Chapter Four: McEwan Haunted by Žižekian Apocalypse Drive 82
I. An Introduction to McEwan’s End Times Thought 82
II. Death Drives McEwan’s Characters 84
III. Apocalypse Drives McEwan’s Fiction 89
IV. Living in McEwan’s End Times 99
A. Denial 101
B. Anger 106
C. Bargaining, Depression and Withdrawal 109
D. Acceptance: The Cause Regained (A New Beginning) 114
Chapter Five: Conclusion 118
I. Summing Up 118
II. Findings and Implications 121
III. Suggestion for Further Research 125
Chapter One: Introduction
I. General Background
Ian Russell McEwan (born on 21 June 1948) is a well-celebrated English novelist, screenwriter and author of children’s books. He is one of Britain’s most popular contemporary writers. The strong conflicting nature of his early works caused him to be nicknamed “Macabre”. Graphic depictions of rape, incest, and murder—all rendered in detached, forensically precise first person narration in his early works earned McEwan both critical acclaim and his nickname. While his later novels, display considerable growth in the range and depth of his work, McEwan’s prose still focuses heavily on shocking subjects. The more the author has written, the better has linked the outside world of society, popular culture and the politics with the inside world of the human psyche.
McEwan has also written several notable screenplays, which include some of his most pointedly political works. Although his fiction is generally considered conventional in terms of narrative structure, McEwan’s unique prose style, technical skills, unusual characterization, and satiric wit have earned him acceptance in both traditional and postmodern literary circles.
McEwan first published a pair of short story collections entitled First Love, Last Rites (1975) for which he won the Somerset Maugham Award and In Between the Sheets (1978). The Cement Garden (1978) and the Booker Prize short-listed novel The Comfort of Strangers are two of his earliest novels. His movie script The Ploughman’s Launch won the Evening Standard Award for the best screenplay of 1983.
These were followed by McEwan’s successful novels in the late 1980s and the 1890s. The Child in Time (1987) won the Whitbread Novel of the Year Award, The Innocent (1989) was made into a movie, Black Dogs was short-listed for the Booker Prize in 1993 and his massively acclaimed Amsterdam won the Booker Prize in 1998. The Daydreamer is his exclusive collection of short stories for children published in 1995.
In 1997, McEwan published Enduring Love, which was made into a partially successful movie (Craig, Morton and Ifans). In 2001, he published Atonement that was made into an Oscar-winning movie (McAvoy, Knightley and Redgrave). This was followed by Saturday (2003) and On Chesil Beach (2007). The novelist created Solar in 2010 and his latest, Sweet Tooth, was published in 2012.
This research will comment on the issue of apocalyptism and its implications in the works of Ian McEwan. To do so, the researcher will adopt an ideological framework concerning the continental philosophy of the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek (born on 21 March 1949). Delving deep into the dominant global, political, cultural and social contents embedded in McEwan’s works and most notably his latest works published on the eve of the 21st century, the researcher will introduce the deep layers of ideological outlooks as well as the apocalyptic imaginations inherent in the McEwan’s texts.
Atonement and Solar are the two novels by McEwan chosen to be analyzed in this research. Since the story in McEwan’s Solar is based on the issue of Global Warming, and Žižek’s continental philosophy concerns the so-called global threats towards human being, the researcher argues that there might be affinities between the ideological and apocalyptic standpoint of McEwan, and Žižekian outlook. Also one should consider the fact that in Žižek’s latest book called Living in the End Times apocalyptic concerns of humanity, like global warming, are well conditioned. Therefore, the researcher will look for these affinities through Slavoj Žižek ideological views.
The writer’s primal novel; Atonement is also to be studied at the level of the end-times imaginations. The general scheme of the text following the tragic story of a perished family as well as the scenes from the World War I representing a society at the end of the days, all might be perceived as graphic representations of apocalyptic imaginations fashioned through the apocalyptic mind of McEwan.
II. The Argument
… The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true. (Larkin)
The eve of the twenty first century can be roughly dubbed the era of apocalyptic thinking. The idea of “self-degeneration is projected into mainstream culture, fictionalized through different mediums, such as literature and film, and spat back out at us” (Williams). The world as well as the “American popular culture is overflowing with doomsday prophecies and end-of-the-world scenarios” (Cantor). At this day and age the “prophets of apocalypse have become a new and very real danger” (McEwan, Day of Judgment) and the very wave of apocalyptism is looming around Ian McEwan’s harbor too. The new concern of modern man’s life, the Ecological Crisis and more notably the Global Warming, highly dominates Ian McEwan’s latest novel Solar. The life of a physicist on a world in peril in one way or another contributes to this modern kind of apocalyptic imagination. The ideological sphere of the end-time imagination hovering over a scientific ecological phenomenon is imminent to this novel.
McEwan’s older masterpiece Atonement is also haunted by the very ideological sphere. Like Solar, Atonement is highly enriched with the apocalyptic scenes borrowed from the Second World War as well as the individualistic experiences of a family in ruins. The traumatic experience of a teen-aged girl witnessed to the destruction of her family world and that of her whole world reiterates the very recent humanistic apocalyptic imagination with all its fears and trembling.
The psychological status of the characters as well as the ideological status of their societies can be considered as the best insight into the grey apocalyptic clouds filling the skies of both works. These two novels are filled with psychological and ideological layers that have yet to be revealed. In order to investigate the issue, the researcher in this thesis has chosen the ideological theories of Slavoj Žižek to study the impact of social and cultural conditions on the characters and their resolution that gives birth to the process of narration.
Žižek is chosen because his theory of ideology is intertwined with psychoanalytic theories of the French philosopher Jacques Lacan (1901-1981). Considering himself as a disciple to Lacan, Žižek adopts the post-structural theories of Lacanian psychoanalysis and merges it with the latest versions of Marxist ideological standpoints. The outcome is a refined version of ideology in relation to people’s psychological status. Therefore, Žižekian versions of the Lacanian ideas of lack, subjectivity, and ideology are to be studied in the two works of McEwan.
The nature of McEwan’s works has convinced many critics to adopt psychological frameworks in reading his novels. Respectful Iranian critics like Pantea Sokhanvar in her MA dissertation A Psychosocial Study of McEwan’s Novels (in which the effects of the social environment on the psychological statuses of McEwan’s characters are perfectly portrayed), and Dr. Hossein Payandeh in his article “Normal Abnormalities: Depiction of Sado-Masochistic Violence in Ian McEwan’s The Comfort of Strangers” (2006), and his PhD dissertation Waking Nightmares: A Critical Study of Ian McEwan’s Novels (2001), as well as critics like Jennifer L. Fleissner in her Symptomatology and the Novel (2009) have in one or other way adopted the same path of psychology and psychoanalysis to read McEwan. This, while there are deep ideological layers in McEwan’s works that require to be excavated.
In this thesis, the researcher will attempt to analyze the two previously mentioned novels of McEwan mostly in the light of Žižekian psychoanalytical ideology. The researcher believes that as Žižekian ideology is psychological too, these theories can be best applied on the works of McEwan. The study of the psychological and ideological layers of McEwan’s texts with the help of the end-time theories of Žižek might also help better examine and more comprehensively perceive the founding structure, psychological backgrounds and the authenticity of the latest cultural wave of apocalyptism in English literature. And, as a prominent contemporary author canonized in contemporary English literature, one might claim, McEwan can be a suitable representative of for a study of the cultural phenomenon of end-times thought. His dedication to the issue might also add a profound weight to the current study.
Žižek is also very fond of apocalyptic imagination and his latest books Living in the End Times (2011) and The Year of Dreaming Dangerously (2013) are proof enough for his dedication to the issue of apocalyptic thinking. His Marxist propensity, his outstanding understanding of Lacanian psychoanalysis, his Hegelian tradition and his knowledge of popular culture and art including Cinema, literature, music, and etc. all can be precious guides to get a better understanding of the issue.
And, finally through all these means the researcher might be able to better map the crucial aspects of the apocalyptic business that is overwhelming today’s stage of art and