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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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5. At the Crossroads: The Impact of the Singular on the Concept of the Self 5.1 Dealing with Epistemological Crises: Redescriptions and New Horizons In chapter four we analysed The Ch ld in Time, Black Dogs, Enduring Love, and Atonement with reference to the explanatory patterns, paradigms of knowledge or stories of the self provided by literature, science, and religion. We found that even though the characters' perspectives on the world differ - ranging from the denial of intrinsic structures of meaning to the unquestioned affirmation of the fundamental meaningfulness of the universe - McEwan's protagonists equal one another in their efforts to structure the world according to some explanatory pattern which for them is ranked incomparably higher than all other explanatory patterns on offer. Even sceptics like Bernard and Joe hold fast to the notion of the ultimate explicability of the world and are loath to step outside their clearly demarcated rationalist framework of belief. As McEwan aptly observes, believing in something is "an enduring quality of being human — perhaps even written into our natures. No amount of science or logic will shift it. We are all magical thinkers one way or another."278 As we have seen in our discussion of identity and orientation in chapter three, believing in something, taking an individual standpoint, a perspective, in moral space, is inextricably linked to our sense of undamaged, consistent selfhood. In fact, Taylor points out, [t]o know who you are is to be oriented in moral space, a...

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