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Achieving ‘At-one-ment’

Storytelling and the Concept of the "Self</I> in Ian McEwan’s "The Child in Time, Black Dogs, Enduring Love</I>, and "Atonement</I>


Claudia Schemberg

Ian McEwan’s novels are characterised by innovative forms of plot-oriented storytelling that combine a pronounced interest in contemporary (British) culture and (recent) history with a concern for social and ethical questions. Novels like The Child in Time, Black Dogs, Enduring Love, and Atonement draw the reader’s attention to the difficulty, complexity, and relativity of value commitments in a world where prescriptive master narratives and old essentialisms have been debunked. This book undertakes to incorporate the discussion of storytelling and the concept of the self into the discourse of values revived by ethical critics at the turn of the millennium. Bringing together findings from philosophy, psychology, literary and cultural studies, the study introduces a concept of the self that acknowledges our ineradicable need for structures of meaning and orientation while taking into account the plurality and heterogeneity of postmodern ways of life.


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3. Unfolding the Map of Life: Locating the Self 3.1 Being a Self to Yourself: Identity and Orientation In the previous chapter we traced the connection between narrative creation and the creation of meaning in Ian McEwan's The Child in Time, Black Dogs, Enduring Love, and Atonement. We observed that storytelling functions as an indispensable means of connecting seif and world and stated that the protagonists in McEwan's novels create and recreate themselves by turning the complex, unstoried world they encounter into meaningful narratives. In the following, we will extend this picture by focussing on the concept of the self implicit in the discussion of narrative creation. What does "being a seif to yourself' imply in Ian McEwan's fictional universe? To begin with, McEwan's protagonists possess a sense of inwardness or inner depth and the related notion that they are selves.17° Furthermore, they aspire to a unity and wholeness in their lives which can be specified in MacIntyre's terminology as "the unity of a narrative quest."171 To be on a quest, however, presupposes some kind of telos or aim towards which the individual search is directed, i.e. it implies a positioning of the seif in moral space and a sense of orientation towards "a believable framework as the object of the quest."172 Taylor points out that "our orientation in relation to the good not only requires some framework(s) which define(s) the shape of the qualitatively higher, but also a sense of where we stand in relation...

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