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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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Today, the SoAS was host to the Contemporary Fiction Research Seminar, marking the release of a special issue of Textual Practice on Martin Amis' Money. The panel consisted of Nicky Marsh, Chris Hartley, Matthew Crowley, Bianca Leggett and Joe Brooker. There was also a conversation with the novelist Alex Preston, but I unfortunately had to leave before this point. This is a brief post to document the seminar. As always, these are from my notes so may be interpretations and ideas that were generated by me, with no guarantee of 100% faithful reproduction of the speakers' material.

Nicky Marsh speaking

First off, Joe Brooker made the introductions before Nicky Marsh began her examination of the text. Supplementing her article, Marsh posited that Amis' text points beyond the text to the world of finance itself, mounting a critique of the contemporary separation of industry and finance. Leading into a discussion of John Lanchester's Capital as a form of crash-Literature (or crunch fiction), Marsh brought out the redemptive trope here, a desire to fix money. Marsh finally linked this to an analysis of the various entries to the Guardian's Writers and artists design money fit for modern times, Marsh noted that it was interesting that Lanchester's entry was the only coin, the materiality of which is clear.

Next up, Chris Hartley posited a reading of Money as critiquing finance as being in a permanent state of Bahktinian carnival. Hartley suggested that previous financial crises, and their artistic representations, have seen these bounded but that, in Amis' work, the state of inversion becomes permanent. This led to an interesting discussion. I queried (and still do query) whether it is appropriate to use Bahktin in this way. Bahktin's carnivalesque is an authorised and pre-recuperated form of inversion. Who is the sovereign here? Who has authorized the inversion? Can Bahktinian carnival be permanent? If so, how would we recognize it as carnival because it becomes the norm. I think Hartley's point was good, but that it is not Bahktinian. It is, rather, an unveiling of a dystopian reality.

Matthew Crowley then moved to assess notions of class in Amis' novel. Deploying Hoggart's terminology of a “shiny barbarian", Crowley asserted that John Self can be seen in a tradition of 1950s working class protagonists. This entailed an interesting reading of the binary choice of women faced by the male protagonists as correlating to a problematic choice of high and low culture. The discomforting “ghost of class", as Crowley puts it, resonated strongly with some of the discussion that took place afterwards, particularly David James' and Roger Luckhurst's queries on the text's conservatism of aesthetics (James) and veiled disgust for the working class (Luckhurst). Also of interest here was the way in which Crowley generically situated the piece. Noting that the form of Money appears to mirror working class narratives but also has postmodern slant, for instance in the character name: Selina Street (sell in a street).

Finally, Bianca Leggett looked at the transatlantic connotations of Amis' work, reading biographical details of Amis' dental work into the text through an interesting parallel with Randolph in Daisy Miller. If the British side of Amis' novel is manifest in the stereotype of bad teeth, American teeth have own kind of corruption. Taking Baudrillard's jibe of the Cheshire Ccat smile of Americans, Leggett noted that Amis sees himself within an American lineage. However, ultimately Self's encounter with Butch shows that, as with America, even when he thinks he has the upper hand he is being used. Self, perhaps like Amis(?), is a heroic failure in his attempt to become American.