One can claim that the apocalyptic thinking begins to lose its intense presence in McEwan’s works later in the 1990s until the wake of the twenty first century. In Enduring Love (1997) a slighter version of the McEwanian hounding scheme of apocalypse repeats when Joe, with his beloved Clarissa, enjoying their lovely picnic are disturbed by a man’s excruciating death caused by his fall from a balloon. Their hell begins with Joe’s ethical regret feeling guilty for the death of the man, and is accompanied by the sadistic Jed Parry’s gay obsession with Joe, stocking him and causing huge troubles in his life. McEwan in Amsterdam (1998) loses its apocalyptism and becomes more of a post-funeral insightful revelation.
Apocalyptic blood runs vehemently again through the veins of McEwan’s works in the wake of the twenty-first century, and intensifies after the 9/11 attacks. After the 1990s, it can be claimed that McEwan begins to relate his character’s personal apocalypses to the global apocalyptic issues with more emphasis on the global doomsday rather than the individualistic storm of the unbearable agony. Atonement (2001) is the artistic representation of an apocalypse that the world experienced in World War II. Saturday (2005) is probably the same day of September 11 attacks, with all its castrations and disillusionments it caused to the public revisited. The people’s mental and social disorders, as well as global ills, are best demonstrated through the neurosurgical eyes of the protagonist Henry Perowne.
The bridge McEwan attempts to build between the public and the private mind even begins earlier with the writing of the Child in Time (1987) when McEwan said:
From then on, I’ve never been really interested in anything other than trying to find connections between the public and the private, and exploring how the two are in conflict, how they sometimes reflect each other, how the political invades the private world. (Louvel, Menegaldo and Fortin)
On Chesil Beach (2008) is probably an artistic leisure time for McEwan to entangle with his cry for the past nostalgia, and his crave for the modern social rights. It can be considered a much of a memoir travelling through the process through which the modern man was shaped. Probably On Chesil Beach is McEwan’s bid of farewell to the past private era towards his modern or post-modern view of life in Solar (2010), where the life of a physicist trying to save the world from ecological disasters is depicted. In Sweet Tooth (2012) the public and political aspect of art and literature is challenged. The shift from the very insightful depiction of private marriage night towards the love affair between the communist and capitalist spies shows a drastic diversion in McEwan’s works.
Finally, returning to the idea of apocalyptic imagination, the private as well as the global aspects of apocalypse are of interest to Žižek, and by the use to his knowledge of psychoanalysis, he is well able to analyze the public imagination, and map the recent wave of global apocalyptism. Žižek considers the global end-times thought as an implication that the individuals are consciously or unconsciously getting to the conclusion that something is coming to an end, either the industrial use of nature or the capitalist system or whatsoever other global issues. This research is an attempt to uncover some of these personal, as well as global aspects of the twenty-first century wave of apocalyptism.
This chapter was an attempt to map Žižek’s theories and his readings from the theories of the giants of philosophy. His Lacanian psychoanalysis, Marxist theories and love for Hegel’s idealist philosophy were elaborated in order to water the bed for the later applications of his theories on McEwan’s texts. Žižek combines his readings from all these philosophers and ideas to depict a fairer image of their theories and strengthen his own ideas. Thus, a knowledge of this background seemed crucial to the author.
The last part of this chapter was an effort to draw the initial link between the two men of letters and present how close, in theory, the ideas of McEwan and Žižek are. This link was an introduction to the ideas discussed comprehensively later in the fourth chapter of this dissertation.
Chapter Three: Žižekian Ideology Looms around McEwan’s Novels
Atonement is probably not a single novel, an idea or a key concept among McEwan’s works, but a characteristic which can be roughly applied on many of McEwan’s novels. It is not just Briony Tallis who is atoned for her beliefs and actions in her childhood, but nine years after the publication of Atonement in 2001, Solar’s Michael Beard was also atoned for his deeds. The kids in The Cement Garden and the couple in The Comfort of Strangers were also atoned for what they did and thought.
The atonement occurs as a result of an inner psychic cause. The inner cause creates an action in a pivotal circumstance, which leads to a catastrophic result, and as a result of the very catastrophe, a continuation of traumatic suffering is created. “Atonement is achieved by paying for our sins” (“Glossay of Terms”). For instance, in The Cement Garden, the children are atoned as a result of their will to free from the parental force. (McEwan) The kids are not even aware of their growing inner necessity of revolt against the patriarchal power when Jack, as the narrator, commenting on the kids act of murderously putting their dead mother in a trunk in the house and filling it with cement, says “it was not at all clear to me now why we had put her in the trunk in the first place” (ibid 98).
The very scheme is in one or another way repeated in The Comfort of Strangers. In this mysteriously artistic novel also the young Colin is atoned to death for what he has never been aware of. The difference here is that the English couple has not committed any action (wrongdoing) other than making friend with some inhabitant strangers. They are atoned as a result of someone else’s inner cause; the Italian wife’s desire for Colin. (McEwan)
The question which remains here is: so what is the driving force or idea behind people’s actions which might lead to such catastrophes doomed to an atonement hell? Is there any ideology behind such actions? Žižek believes that beside every idea imposed on man’s mind from outside there is an inner necessity. He believes that ideology is “the exact opposite of internalization of the external contingency” (Žižek, Cultural Theory: An Anthology 230) and considers it to reside in the “externalization of the result of an inner necessity” (ibid). This idea might work greatly in order to decipher the reasons behind some actions by the characters in McEwan’s novels.
In order to map the issue of ideology and the manipulations it causes, Žižek borrows Hegel’s idea on religion. He categorizes the process of ideology (the externalization of the result of the inner necessity) under three levels: 1) Doctrine, 2) Ritual and 3) Belief. He describes these three steps as: Ideology as a complex web of ideas (theories, convictions, beliefs, argumentative procedures, etc.), Ideology in externality and materiality (which is the same as Althusserian Ideological State Apparatuses) and the most elusive domain, the “spontaneous ideology at work” at the heart of the social reality. In the proceeding segments, the researcher will elaborate on the instances of these three levels to delve deeper into the treatment of ideological issues in Solar and Atonement (ibid 233).
Subsequently, in order gain a better perception of the abovementioned levels and the subject’s actions based on them, one ought to know the characters and even their psychological status better. Henceforth, Žižek contemplates on the characters as subjects and explores them with the help of Lacanian psychoanalysis and Hegelian ideas regarding the Spirit (Hegel). As a result of this analysis, one might understand McEwan’s characters and the reasons behind their actions better.
II. The Specter of Ideology Hovering over McEwan’s Novels
Atonement’s Briony, as mentioned in the book, is the baby author of the Tallis family “possessed (with) a strange mind and a facility with words” (McEwan, Atonement 6) who is demanding her family’s total attention and is “encouraged to read her stories aloud in the library” (ibid); a fact that “surprised her parents and her older sister to hear their quite girl perform so boldly” (ibid).
But, the question to be raised here is that what little Briony is authoring? In the beginning of the novel, there are some information about Briony and the status of her family which can probably help us decode the hidden ideologies and the complex web of ideas behind her deeds. There are hints in the initial pages of Atonement referring to Briony’s authoritative capabilities to write the constraints of the family structure in the most platonic sense of the word. McEwan’s tone in describing her as “wish(ing) for a harmonious, organized world” (ibid 4) best conveys what is meant by authoring the authoritative family conventions. Briony’s comments on marriage and her guide for her brother to avoid from “his succession of girlfriends, towards the right form of wife,” (ibid 5) also show how keen she is to materialize the conservative family traditions.
The ‘facility with words’ (ibid 6) that little Briony possesses is also a patriarchal means to express the very social rules. Her categorizations of the words are either black or white and every concept is childishly categorized in these two categories. Everything is either in the realm of the order or chaos. Žižek believes “we are within the ideological space proper the moment the content of “true” or “false” is functional” (Žižek, Cultural Theory: An Anthology 232). One