The novel is narrated by John Self, a American-British screen-writer/film-producer, as he self-destructs in the transatlantic flow of Hollywood money. In short, it ends up that the script he is working on, alternatively called Good Money and Bad Money, is the story in which he is playing a part; his friend Fielding Goodney turns out to be playing him all along; the movie doesn’t exist; he has signed tons of loans and debts, etc. In short, we are in a world of simulacra, with money itself standing in as ur-symbol of exchangeability.
“My head is a city, and various pains have now taken up residence in various parts of my face.” A curious endpoint to all that modernist angst about the individual in the urban. Amis turns turns the table: John Self exclaims, “I’m not allergic to the the twentieth century. I am addicted to the twentieth century” (89). The point here is that relationships to the world of consumer goods is no longer defined in terms of resistance and consumption, but only between different types of consumption. We are beyond the point where we can still define ourselves as autonomous creatures navigating an external world, but rather as creatures that have become characters in a world only partially of our making: Television is working on us. Film is. We’re not sure how yet. We wait, and count the symptoms. There’s a realism problem, we all know that. TV is real! some people think” (332)
Martin Amis notoriously appears as a character in the novel. In the tradition of Murphy, John Self and Martin Amis battle it out in a chess match at the end of the novel. Much like Lemuel at the end of Malone Dies, Amis asserts cool control over his character, eluding both his attacks, on and off the chess board. For winning, Amis requires one thing that Self has, but never says what: it become obvious that it is nothing less than his identity, his self-hood.
Interesting to put in dialogue with Philip Larkin’s poems: both the “The Importance of Elsewhere” and “High Windows.” The latter is more obvious: Amis takes the vulgarity of the opening lines and strains to make them lyrical; unlike Larking, who turns to Lyric and dramatizes its hollowness or inexpressively. In Amis, the “deep blue” air is marred with pollution. In the “Importance of Elsewhere,” Larkin comments on the ease with which one can defy national customs while traveling–in one’s own country, it is much harder to both gain objective stance and take the personal risk of resistance or critique. In Amis’ novel, the United States is a necessary elsewhere for defining the postmodern condition. Curious how this recapitulates earlier transatlantic anxieties as detailed by Alex Zwerdling in “Transatlantic Slinging Match.” In short: americans “use” the polis of Europe to produce Modernism, consolidating a “Europe” that subsumes any smaller differences. But in the post-modern these differences will again falir up, only to be subsumed again, one could argue, in the Blair-Bush years. And then we can move to McEwan writing about the 2003 Iraq war protest in Saturday.