Writing 1950s London: Narrative Strategies in Colin MacInnes's City of Spades and Absolute Beginners

Nick Bentley


<1> Colin MacInnes is a 1950s writer who has largely been overlooked in recent critical analyses of the period.[1] His writing represents a radical experiment with narrative forms and genres that corresponds to his investigation of the submerged worlds of London’s 1950s subcultures, a writing that sits uneasily with the dominant critical readings of the period. MacInnes's novels are also problematic for traditional literary criticism in that his fiction is closely linked to his non-fictional and journalistic writing. The novels need to be read in conjunction with the journalism and cultural theory that represents MacInnes's corpus. The novels are to be understood, in Roland Barthes's terminology, as exceeding the purely literary as they intertextually intersect with the rest of MacInnes's writing, with the wider debates in 1950s popular journalism, and in particular, the writing being produced at the time by the emerging New Left (or the lack of it) on the nature and cultural importance of youth and black subcultures (Barthes).

<2> This article discusses the deployment of narrative techniques in two of MacInnes's 'London' novels: City of Spades and Absolute Beginners.[2]It will identify the ideological implications of specific narrative techniques, including the strategic deployment of narrative structure, voice and linguistic experiment with Standard English. I argue that MacInnes's experimentation with the realist form is informed by what he considers to be the failure of contemporary critical writing to record and/or represent specific subcultural identities adequately and faithfully. His novels, therefore, represent a textual redress against the misrepresentation and lack of analysis of black and youth subcultures both in dominant cultural sites and in New Left writing. MacInnes's deployment of narrative strategies and experimentation with literary form attempts to represent and to empower these marginalized groups, and the use of idiosyncratic first-person narratives in both of MacInnes's texts constitutes an attempt to represent the 'other' or 'subaltern' status of a subcultural identity in the language and vocabulary of that subculture (Spivak). In this way, the formal techniques used in MacInnes’s narratives attempt to redress the tendency in competing 1950s socio-cultural writing to externalize the subcultural subject.

Free Form: MacInnes's Radical Narrative Strategies

<3> MacInnes's fiction represents a hybrid form in 1950s writing that can best be described as an 'experimental realism'. As such it negotiates the philosophical and ideological frameworks associated with different fictional modes in 1950s fiction. This was most notably expressed during the period in the debate between the supporters and practitioners of modernist experimentation in the novel (for example Samuel Beckett, Lawrence Durrell and Alain Robbe-Grillet) and the detractors of modernism and experimentalism (William Cooper, John Wain, Kingsley Amis and C.P. Snow).[3] MacInnes’s novels are 'experimental' in relation to three narratological concerns: plot structure, narrative voice, and the subversion of Standard English. Nevertheless, they also have connections with a realist tradition revealed in his aim to document the existence and practices of specific subcultural identities in the 1950s.

<4> One of the reasons for MacInnes's combination of experimental and realist forms is the journalistic and sociological impulse behind the writing. MacInnes is responding to what he considered to be a misrepresentation of youth and black subcultures in both the mainstream media and in New Left analyses and he is partly driven by an imperative of recording unrepresented voices and positions faithfully. He is concerned to textually represent these subcultures lest they 'disappear irretrievably' (Benjamin 247).[4] In a 1959 review of Shelagh Delaney's A Taste of Honey, he writes:

As one skips through contemporary novels, or scans the acreage of fish-and-chip dailies and the very square footage of the very predictable weeklies, as one blinks unbelievingly at 'British' films and stares boss-eyed at the frantic race against time that constitutes telly, it is amazing -- it really is -- how very little one can learn about life in England here and now (MacInnes 1986, 206).

He goes on to stress how little 'we' know of:

working-class child mothers, ageing semi-professional whores, the authentic agonies of homosexual love, and the new race of English born coloured boys . . . . the millions of teenagers . . . the Teds . . . the multitudinous Commonwealth minorities in our midst . . .' (206).

Responding, therefore, to this lack of representation, one of MacInnes's aims in his novels is to fill the gap he identifies in contemporary literature and journalism concerning these alternative lifestyles.

<5> However, the attempt to construct, textually, an 'authentic' subcultural voice in a fictional form is problematic. MacInnes recognizes that a specific formal approach is needed to capture the experience of living within a subcultural space, and he adopts specific narrative techniques to achieve this aim. But the stylized construction of teenage and black voices in the novels creates tensions in relation to his aim of representing these subcultures honestly and faithfully. This is partly related to the definition of subcultures and the way they are formed and operate to produce discourses of identity. Although MacInnes is attempting to 'record' a set of practices and identities that he perceives as existing in the world, his writing, in fact, becomes part of the process of constructing the very subcultures he is analyzing. Therefore, the novels do not transparently 'reflect' an a priori concept, but are themselves involved in the (re)construction of those identities. The subcultures he is concerned with are articulated through his writing as much as they are through the range of other cultural sites the novels describe, such as music, fashion, jazz clubs, television, and so on. MacInnes's novels, therefore, also contribute to the contemporary debate between the function of the novel as 'documentary' and as an aesthetic art form (Wain 46-47).

Absolute Beginners

<6> In Absolute Beginners, this tension is foregrounded formally through a negotiation between realism and experimentalism in the context of the understanding of these terms in the 1950s. The central character in the novel is a nineteen-year-old unnamed teenager, through whose narrative voice the reader is introduced to the subcultural world of London's youth. The teenage hero is a photographer, which thematically foregrounds the 'documentary' nature of the text: the photographer's job being to record and document events and practices, but from a certain distance, from a point of detached observation (Sinfield 169; Gould 176). The teenager's narrative represents this detached function for most of the text, as the 'photo-journalist' remains distanced from the cultural practices he describes. Therefore, he is not responsible for the things he records, but exists on the margins of this subculture, not (he initially believes) exploited by the culture, but maintaining a hustling independent existence on the edges of it. The text includes several passages which represent this 'sociological' or 'documentary' function of the text for example, the description of teenage fashion and the specific and multiple identities within youth culture in the long description of the differences in dress between the skiffle and trad jazz uniform of the Misery Kid and his cultural opposite 'number' the 'sharp mod jazz' Dean Swift (70). The narrative perspective at the opening of the novel represents the social observer who is familiar with the culture he is observing. This duality of narrative perspective represents a negotiation of distance and proximity to the world of the teenage subculture. The significance of this literary/methodological approach is foregrounded towards the end of the novel, when the teenager is forced to confront directly the racial violence evidenced in the description of the Notting Hill riots. At this point in the text he ceases to be an external observer and becomes part of the action, refusing to exploit the culture he is part of in favour of direct action within it, represented through the rejection of his camera: 'I took up my Rolleiflex, but put it down again, because it didn't seem useful any longer' (218).

<7> The sociological/journalistic aspect of the narrative is implicitly evaluating the tendency in mainstream 1950s writing on youth to externalize and objectify particular subcultural groups -- a tendency that assumes a hierarchical position of the observer above the studied subject. As suggested above, this is most clearly seen in the representation of youth subcultures in New Left writing of the period, especially in Richard Hoggart’s seminal 1950s text The Uses of Literacy. In this book Hoggart was concerned to represent 1950s youth (mainly the Teds, who seem to stand for youth generally) as passive receptors and victims of an attractive but ultimately shallow and Americanized culture of consumerism and anti-intellectualism, that he calls, ‘shiny barbarism’ (Hoggart 246-50).

<8> As a reaction to this externalizing and 'anthropologizing' approach adopted by Hoggart and other New Left commentators on 1950s youth, MacInnes produces an idiosyncratic narrative voice in Absolute Beginners that attempts to represent the teenage subculture's style of speaking from the inside:

He didn't wig this, so giving me a kindly smile, he stepped away to make himself respectable again. I put a disc on to his hi-fi, my choice being Billie H., who sends me even more than Ella does, but only when, as now, I'm tired, and also, what with seeing Suze again, and working hard with my Rolleiflex and then this moronic conversation, graveyard gloomy. But Lady Day has suffered so much in her life she carries it all for you, and soon I was quite a cheerful cat again. (27-28).

Here, the incorporation of unofficial and unlicensed language, ('wig', 'sends', 'cat') and references to the insider's knowledge of a specific subcultural interpretive community ('Billie H', 'Ella', 'Lady Day'), creates a disruption of Standard English that acts as a performative statement of opposition to dominant culture. The style announces itself as distinct from Standard English and operates as a statement or proclamation of rejection and critique of dominant cultural values. Although this does not reproduce the authentic voice of actual teenagers in an ethnographic sense, it reproduces, through its performative presentation of stylized subcultural language, the ideological function of style in youth subcultures. As Dick Hebdige argues: 'The communication of a significant difference, then (and the parallel communication of a group identity), is the "point" behind the style of all spectacular subcultures' (Hebdige 102). The construction of the teenager's voice in MacInnes's novel, through its foregrounding of an alternative stylistic discourse, is a textual representation of this function of subculture to distance itself from the mainstream, and operates as a process of identity-forming empowerment. MacInnes achieves this by deploying three specific narrative techniques in relation to plot structure, narrative voice and the production of hybridized linguistic styles.

<9> Absolute Beginners rejects the plot-driven narrative associated with the conventional realist novel in favour of an episodic form that allows the teenage narrator to reveal different aspects of the subcultural world he inhabits. Steven Connor has identified the episodic form as indicative of the fragmentary nature of subcultural existence and representation, and this corresponds to its function in MacInnes’s novel (Connor 90). This structural device works ideologically to reject the form of the realist linear narrative in favour of a structure that reflects an oral culture. MacInnes's deployment of this narrative technique attempts to produce a public communication of the experience of youth subcultures corresponding to Walter Benjamin's definition of the art of the story-teller, which Benjamin claims has been lost due to the rise of the middle-class novel (Benjamin 83-107). MacInnes's narrator also functions in Benjamin's dual 'interpenetration' role of the storyteller as 'peasant' and 'seaman', as the narrator is steeped in the oral culture of his location within the subcultural space of 1950s youth, but also communicates the 'distant' experience of this environment to the uninitiated addressee (Benjamin, 84-85). This 'oral' narrative is achieved through the representation of disconnected (in terms of plot) descriptions and short exaggerated 'stories' of various aspects of teenage subcultural practice and culture. The linking function of plot is thereby replaced by the text's subject matter: the representation of the subculture itself. The narrative foregrounds this as an empowering discourse through the teenager's exoticization of the subcultural world he describes. This empowering discourse is manipulated and controlled by the teenager's voice as it leads the uninitiated reader through the fragmented subcultural world. Therefore, the reader is introduced to characters and situations that are unfamiliar without the traditional aid of the linear plot by which that reader might gain orientation within this 'world'.

<10> However, the text not only speaks to the uninitiated reader, it also attempts to speak directly to the subculture itself. The inside/outside dual narrative perspective is achieved by MacInnes's deployment of a specific type of narrative voice. Because the teenager's homodiegetic[5] narrative acts as the guide through London’s subterranean cultures, the reader is never quite sure whether the events being described are faithful recordings or the over-imaginative consciousness of its hero. The reliability of the narrative voice for the reader may be questionable in terms of strict veracity, but this undecidability establishes a site of empowerment for the teenager. The teenager retains a power over the narrative, which only an insider of the subcultural world being described could verify. This unreliability is not due to 'limited knowledge' (as Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan describes one function of an unreliable narrative voice – Rimmon-Kenan, 100), but represents a control of information in the narrative's perspective in relation to communicating to the 'implied readers' of the text. The narrative, therefore, represents the 'subaltern' voice of youth, and the inscription of this voice problematizes the 'hierarchy of discourses' produced in 'classic realism' (Belsey, 70-72).[6] The uninitiated reader is persuaded to accept the teenager's idiom as a faithful (though stylized) narrative, and that they are allowed access to the inner experience of this subcultural world.

<11> There are tensions here, however, concerning the multiple functions of the text in terms of authenticity and style. The text actually produces a paradoxical verification of the authenticity and authority of the narrative perspective through the ideological manipulation of stylized narrative. The text does not transparently 'reflect' the language style used by 1950s teenage subcultures, rather it re-constructs in a textual form the function of style, and the deployment of unofficial language in the positioning of subcultural identity vis-à-vis dominant culture. As Stephen Connor suggests, this form creates an exclusionary and inclusionary relationship with the reader, whereby the addressee is excluded from the subcultural world that is being described, but at the same time is being invited to enter into that world through association with its construction within the text (Connor, 90).

<12> As suggested earlier, though, the text constructs a dual narrative address. It is the mainstream reader who is the true absolute beginner in this environment, whilst the narrative voice represents itself as confident of its place within its own subcultural world, and projects directly to perceived 'members' of that marginalized group. The deployment of a first-person narration from within the culture becomes a strategic technique that allows the text to engage in a discussion of the teenage 'world' without resorting to a form that externalizes the narrative voice of the text. Therefore, the text internally constructs a dual set of 'implied' readers. Firstly, a 'reader' who is part of the teenage subculture who will recognize the situations, characters and world of the text, and will feel included by the narrative address. Potentially, this produces a narrative of empowerment as the textual recording (for the first time) of this subcultural world and identity is structured as a collective address. And secondly, a 'reader' who is excluded, who is part of the dominant culture to which the text is simultaneously addressed as a revelatory discourse of a subcultural 'other'.[7]

<13> Absolute Beginners, then, has two specific narrative functions that recognize two distinct 'interpretive communities'. This functional duality of the text is shown in the internal contradictions of the text in terms of the representation and intersection of subcultural identity with contemporary discourses of national identity. The text, on one level, represents a radical social critique of the nation that aims to educate the white adult English population about youth and black subcultures that existed within the nation, yet of which the majority of English people had been given a false understanding by the media. It also attempts to warn white English society of its implicit prejudices against youth and black subcultures. These prejudices were beginning to surface in mainstream culture in the fifties, and gain public expression in the so-called ‘race riots’ in Nottingham and Notting Hill in September 1958. Therefore, the intersection of youth and black subcultural identities is foregrounded in MacInnes's fiction through a discourse of the nation, and reveals contemporary cultural anxieties about youth, race and nation in the 1950s (Hebdige).

City of Spades

<14> These concerns are also evident in City of Spades and again are articulated through the deployment of a dual narrative address. In this text, this is more overtly identified by the split first-person homodiegetic narration of the two central characters, Montgomery Pew, a white middle-class civil servant working for the Colonial Department, and Johnny Fortune, a black African student visiting London. The dual narrative structure of this novel allows MacInnes to represent the voice of a particular minority subculture, that of the black immigrant living in London in the 1950s, but also to represent dominant white middle-class culture (albeit a 'liberal' representative). Again, this technique reflects the dual function of the text in terms of its addressivity. It attempts to represent black subcultures through the paradoxical construction of an 'authentic' subcultural voice that functions to articulate the case of the marginalized group, whilst at the same time alerting dominant white society to the actualities of racism in 1950s Britain.

<15> City of Spades also includes a third-person extradiegetic narrative voice in the two 'interludes' of the text, which act as textual 'hinges' between the two homodiegetic narratives. The first of these sections entitled ‘Idyll of miscegenation on the river’ describes a trip on a Thames pleasure steamer taken by Johnny Fortune and his white lover, Muriel MacPherson. The trip describes an idyllic escape from urban London to the pleasant surroundings of Greenwich Palace, and is represented formally as a 'textual' escape from the limited perspective of the two first-person narratives. It also represents the possibility of an escape from the social constraints upon the 'mixed-race' couple in which they dream of a future married life together. This section, therefore, also engages with anxieties in 1950s mainstream culture about the presence of black individuals within British society and the threat of miscegenation (Gilroy).

<16> The second extradiegetic interlude, ‘“Let justice be done (and seen to be)!”’, records the institutionalized racism of the English legal system, both in terms of the police and the judiciary. In this court scene towards the end of the novel, Johnny Fortune's use of non-standard English confirms his 'alien' identity to the judiciary:

'Listen to me, sir. I live some few week when I have no money with this woman.' [Johnny Fortune]

'So you did live with her? You admit that?'

The judge croaked again. 'There's just a point here, Mr Gillespie [the prosecuting counsel], I think. It's possible the language difficulty, you know.' (219).

Here, the institutionalized racism of the judicial system is identified in terms of both Fortune's colour and his 'unofficial' mode of expression, and although Fortune is eventually acquitted of the charge of 'living off the immoral earnings of a woman', it is made apparent that this is only because of the intervention of Theodora Pace, the upper-middle-class white BBC journalist, who speaks on his behalf. As she says: 'I heard Mr. Fortune giving evidence this morning. English is not his mother tongue, and an African has greater difficulty in expressing himself clearly than many of us realize' (225). The 'us' of this passage positions Fortune as the ethnic 'other', one who can only 'speak' legitimately in the court surroundings when represented by a 'white' spokesperson. The subaltern status of black racial and cultural identity makes it necessary that Fortune's 'authentic' voice is replaced by the 'official' voice of dominant white culture. Theodora Pace, therefore, speaks for Fortune. The novel also makes it clear that Fortune's acquittal is unusual in this situation, and that in the vast majority of such cases the court would convict the black defendant precisely on grounds of race. The section ends, significantly, with the eventual imprisonment of Fortune despite his initial acquittal, representing the power of the police over an individual whom they have decided beforehand should be convicted: 'A week later, Johnny Fortune was re-arrested on the charge of being in possession of Indian hemp ... and Johnny went to prison for a month' (229).

<17> These two extradiegetic narrative interludes represent racism in practice, both popular and institutionalized. They are placed in juxtaposition with the two homodiegetic narratives to foreground the initially naive attitudes of the two sides of the racial encounter. Both Montgomery Pew and Johnny Fortune begin the novel in the belief that there is very little racial antagonism in 1950s Britain, but the narrative movement of the novel gradually reveals the falsity of this belief, and this point is emphasized by MacInnes’s manipulation of narrative voice.

<18> The representative function of the teenager's voice in Absolute Beginners and Johnny Fortune's narrative in City of Spades, therefore, exceeds the portrayal of individual characters. Their narratives are a representation of collective subcultural identities that attempt to articulate a discourse of empowerment for particular marginalized groups in 1950s society. This collective narrative technique corresponds to the ideological function identified by Deleuze and Guattari, in what they call 'minor literature', as the political representation of marginalized discourses in a fictional form (Deleuze, 16-18). This 'collective narrative' is produced specifically through the deployment of the narrative techniques highlighted above.

Using Bad Language

<19> The second of the heterodiegetic interludes in City of Spades (the court room section) also foregrounds the encounter between different races in terms of language seen in his construction of unofficial language styles and registers. As suggested above, the deployment of a subversion of Standard English in Fortune's narrative in City of Spades represents an ideological challenge to dominant culture. It is through language and the displacement of 'Standard' English that the emergent culture sites itself and constructs its own separate identity. The subversion of language thus becomes emblematic of a wider agenda against a range of cultural positions vis-à-vis the dominant culture. As Mikhail Bakhtin has identified, a nation's language and national identity are ideologically linked, and this connection is negotiated through the literature produced by a specific national culture. Bakhtin argues that the novel form is highly conducive to the processes of decentralization and disruption of the attempts by dominant cultural forces to standardize and unify the language of a nation. He suggests that whilst there are 'centripetal' forces acting on a national language that attempt to unify the forms of public discourse and place it under the control of dominant ideological forces, there are always corresponding 'centrifugal' forces which resist the process of centralization.[8] For MacInnes, as for Bakhtin, this process is fundamentally ideological and is represented in the attempt by marginal or subcultural groups to challenge the ideology of dominant power frameworks.

<20> In the novels analyzed in this article, MacInnes deploys two 'foreign' appropriations of the 'national' language that function as centripetal forces undermining 'Standard' English. These two 'foreign' interruptions of English intersect with contemporary anxieties around national identity, namely in terms of Americanization and the immigration of black and Asian groups from Britain's former colonies. MacInnes's deployment of hybridized language styles, therefore, in terms of a transatlantic and a creolized English respectively, challenges and transforms 'Standard' English, and articulates a moment of transition in national identity.

<21> When it was first published, several contemporary critics and reviewers compared Absolute Beginners to J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, due largely to the similarity of subject matter and the narrative address of the two texts.[9] This comparison with Salinger indicates wider debates about the Americanization of English culture in the 1950s, and especially the role of youth subcultures in this process. Although MacInnes maintains that English youth culture retains its own specific national identity,[10] the deployment of an appropriation of American forms, accents and modes of expression becomes a narrative strategy in Absolute Beginners in the formation of a distinct youth identity that challenges the traditional and dominant constructions of Englishness. As Hebdige has argued, this process represents youth subcultures challenging the dominant culture of the English establishment through the expression and appropriation of styles imported from outside the UK, especially from America and the Caribbean (Hebdige, 46-70). However, as MacInnes argues, American culture is consumed by English youth not in terms of an experiential connection between the two cultures, but rather as a strategic form of escape from, and resistance to, dominant culture.

<22> This process is articulated through the narrative voice in Absolute Beginners. The hybridized style, register and word choice of the teenager represent a form that incorporates Standard English, working-class slang and an American youth idiom similar to that produced by the American Beat writers of the fifties (Sigal). The idiosyncratic narrative voice functions to represent the distancing of youth from mainstream culture through engagement with contemporary anxieties about the Americanization of English culture. As identified in chapter three above, this fear was acknowledged not only in mainstream cultural discourse, but also in the New Left writing of the period, especially in Hoggart's The Uses of Literacy. In Absolute Beginners, MacInnes creates a linguistic style that corresponds to his reading of the popular English rock'n'roll and skiffle forms of Tommy Steele and Lonnie Donegan. In a 1958 article for The Twentieth Century, MacInnes writes:

English singers have gradually captured a place in the pop market . . . by learning to sing the American pop style in a manner quite indistinguishable from the real thing, so that we have the paradox that teenagers like, increasingly, songs by Englishmen in American (MacInnes 1986, 49).

In Absolute Beginners, MacInnes attempts to translate this hybridized singing style into the narrative voice of the teenager, a form that is addressed to an English audience and is specifically concerned with English culture, but is presented through the appropriation of American forms. MacInnes's attempt to create this subcultural, hybrid language style is therefore part of his project to challenge dominant constructions of Englishness in terms of both language and culture.[11]

<23> In City of Spades, Johnny Fortune's narration represents a similar hybridized language form. Fortune's style is presented as an appropriation, disruption and dislocation of Standard English that operates thematically and ideologically to represent an emergent national identity that includes rather than excludes members from Britain's commonwealth. The political and ideological construction of contemporary Englishness is thereby articulated through a linguistic manipulation of the language. The representation of Fortune's language functions in a similar way to the 'Creolization' of English in many Caribbean texts. As Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin argue:

Writers in this continuum employ highly developed strategies of code-switching and vernacular transcription, which achieve the dual result of abrogating the Standard English and appropriating an english [sic.] as a culturally significant discourse (Ashcroft, 46).[12]

Although Fortune is from Nigeria, and not the Caribbean, his discourse functions in a similar way by transforming Standard English.


<24> In conclusion, it has been shown that MacInnes’s 1950s novels deploy distinct narrative strategies to represent the subcultural and subterranean worlds of 1950s London. His writing provides an alternative and oppositional voice to dominant media representations of youth that has been influential in later subcultural fiction, especially for Nik Cohn in the 1960s, in Richard Allen’s novels of the 1970s, and even in the drug/club-culture fiction of Irvine Welsh and Alan Warner in the 1990s. MacInnes’s representation of London produces a city that, in Paul Weller’s words, is ‘not so much swinging as vibrating’ (Weller) -- a London that exists in the gaps and shadows of more mainstream literary descriptions of the capital in the 1950s.


[1] Recent critical work on MacInnes has been restricted to Gould; Blodgett; Sinfield 127-28, 169-71; and Connor 89-95. [^]

[2] The third novel in what came to be known as MacInnes’s ‘London Trilogy’ is Mr Love and Justice, a work that continues the novelist’s fascination with London’s subterranean cultures by focusing on the world of prostitution [^]

[3] For a detailed discussion of the debate between modernist experimentation and realism in the fifties and sixties see Rabinovitz, and Gasiorek 1-22. [^]

[4] I quote Walter Benjamin here because there is a similarity with MacInnes's aim to represent marginal or subcultural voices which are in danger of being overlooked by dominant society. MacInnes's aim of recording the experience of fifties youth is, in Benjamin's words, to '... seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger', Benjamin, 247. [^]

[5] As defined by Genette's typology of narrators (Genette 255-56); see also Rimmon-Kenan 94-105. [^]

[6] See Catherine Belsey's definition of 'classic realism' and its deployment of a 'hierarchy of discourses' in Critical Practice pp. 70-72. This disruption in realist form complements the ideological significance of the text as a written challenge to discourses of authority. The 'author' of this narrative is presumed to be the teenager, thus wresting control from the omniscient narrator of conventional realism. [^]

[7] The narrative structure thereby produces a dual narrative of inclusion and exclusion in relation to Steven Connor's model of 'addressivity' (Connor 8-13). [^]

[8] Bakhtin writes, 'Alongside the centripetal forces, the centrifugal forces of language carry on their uninterrupted work: alongside verbal-ideological centralization and unification, the uninterrupted processes of decentralization and disunification go forward' (Bakhtin 272). [^]

[9] See Gould p. xiii for a discussion of the comparison between Salinger's novel and Absolute Beginners. [^]

[10] For a discussion of the relationship between English youth and American pop influences in the 1950s, see MacInnes 1986 11-18; 45-59. [^]

[11] The multiple perspective of the narrative voice in the novel has a corresponding effect in the characterization, as the main characters are given hybridized national identities, which foregrounds inconsistencies in the dominant construction of a unified Englishness based on racial 'purity'. Both the teenage hero and 'Crepe Suzette', the main female character in the novel, represent a celebration of hybridized identity, 'So you realize Suze is a sharp gal, and no doubt this is because she's not English, but part Gibraltarian, partly Scotch and partly Jewish, which is perhaps why I get along with her, as I'm supposed to have a bit of Jewish blood from my mother's veins as well ...' (16-17). MacInnes deploys these hybrid identities to strategically place their perspectival view on the margins of dominant English society. [^]

[12] The distinction is made in The Empire Writes Back between 'English', as the standardized form of the language, and 'english' as an appropriated and disrupted post-colonial linguistic form (Ashcroft 7-8). [^]

Works Cited

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Bakhtin, M.M. The Dialogic Imagination. Ed. Michael Holquist. Trans. by Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981.

Barthes, Roland. Writing Degree Zero (1953). Trans. Annette Lavers and Colin Smith. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977.

Belsey, Catherine. Critical Practice. London and New York: Routledge, 1980.

Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations. Ed. Hannah Arendt. Trans. Harry Zohn. London: Fontana, 1973.

Connor, Steven. The English Novel in History, 1950-1995. London and New York: Routledge, 1996.

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix. Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature. Trans. Dana Polan. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986.

Gilroy, Paul. There Ain't No Black in the Union Jack: The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation. London and New York: Routledge, 1987.

Gasiorek, Andrzej. Post-War British Fiction: Realism and After. London: Edward Arnold, 1995.

Genette, Gerard. Narrative Discourse. Trans. Jane E. Lewin. Oxford: Blackwell, 1980.

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Hebdige, Dick. Subculture: The Meaning of Style. London and New York: Routledge, 1979.

Hoggart, Richard. The Uses of Literacy (1957). Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1958.

MacInnes, Colin. City of Spades (1957). London: Allison and Busby, 1980.

---- Absolute Beginners (1959). Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1964.

---- Mr Love and Justice (1960). London: Allison and Busby, 1980.

---- England, Half English. London: Chatto and Windus, 1986.

Rabinovitz, Ruben. The Reaction Against Experiment in the English Novel 1950- 1960. New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1967.

Rimmon-Kenan, Shlomith. Narrative Fiction: Contemporary Poetics. London and New York: Routledge, 1989.

Sigal, Clancy. 'Nihilism's Organizational Man'. Universities and Left Review, 4 (1958): 59-65.

Sinfield, Alan. Literature, Politics and Culture in Postwar Britain. Oxford: Blackwell, 1989.

Spivak, Gayatri. 'Can the Subaltern Speak?' Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. Eds. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg. London: Macmillan, 1988. 271-313.

Wain, John. 'The Conflict of Forms in Contemporary English Literature'. Essays on Literature and Ideas. London: Macmillan and Co, 1963. 1-56.

Weller, Paul. ‘Foreward’. MacInnes 1986. vii.