly postmodern notions like narrative techniques, metafiction, doubling, author, reader and text. This research is limited by external forces to study the novels of Martin Amis within the theoretical framework which is put forward by these, and other, critics. Thus the present author aims at investigating narrative features of Martin Amis’s fiction under the heading of “Postmodernism”. That is to say, the researcher will study Amis’s novels in order to find and examine the concepts and narrative features. However, Martin Amis, is a very voluminous biographer, politician, short story writer and of course, novelist.

The researcher delimits his study to three of his major novels including Success, London Fields, and Money. These novels contain the aspects which different critics ascribe to “Postmodernism”.

VI. Method, Design and Approach:

The study (thesis) of Postmodern elements in the three novels of Martin Amis includes five chapters. The introduction chapter (chapter one) will deal with the general background, the statement of the problem (the argument), methodology and approach, thesis outline, and the definition of key terms employed in the research. Chapters two, three, and four will be dedicated to the three novels of Amis and in each chapter one of them will be discussed in relation to different postmodern elements such as narrative techniques, doubling, metafiction, role of women, intertextuality and linguistic inventiveness.

This study of the forms and implications of Postmodern narration is obviously guided by sustained reference to certain central arguments; parallels drawn by this type of narration between the acts of writing and reading, the paradox of reader in the text, the frames internalized and later broken by the authorial narrator. Also some postmodernist terminologies regarding the writer, the reader, the indeterminacy of text, “the theories of subject” and the relation of subjectivity to language will be drawn on. Metafictional novels acknowledge their fictiveness texually and thematically and they are really the emblem of the novel genre. The vitality of this aspect of metafiction in relation to the selected works of Martin Amis will be discussed in this study.

In this study the main features of postmodern narration, especially techniques of narration, and their possible presence in the novels are emphasized.

VII. Review of Literature:

Much has been written about postmodern writers. Some of these have concerned themselves to theorize about postmodernism but none of them has undertaken the special study of Amis’s novels. However, there are some illuminating references here and there dispersed within such works which show the way to study a postmodernist novelist as Amis.

Metafiction is a term given to fictional writing which self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artifact in order to pose questions about the relationship between fiction and reality .Such writing examines the fundamental structures of narrative fiction and also explores the possible fictionality of the world outside the literary fictional text. In order to explore the strategies and implications of this mode of writing in the selected works of Martin Amis different theories and terminologies selected from different critics are going to be utilized. Patricia Waugh in Metafiction maintains that the term metafiction originated in an essay by H.Gass (2).She draws on different strategies employed in these fictions and also the possible implications of them on the creative process of novel composition. The theories of ‘frame’, ‘game’ ‘play’ and ‘parody are emphasized’. From her point of view, the novel with the advent of metafiction has reached a “mature recognition of its existence as writing, which can ensure its continued practicality” (15).

Nick Bentley in Contemporary British Fiction discusses different issues related to modern and postmodern era, like narrative forms, contemporary ethnicities, gender and sexuality, history, memory and writing. In chapter one, when he discusses narrative forms, he focuses on postmodernism and realism. Then he mentions Martin Amis’s London Fields as an example. He describes various techniques of narration and metafiction used in this novel.

Brian McHale in Postmodern Fiction presents various issues related to novel writing in the twentieth century and the ontological status of post-modern novels. In his book a wide range of policies are considered. In chapter 2 “creative anachronism” is given due attention as a tension between past and present. He asserts that Classic historical fiction always strives to disguise this fact while postmodernist historical fiction, by contrast, “flaunts” it. He further maintains that the effect granted by “twentieth century having been superimposed on the nineteenth century to produce an impossible hybrid” (93). In another part of his book, chapter 5, he expresses how frame breaking could become a risky business when the authorial presence in the fiction destabilizes the ontological status further more. He argues that “to reveal the author’s position within the ontological structure is only to introduce the author into fiction (his italics) as a result we would notice far from abolishing the frame, “this gesture widens it to include the author as a fictional character” (197).

The theorists of post-structuralism and deconstruction also completely denied the mimetic function of representation and reference, which also influenced the postmodern discussion on literature. This has led many literary critics to pay more attention to the representational aspects of postmodernist historical fictions. These are similar to the attitudes of Derrida who states that the texts are shaped by signs and the reality to which they refer does not exist outside the text. Different aspects of Postmodernism exercised in the works of Martin Amis will be discussed in the light of these terminologies.


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