Mihăilescu’s interdisciplinary approach to Martin Amis’ novel entitled Time’s Arrow,  rests on assumption that through reading and rereading this piece of literature the reader becomes familiar with the technique of fast rewind and differently comes to face the image of the main character lying paralysed on a hospital bed. For properly tackling such a topic, Mihăilescu employs Kelly’s theory of personal constructs focused on how a person as a personal scientist can get involved in a personal inquiry into the unkown side of one’s personality coupled with Miller’s suggestion that the self should be approached as if it were „a community of selves” whose personal reality related to „feelings, to felt experinces”, is expanded upon and interpreted as occurring in a tight like box environment- the concentration camp, in Amis’ case. Significant changes in the character’s awareness have been debated upon in connection with Jung’s process of individuation which consists of surficing the dark side of one’s personality in order to better control and improve it. 

Keywords:Martin Amis, Kelly, Jung, Miller, Time’s Arrow, awareness, community of selves


One of the most significant postmodern novelists interdisciplinarily approached by Mihăilescu is Martin Amis and his novel Time’s Arrow. Due to the unusual structure of the book, created on postmodern foundational princples, we would like to start our litearary review stating out our opinion that Mihăilescu seems to be familiar with the four Aristotelian causes that might influence the creation of a literary work, namely the cause of form, which stands for the Platonic idea of an object,the material cause that signifies the medium in which the idea is created, the efficient cause, to the act done by the artist while making his art object and the final cause, explained in terms of the effect that the finished thing has on the viewers, on the on-lookers, on those concerned with what that creator has inspirindly produced, according to Gilder.

Our assumption regarding Mihăilescu’s familiarity with such issues arises from the fact that Amis, seeking reform in the writing of his novels, has disregarded and revolutionazed the former writing procedures and has embraced the technique of fast rewind. This technique can be associated with most of the causes invoked by Aristotel and which prove that the writing of a novel, mainly in terms of effect, is a strategy meant to conduct or to produce social and psychological changes within the consciousness of our contemporaries.

For such significant changes to properly commented upon, Mihăilescu has closely considered Kelly’s theory of personality that relies on the assumption that an individual is “a personal scientist” involved in a “personal inquiry”, according to Miller, cited by author of this book. Since Kelly regards the meaning of the self within the chaotic surrounding world, the author of this contribution has turned to good account the psychologist’s view of the self “as if” it were “a community of selves” whose personal reality is in “feeling, in felt engagements”, as Miller would put it.

Kelly’s methodology of entering more fully into “felt engagements” has revealed itself as a genuine interpretative strategy through the image of the character’s divided self (the physical self-the body referred to through various pseudonyms, and the inner self – the “I’ who, through the technique of fast rewind, moves from old age towards his birth, making no sense of it).

To diminish textual confusion which, in Vianu’s opinion, has deliberately been created by Amis through the technique of fast rewind to imaginatively recreate and refresh the memory related to the concentration camp atrocities and teach the contemporary readers a moral lesson, Kelly’s psychological model has further been employed by Mihăilescu.

Following Kelly’s model based on the tight box-like symbol to get to what the private inner self is feeling, the author of this contribution has assumed that the private self is not only looking at the “box-like” concentration camp, but this it is in the box-like camp, as part of it.

Our intension is to regard Mihialescu’s contribution mainly as being concerned with showing how Amis’ novel is a unique and particular piece of litarature due to the liteary artifacts identified and commented in the novel such as inner or outer division and the depiction of life not as  imitation, but as a copy of it, concern that has been turned to good account via Kelly’s Personal Construct Theory with a view to arguing about the social, professional and political grounds of the characters’ knowledge regarding the real consequences of their actions.

Getting back to the Aristotelian four causes, we opine that Mihăilescu has intuitively approached the material cause related to the medium, the background in which the idea of torture and persecution of the Haulocast victims is rendered concrete. The medim, the background where the idea of execution has been conceived and where it produces its effect  is actually the concentration camp.

Resorting to Kelly’s social-psychological theory, the kellian concept of emotional anticipation process of the main character’s involvement with the concentration camp has been analyzed within this contribution with reference to the character’s life story which amounts to the fact that he is German, that he becomes a physician, marries, has a child who dies soon after death, joins the SS and finally comes to work in the concentration camp.

Interestingly, by regarding concentration camps as a box, the main character’s engagement in the suffering of other people ensures a fuller articulation of what is being felt under such circumstances, claims Mihăilescu. Under the circumstances, Amis, playing with reverse logic of the text, describes the ressurection of the Jews claiming that cruelty arises from kindness “because killing precedes resuraction”, according to Vianu, quoted by the author of this analysis. To the readers’ surprise, the private self of the main caharcter only perceives their kindness because „he moves from the future backwards into the past”, according to Vianu’s opinion.

Various chapters of the novel are closely analysed in terms of Kelly’s theory which often overlaps Vianu’s opinions on this novel, approached by her from the categorial perspective. The dichotomies “ressurection vs. death”, and “cruelty vs. kindness” are contextualized and premanently related to the the unusual situation of the private self who only knows that he is a gynaecologist. The reader will find out later that this was his profession in the concentration camp when he used to make experiences on the Jewish women. Moreover, Mihăilescu  highlights the fact that Odillo, the main character regrds himself a martyr “victimzed by the terrible camp environmentwhere he lived and worked and where he became impotent, sacrificed his family life, due to the fact that his wife dispises him and his daughter died when she was still very young, all deoicted in the chapter significantly entitled “You what You Do Best, Not What’s Best to Do”.

Mihăilescu’s highly sensitive approach to the chapter entitled “Multiply Zero by Zero You Still Get Zero” has revealed us the fact that the child’s birth is soon followed by his death due to his wife’s stressful life within that environment which seems to have influenced the life of the baby child as well. Vianu’s opinion inserted within this part of her analysis spotlights that either in accordance with normal chronology or with the reverse one, zero multiplied by zero is still zero. The ironical comment of  the author of this contribution aims at insisting on the fact that concentration camps both as life or as death sources,destroy all rational understanding, that means, offering “zero understanding”.

The ability of the author regarding “decentring” (seeing things from the perspective of others) is impressively commented upon in relation to the chapter “She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not” where we face the image of Odillo’s wife growing ever younger until she turns into a child. The interpretation offered by the author of the article is that “Amis’ technique of fast rewind is meant perhaps to underline the diminishing of her resentment for her husband healing the dead bodies”.

“Searching for understanding”, a concept borrowed from Miller, is commented upon in relation to Kelly’s psychological perspective and construed as involving a mixture of feeling and imagination. Miller’s syntagm “living words” presented in “living ways” has been interpreted in connection with the image of “the showers of death” taken by the Jewish women, when the guards used to touch them, and which acquires dramatic connotations, expressing in the most convincing way, the experiences of those Jewish women victims.

Mihăilescu has interpreted this type of environment as an entry to a new and powerful psychological reality by following Kelly’s assumption that the setting implies forms of motion. In this respect, she has further contemplated the idea that the private self is not only in the box, he is the box, having physically and spiritually identified himself with the victims of the Holocaust.

Another imaginative move in her psychological inquiry has been taken from Kelly’s concern with the fact that the box is made of skin and “feels like a womb”, in Miller’s view. Textual references which reveal the fact that the character is pushed into his mother’s womb and dies, have allowed the author of this contribution to focus on Miller’s concept of “improved awareness”. The death of the physical self, symbolically interpreted resorting to Jung’s archetype of the shadow and in relation to cognitive methodological instruments that have detected the workings of the character’s thoughts charged with indesirable recollections about his past life experience, implies that, if one surfaces the dark side of one’s personilty one can accomplish individuation.

Our conclusion to Mihăilescu’s approach to Martin Amis’ Times Arrow is that the methodological grid employed by her  has offered her a way to discover the pedagogical implications of the idea that writers should create their audience and, for that, they need proper entries to their works meant to improve the audience’s awareness regarding the meaing behind the screen. In this way the triad authorship, redership and interpretation has the effect of a valuable insight upon the effectiveness across different ways of writing, reading and interpreting the meaning of a piece of literature.


           Assoc. Prof. Dr. Amalia Pavelescu, Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu

Recenzie publicată în revista Demersuri Creative nr. 27/ iunie 2018



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