Academic journal article Antipodes

Market Economy and the Abolition of Singularity in Elliot Perlman's Seven Types of Ambiguity

Academic journal article Antipodes

Market Economy and the Abolition of Singularity in Elliot Perlman's Seven Types of Ambiguity

Article excerpt


PERLMAN'S SEVEN TYPES OF AMBIGUITY COULD BE READ as a sequel to his award-winning novel Three Dollars. Both works of fiction attempt to depict the social, cultural, and economic state of contemporary Australian society. Perlman's new novel focuses on the introduction of economic rationalism and globalized corporate managerialism into Australia. Seven Types of Ambiguity is thus specifically located in time and place. Yet its concern with the relationship between literature, subjectivity, and commodification is not only specific to an Australian context. The novel's plea for the retention of ambiguity as a counter to one-dimensional consumerism has a global resonance at the dawn of the twenty-first century. Perlman's new novel is not only a work of Australian literature but also of world literature. This statement has certain ramifications. It means that even though the novel represents contemporary Australia, this representation can be put out of its immediate context. Decontextualized, it would then yield an account of the intellectual and social history of the twenty-first century. To be sure, decontextualization of this kind does not constitute an intrinsic part of the novel. However, Perlman's Seven Types of Ambiguity has such a compelling force for a critical reader because it provokes the discursive dislocation of themes out of the Australian context into the wider decontextualized and deterritorialized arena of global market economics.

Within this framework the novel sheds light on the fate of singularity within the global society of the twenty-first century. This engagement teases out of the novel not only themes but also a critical line of argumentation that resides invisibly within its texture as part and parcel of its confrontational potential. Perlman does not explicitly state his critique: he does not advance "unambiguous" statements of truth, precisely because he is a novelist and not a philosopher, sociologist, or political scientist. Instead he embarks with his readers on a complicated passage of narration where the critical issues that concern our contemporary global society are rendered palpable. Rather than articulating his critique in an abstract (i.e. non-contextual) mode, Perlman explicates the social consequences of market economic rationalizations in and through the different narrative perspectives that constitute his novel. He represents in tangible form the "life" of capital in the otherwise virtual world of postmodern commodity exchange. Perlman thus materializes the "immaterial virtual order which," according to Slavoj Zizek, "runs the show" (Zizek 103) of economic rationalism.

In this way, Perlman's novel presents specific narratives that represent the social consequences of a seemingly virtual economy: the particularity of his narration relates to larger issues. The particular story line of Seven Types of Ambiguity invites spatial and temporal dislocations, while remaining firmly rooted in one specific place (Melbourne, Australia). One of the main protagonists and narrators of Seven Types of Ambiguity describes literature's ability to dislocate itself in terms of timelessness. Writers like Kundera, Steinbeck, and Dickens did not write for their time but for the audience of eternity:

Kundera, whether you like him or not, [. . .] you cannot say Kundera was the eighties. Steinbeck wasn't the thirties and Dickens wasn't the eighteen-hundreds. They were of their times but for the ages. Their writings are not products marketed for a brief time until they're out of vogue and discarded on the scrap heap. They are not silver scooters or hoola hoops, slinkies, Rubik's cubes or breast implants. They're not trivial pursuits to be enjoyed when you think you need something new and amusing to fill the emptiness of your pointless job and your sham of marriage (419-20).

This relocation from the specific time of its conception to a contemporary setting enables the survival of traditional works of art. …

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