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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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7. Conclusion In our discussion of storytelling and the concept of the seif in Ian McEwan's The Child in Time, Block Dogs, Enduring Love, and Atonement one central assumption is borne out time and again: We find that despite the contingency of all stories of the self and the world, despite the absence of metaphysical foundations, and despite the precarious nature of all attachments and frameworks of belief, the quest for the good life, for meaning, purpose, and `at-one-mene, constitutes an integral, ineradicable part of the characters' lives. We stated that as human agents or selves, we exist in a space of "inescapable questions"359 about who and what we are, about where we are and where we are going, and that in order to live a good life rather than a mere life, we need to answer these questions for ourselves. We furthermore argued that the quest for the good life is a narrative quest directed towards a telos of fullness or wholeness, towards a coherent story that makes sense of our past, present and future. As Taylor puts it, "we want the future to `redeem' the past, to make it part of a life story which has sense or purpose, to take it up to a meaningful unity."36° What constitutes a meaningful story, however, depends on our individual outlook on life, on our unique perspective on a world of conflicting choices and explanatory patterns. We claimed that McEwan's protagonists arrive at best accounts of their lives -...

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