The General Background Of Martin Amis Life English Literature Essay

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Martin Amis was born on 25 August 1949. He was the second son of Kingsley Amis and Hilary Bradwell. Whereas Kingsleys father was lower middle class, his mother's parents were upper middle class. In 1946, while an undergraduate, Kingsley had met Hilary, a model, at the Ruskin School of Art. In 1948 she became pregnant, they married, and she gave birth to Philip, Martin's older brother, who was to grow up to become a graphic designer. After moving to Swansea, the family was rescued from living in a series of cramped flats (in one of which Martin slept in a drawer) when Hilary turned twenty one in 1950 and inherited from her family 5,000 pounds with half of which they bought their first terraced house. In 1954, the year in which their last child, Sally, was born, Kingsley published Lucky Jim, a novel that became a bestseller and was turned into a film in 1957. Kingsley stood for a rejection of the experimental tradition of modernism in favor of social realism and transparency.

There is little recollection of much of his childhood in Experience. Once he left Swansea he went to some dozen different schools, which offers little narrative continuity. Going to so many schools also made him quite expert at self-preservation, which he would need when faced with negative reactions to his works from his father and the press. The year in New Jersey, where he attended the Valley Road School, made Martin fully Americanized. "America excited and frightened me," he recalls in later life, "and has continued to do so." His connection to America was destined to resume in his thirties and to play an important role in his development as a novelist with international appeal.

When he failed his A-level exams, which he took in the early summer of 1965, he and Philip moved into his father and Elizabeth Jane Howard had set up (they were married that June), while his mother would remarry an academic and take Sally with her to Michigan. Martin and Philip continued to lead a life of truancy, drinking, girls and dope. Martin, a year younger than Philip, was not so rebellious. Maybe this was because his stepmother took him in hand. At this time his reading consisted almost of comics and science fiction. When she asked him what he wanted to be, to her astonishment, Martin answered, "Be a writer." In the autumn of 1967, Jane found a boarding crammer called Sussex Tutors in Brighton which Martin agreed to attend and where he was coached intensively to take the O- and A-level exams needed to qualify for Oxford University's Entrance Paper. He passed all of them, being the only one at the crammer to obtain an A in English. During this time in Brighton, he acquired a taste for nineteenth-century literature, not just George Eliot and Dickens but also Tolstoy ("bloody good") and Henry James ("Eloquent, rather funny, polished").

In the autumn of 1971, Amis first planned on staying at Oxford to write a postgraduate thesis on Shakespeare. But when Jonathan Wordsworth, his tutor, challenged him to take a year off to write a novel, he accepted it and left both Oxford and the parental home. As soon as he left Oxford, he began work on the initial draft of his first novel, The Rachel Papers, which he wrote before and after work and during weekends. He based the book on his year spent at crammers in order to get admitted to Oxford. Here he had a conversation with his father about literary style, in the course of which Kingsley gave him the only literary advise he would offer. In effect, Kingsley insisted that a good writer should not repeat within a short space prefixes or suffixes such as -ing, -ics, -tions and the like. The Rachel Papers was published on 15 November 1973(when Amis was 23) and signaled the arrival of a formidable new author. Like his father's Lucky Jim, it won the Somerset Maugham Award for the best first novel by a writer under the age of thirty five. This self-consciously precocious account of the teenager Charles Highway's pursuit and seduction of an older, Rachel, set the tone for Amis's fiction for the next decade. Highway, as overt narrator, is both intensively self-aware and self-examining and blind to much that we, the readers, are allowed by Amis, the hidden narrator, to intuit about his life and his interactions with others. Dead Babies(1975), Amis's second novel, abandons the light comic tone of The Rachel Papers for that of comically savage satire. It uses Amis's mordant wit to explore self-absorption amidst lovingly described decadence. The novel follows the progress of its characters' weekend-long descent into a maelstrom of sex, drugs and drink. English upper-class depravity in the shape of Quentin Villiers and his friends meets American counter-cultural amorality represented by Marvin Buzzard, a kind of guru of self-gratification, in the unlikely setting of a country rectory owned by Villiers. Nemesis, hinted at throughout the book, arrives through an enigmatic avenger called 'Johnny', who turns out to be an unexpectedly familiar figure. Success (1977) told the story of two foster-brothers, Gregory Riding and Terry Service, and their rising and falling fortunes. This was the first example of Amis's fondness for symbolically "pairing" characters in his novels, which has been a recurrent feature in his fiction.

Amis's most ambitious and successful novels belong to the 1980s. after Other People(1981), a disorienting narrative of a woman waking in some kind of an institution and endeavoring to reconstruct the narrative of her life and the events which led her there, he was at the peak of his powers in Money(1984) and London Fields(1989). Money is a first-person narrative by John Self, advertising man and would-be film director, who is "addicted to the twentieth century". The vivid and stylized use of language and black humor was a critical success and the book remains Amis's most highly regarded work. London Fields, Amis's longest work, describes the encounters between three main characters in London in 1999, as a climate disaster approaches. The characters had typically Amisian names and broad caricatured qualities.

Time's Arrow(1991) is built around a literary conceit, and the effectiveness of the novel depends on the reader's willingness to accept the conceit and its appropriateness to the subject matter Amis is treating. At the center of the book is The Holocaust. As German-born American doctor Tod Friendly lies dying, his soul undergoes a reversal of time's arrow and travels backwards to the years when Tod, in an earlier incarnation, worked as a doctor of death in a Nazi camp. Watching present move into past, like a film reel winding backwards, the soul radically misreads the events at Auschwitz-the doctor sees himself as creator restoring life to the gassed Jews. The Information(1995) recapitulates many of the themes of Success. Richard Tull is a sensationally unsuccessful hack reviewer and would-be great novelist who is obliged to watch the rise and rise into bestsellerdom of his friend Gwyn Barry. His attempts to even the score with the unforgivably successful Gwyn begin as highbrow slapstick but move into more familiar Amis territory with the arrival of Scozzy, a violent criminal whom Tull hires to beat up his rival. In Night Train(1997) his central character, Mike Hoolihan, is not convincing as a police, as a woman, or as an American. As she investigates the mysterious suicide of a young woman her character fails to emerge from the restrictions of the narrative voice Amis employs, and the novel itself, uneasily balanced between pastiche of noir fiction and a crime narrative that demands a convincing resolution, falls flat. The memoir Experience(2000) is largely about his relationship with his father, Kingsley Amis, though he also writes of being reunited with long-lost daughter, Delilah Seale, the product of an affair in the 1970s, whom he did not see until she was 19, and the story of how one of his cousins, Lucy Partington, became a victim of Fred West when she was 21. The book was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for biography. In Koba the Dread(2002) he mixes political and historical mareial with personal memoir. He evokes his father, his longtime friend ,Hitchens, and his sister Sally. Part two of the book consists of his recapitulation of the horrors of Stalin's reign in the Soviet Union.

Amis's most recent novel, Yellow Dog(2003), is the story of an actor who enters a North London bar and is the victim of a sudden assault that robs him of much of his personality and plunges him into a world of powerful transgressive desires. A tabloid journalist called Clint Smoker, trapped in a nightmare of bachelor squalor and sleazy investigations, is drawn into an internet relationship with someone who seems his fantasy woman. Meanwhile Henry IX, king of an alternative but recognizable England, is harried by his wife's descent into a coma, by his Chinese mistress and by the possibility that his teenage daughter, Victoria, has been filmed. An exiled gangster Joseph Andrews dreams of revenge and American porn stars aspire to thespian grandeur, renaming themselves as Sir Phallic Guinness, Sir Bony Hopkins, and Sir Dork Bogard. This work divided critics even more radically than his previous works. Some hailed it as proof of his virtuosity, others accused him of ploughing the same fields he had worked for years without harvesting anything fresh. House of Meetings(2006) shows Amis revisiting the subject of Russian gulags already described in his nonfictional work, Koba the Dread(2002). House of Meetings, the buildings where prisoners were allowed conjugal visits after Stalin's death in 1953. This was the starting point for the novel.

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, a witty nonfiction devoted to the obsession with video games that he experienced for a time. In this study three of his famous novels would be discussed: Success, London Fields and Money.

1.1.1 The Novels

1.1.1.1 Success (1978)

Unlike Dead Babies, Amis's third novel, shows tight control of structure and tone. It consists of twelve chapters starting with "January" and ending with "December". Each chapter contains two sections, each a dramatic monologue, the first spoken by Terry, a working class orphan, and the second by Gregory, his upper-class stepbrother whose family adopted Terry as a nine-year-old after his father had murdered his sister. The plot can be visually represented as an "X" with the successful Greg falling as Terry rises in the world, or as each staring at the top (Terry's being ethical and Gregory's being social) and both sliding to a low of their particular value system. Around the intersection of the "X", Ursula, Gregory's sister, takes her life, a victim of both stepbrothers' manipulation of and indifference to her.

Amis has said that Success is all about the great English disease, Class, which allows "only envy and hatred". Amis seems less interested in offering a satire of English society than in showing how the changing nature of British society was affecting his generation in the 1970s. It is Terry's view at the end of the book that the upper classes "don't belong anymore. What they belonged to has disappeared" (Success 149).

1.1.1.2 Money: A Suicide Note (1984)

Amis has characterized Money as a radical departure from the first four novels that "were all well made, balanced, a lot of form, décor." With Money he decided not to worry too much about the form. Instead, his priorities were "shedding restraints and a determination to tell the truth" (Ungles 1995:35). Money is, of course, about money in the money decade of the 1980s. References to money appear on most of the pages of this novel. It is what drives Self to behave in the courageous way he does. Money is also associated with death throughout the novel. The entire novel, apart from the final italicized epilogue, takes the form of an extended suicide note. At one point, Self claims, "Money is the only thing we [he and everyone else] have in common. Dollar bills, pound notes, they are suicide notes. Money is a suicide note" (Money 112). Money, while satirizing the universal pursuit of money that characterized the 1980s, does not attempt to do so from some ascetic norm. Instead, money is comically exposed as the spoiler of quality human life. As in Success, money now belongs to a new, mainly lower class entrepreneurs like John Self, who thinks of himself as "the new kind, the kind who has money but can never use it for anything but ugliness" (Money 59).

1.1.1.3 London Fields (1989)

Amis told Will Self that London Fields began as a sixty-page novella called "The Murderee". It told the story of how the Keith figure and the Nicola figure move towards each other until he murders her. But the novella turned into a novel when he introduced first another potential murderer, Guy, and then turned the narrator (Sam) into a major player. In effect Amis resorted to one of his favorite devices-doubling. Instead of combining opposing moods in one character, he preferred to split the male character into a lustful Keith and a romantic Guy, just as he introduced two children, one monstrous (Marmaduke, Guy's son), the other innocent (Kim, Keith's daughter).

As is customary with Amis's fiction, the plot is uncomplicated, more a vehicle for the satire and the verbal play with which the book abounds. In fact, the novel is a highly crafted satiric comedy which relies for its effect on characters who are as much representative of end-of-the-century civilization as psychologically individualized personas, a dystopian version of the state of the world at the turn of the millennium, and a brilliant use of different voices and linguistic devices to draw attention to the literary medium that controls all the characters and events in the narrative. Due to their representative nature, the characters come close to caricature. Amis, however, does not subscribe to the psychologically realist notion of fiction.

1.2 The Argument

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.

The other areas which would inevitably be discovered are the relationship between Amis and other major authors including his father, Kingsley Amis and Vladimir Nabokov, which is sometimes called intertextuality, and other elements such as subjectivity, linguistic inventiveness and gendered readings.

Regarding the mentioned points a number of questions in studying Martin Amis's novels may be raised:

1.How does postmodernism work in contemporary fiction?

2.What is the difference between intertextuality and critical discourse?

3.what are some of the contemporary receptions of Amis's three novels which are going to be discussed?

4.what is the concept of Doubling? And what are the effects of applying that to narrations?

5.How does Amis use language to get the effect he wants?

6.How, and why does London Fields question the authority of the author?

7.Why Amis's novels include a number of narrative levels?

1.3 Literature Review:

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.

1.4 Thesis Outline:

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.

1.5 Approach and Methodology

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 is "an inclusive sense in 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.

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.

1.6 Definition of Terms

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.

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