27 January 2008
By chapter two, we're done with Mr. Fleming and into a period one can describe as "contemporary British fiction" without blushing. We're into the Thatcher area anyway. Malcolm Bradbury was an important figure in the letters of that time and place, and March devotes a good deal of attention to Bradbury's 1983 novel, RATES OF EXCHANGE.
The plot of RATES involves a cultural exchange program between the UK and the small eastern European country of Slaka. Angus Petworth is the Brit academic who travels to Slaka in hopes of coming to understand what "Afghanistan and the Reagan hard line, the failure of detente and the collapse of SALT" mean for Europe's east-west relations.
Here we get to the reason why the book belongs in Marsh's survey. The currency speculators Petworth meets in Slaka are prostitutes. Or, rather, the prostitutes are currency speculators.
"Petworth looks at the swinging legs along the barm and sees that Marx was right; beneath each leathered shining super-structure there in an economuc infra-structure," the sole of each book bearing a "chalked hieroglyph."
Yet given the complexity of "rates of exchange" the pricing of sexual services as on the boots is ambiguous. There are five different rates of pounds to Slakan money involved, so that Petworth learns that some time with any one of these entrepreneurs could cost him anywhere from the price of a round of ale, to the price of a three-piece suit.
Actually, though, they aren't entrepreneurs. They're state employees, and they make their "real money" from pillow talk -- from going to the Police with any information they get that might be of interest thereto.
Marsh says (and, so far as I understand the jargon, I gather this means that she disapproves) that Bradbury is adopting "money's more persistently misogynistic and mystifying narratives rather than [interrogating] the new political possiobilities demanded by [the] moment."
So it isn't Bradbury's narrative? It's money's narrative?
Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.