‘Here there is no why’: Creating Life from Death in Martin Amis’s Time’s Arrow, or The Nature of the Offence

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Abstract

During the 1990s, British writers paid a growing attention to the controversial subject of the holocaust. Their interest was a response to the long-standing debate on the possibilities of representing the tragic collective experience of concentration camps in art and literature. On this point, Theodor Adorno asserted that art can only have a marginal role, since it runs the risk of “aestheticizing”, de-historicising and even giving meaning to the devastating experience of an entire community of people. More recently, in an interview-discussion centred on Adorno’s theory, Martin Amis pointed out that art has instead the power and the responsibility to keep memory alive and to make individuals ‘experience’ the past in order to – critically and crucially – refigure their present and their future. In his seventh novel, entitled Time’s Arrow, or The Nature of the Offence (1991) Amis problematizes the issue of the artistic and linguistic representation of the tragedy of the holocaust. The novel is a postmodern narrative going backwards in time, and is about the (counter) story life of the protagonist, Tod T. Friendly, from his death as a doctor living in the American province to his peregrinations in disguise to different countries, as he becomes younger and stronger. Eventually, he is shown to be a German doctor who tortures and makes atrocious experiments on the deportees in the concentration camp of Auschwitz. Odilo Unverdorben – this is Friendly’s real name – gradually gets younger until he forgets the atrocities he committed and finally vanishes into his mother’s womb.In my paper I will focus on two main aspects: first, I will explore the cultural, political and historical effects caused by the narrative reversal of the linearity of time with its connected cause-effect relations. In narrating Tod/Odilo’s experience backwards, Amis also reverses the meaning of his actions and thoughts that ultimately lead him to “create” people instead of exterminating them. As a consequence, by virtually annihilating the effects of the second law of thermodynamics which presides the unidirectionality of time, Amis subverts and deconstructs the concepts of life and death, creation and destruction, regeneration and sterility, renewal and devastation, past and present, memory and forgetfulness, order and disorder, and above all, meaning and lack of meaning. I will then analyse how the transformation of the figure of Tod/Odilo from “angel of death” to “angel of life” compels readers to search for a (impossible?) hidden meaning in a narrative world lacking common logic. Secondly, I will discuss how the inversion of the arrow of time is paralleled by the reversal of the traditional linearity of the narrative sequences and dialogues in the novel. In trying to decode the text from a syntactic and linguistic perspective, readers are directly faced with the illogic world of the novel, which prepares them to accomplish the more difficult hermeneutic action of decoding the illogic inverted world of Auschwitz.
Lingua originaleEnglish
Titolo della pubblicazione ospiteRegenerating Community, Territory, Voices: Memory and Vision, Proceedings of the XXV AIA Conference L’Aquila – September 15-16-17 2011, Volume 1
Pagine212-218
Numero di pagine7
Stato di pubblicazionePublished - 2012

Serie di pubblicazioni

NomeDOMINI. Critica e letteratura

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