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Rohan Maitzen

We do disagree I know - but I think your summary of my approach is somewhat reductive! I did not overlook the novel’s aesthetic or crafted or skilled aspects, for one thing, as your quotations show. But for me it matters what this kind of skill is used for. I am much influenced by Wayne Booth, who explores the ways style itself (including narration and point of view) has ethical implications. This is not about confusing fictional people for real people but about considering the whole experience on offer by a novel. It just can’t be the case that it doesn’t matter at all what the artful sentences say or do - or so I think.

Dan Green

Although ultimately what the sentences say and do is help build a portrait of a character who is, as you yourself recognize, execrable, but deliberately if artfully so. The effect is similar to what Nabokov does in Lolita (although I would not claim that Amis rises to Nabokov's level as a stylist).

Would you say that the ethical implications of the "whole experience" are always of primary importance to you, over and above a novel's aesthetic value? In Money, are you ultimately objecting to John Self, the narrator/protagonist, or to the "bad boy" smirk you detect in Martin Amis the author?


I think the framing here around "mistaking characters for real people" isn't the most helpful one for understanding the objections to MONEY that I see in Rohan's post. For me, her account wasn't oriented around characters as such, but around the way the book positions and addresses its reader.

Here is my theory of reading!

Books are angled towards a particular kind of reader (the "implied" or "mock" reader). I think of this as a bit like that anamorphic skull in Holbein's Ambassadors - you can look at the painting from any angle you choose, but you'll miss something that's clearly "there" in the painting if you don't look from the angle where the skull becomes visible. Similarly, books create a sort of perspectival position for their readers, from which their aesthetic (and other) qualities are best viewed. (Charles Altieri, in Towards an Aesthetic of the Affects, would say that this is in fact an inherent part of their aesthetic qualities and their capacity to almost literally "move" us, giving us a new orientation towards the world and shifting us out of our everyday positions and thought patterns.)

The problem comes when the best orientation or position for reading a book is one that a real-life reader *doesn't want to* take up, for ethical (or other) reasons.

Wayne Booth (who Rohan mentioned in her follow-up to her blog post) in fact defines a bad book as one "in whose mock reader we discover a person we refuse to become". I don't see Rohan as thinking that John Self is a real person, but as refusing to become someone (even temporarily) who thinks attempted rape is funny. (Booth's argument resonates with Judith Fetterley's in The Resistant Reader, about refusing to be "immasculated" as a reader - refusing to agree to read from the perspective of a male implied reader.)

Dan Green

The "refusing to become someone who thnks X is funny" (or "X is beautiful" or "X is politically acceptable" or "x is morally permissible"--choose your Xes) would remove about half of world literature from the reading list, wouldn't it?

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