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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>

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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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6. JOURNEY' S END: ACHIEVING `AT-ONE-MENT'? 87

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6. Journey's End: Achieving `At-one-ment'? 6.1 Towards Greater Solidarity: Introducing the Liberal Ironist Briony's literary debate with the voices of the other takes us back to Wayne C. Booth's concept of coduction and to our discussion of ethical criticism begun in chapter one of this paper. In fact, by imaginatively projecting herself into the lives of Robbie and Cecilia, by making room in her imagination for emotions, beliefs, and attachments that differ from her own, Briony "enters a process that is not mere argument for views already established, but a conversation, a kind of re-reading that is an essential part of [...] a continually shifting evaluation."320 In recent interviews, Ian McEwan frequently referred to the novel as a medium of encounter and conversation, "a mental space which has a shape",32I and an incentive for coduction, i.e. for the leading together' of different horizons and frameworks of belief. So for instance, in an interview conducted in September 2002, McEwan states: I think of all the art forms, the novel is supreme in giving us the possibility of inhabiting other minds. I think it does it better than drama; better than cinema. It's developed these elaborate conventions over three or four hundred years of representing not only mental states, but change, over time. [...1 I think that `other minds' is partly what the novel is about. If you saw the novel as I do in terms of being an exploration of human nature—an investigation of the human condition—then the...

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