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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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4. Taking Perspectives: Stories of the Self 4.1 The Poly-Storied Seif: Selfhood and Cultural Tradition We suggested in the preceding chapter that the modern notion of the fully autonomous seif, "[picturing] the human person as, at least potentially, finding its own bearings within, declaring independence from the webs of interlocution which have originally formed him/her",20° does not exist. We argued that as selves, we are immersed in a community with other selves, continuously balancing our ineradicable sense of autonomy, individuality, and inwardness with our commitment to what Seyla Benhabib calls "concrete others",20I i.e. selves like ourselves with "a certain life history, disposition and endowment, as well as needs and limitations."202 Throughout our lives we arbitrate between the inescapable task of taking a position in moral space "that is inextricably linked to our subjectivity"203 and the inevitable necessity to do so in the public realm of concrete others. In fact, we find our "moral identity in and through its membership in communities such as those of the family, the neighbourhood, the city and the tribe."204 As Taylor claims: "The full definition of someone's identity involves not only his stand on moral and spiritual matters but also a reference to a defining community."205 Taking a stand in moral space implies taking a perspective on the world that is uniquely ours. However, until we can interpret others as having a perspective on things just like ourselves, there is no room for the idea of our having a...

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