At a slight angle to the universe: Martianism and cultural deracination in the works of Martin Amis, Craig Raine and Christopher Reid, 1977--1984

Max Hunter Hayes

Abstract

This study examines the "Martian school" of British poetry and fiction in England during the 1970s and 1980s. Comprising Martin Amis, Craig Raine and Christopher Reid, this movement depicts the anxieties of an alienated and deracinated culture, metaphorically embodied through Raine's extraterrestrial observer in "A Martian Sends a Postcard Home," the work that provided these writers with their collective identity. As with other literary movements that typify the decades in which they flourished, the Martians inserted themselves into a tradition of representing their zeitgeist ; in doing so these writers led a revitalization of British fiction and poetry. The idiosyncratic Martian perspective--elaborately employing figurative language and imagery to defamiliarize quotidian settings and experiences--enacts a fundamental method of contending with this contemporary urban milieu. Martianism is not only an aesthetic and formal mode of narrative presentation, but also a critical approach toward the world and one that requires the reader's continuing cerebral engagement with the exotic and domestic realms of experience. Besides the governing concepts of imagism, figurative complexity, intertextuality, ontological ambiguity, and defamiliarization (or ostranenie , the term employed by the Russian Formalist Victor Shklovsky), Martian poetry and fiction articulates a perspective with affinities to Mikhail Bakhtin's "dialogic" imaginative principles. My introduction discusses the social and aesthetic context from which the Martian movement emerged in the 1970s. Chapters II and III focus on Raine's first poetry collections, The Onion, Memory and A Martian Sends a Postcard Home , examining his treatment of memory, perception and alienation. The fourth chapter analyzes Reid's interrogation of personal epiphany and what Iris Murdoch termed literary "contingency" in Arcadia ; Chapter V examines his themes of chaos and order in Pea Soup . Chapter VI discusses Amis's motif of temporal alienation and ontological concerns as forms of ostranenie in his two poems and his 1981 novel Other People: A Mystery Story . Amis's argument of stylistic morality and intellectual vigor through his scrutiny of pornography and literary eroticism is examined in Chapter VII. The conclusion concentrates on the dissolution of Martianism in the early 1980s while also discussing the writers Amis, Raine and Reid most immediately influenced.