Islamic Azad University-Central Tehran Branch
Faculty of Foreign Languages
Department of Postgraduate Studies
A Thesis Submitted to the Department of Postgraduate Studies in Partial
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts in English Language and Literature
A Study of Ian McEwan’s Novels Atonement and Solar in the Light of Žižekian Ideology
Dr. Razieh Eslamieh
Dr. Kian Soheil
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This dissertation aims to study two novels of Ian McEwan entitled: Solar and Atonement based on the psychoanalytical and ideological theories of Slavoj Žižek. Žižek is chosen because his criticism of ideology and his psychoanalytic theories are the best sources on which to base the theoretical framework. As a second mission of this thesis, it will study the apocalyptism that overwhelms many of McEwan’s characters in the two novels.
In order to study the psychoanalytical aspects of ideology on McEwan’s works, a complete study of McEwan’s characters was needed. Thus, a large portion of this thesis was dedicated to the Žižekian theory of processual subjectivity, in which, following Lacan, Žižek maintains that the subject is divided and always in a transitional process until her/is death. The processual subject lacks and sticks to the ideologies around in order to satisfy himself and to play around his/her desires. In Solar Michael does the same and in Atonement Briony.
Michael and Briony, then, are purely entrapped in the three levels of ideologies around them. The Doctrine, the Ritual and the Belief are the three levels Žižek theorizes for every ideology. The characters of McEwan get entrapped with the ideological manipulations. Briony begins with coordinating her deeds in accordance with the family traditions and Michael is entrapped in the ideology of end of the world and the earth’s apocalypse.
From this part on, the thesis pivots to the apocalyptic imaginations in the two novel, an aim that has been a crucial theme to be studied in this research. Chapter four of the dissertation emphasizes on the apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic imaginations encrypted in the two McEwan’s novels. Apocalyptic imagination is overwhelmingly found in McEwan’s works. And, they turn out to be something absolutely ideological. The commentary on McEwanian apocalyptic imaginations in the light of Žižekian theory is the concluding segment of the thesis.
Keywords: Ian McEwan, Apocalyptic Literature, Psychoanalysis, Ideology, Slavoj Žižek, 21st Century Novel, Solar, Atonement.
Table of Contents
- Žižek as a Marxist Critic of Ideology. 31
- Žižek Meets McEwan: Contributions to the Apocalyptic Vision. 36
- Introduction. 42
- The Specter of Ideology Hovering over McEwan’s Novels. 44
- Doctrine. 44
- Ritual 50
- Belief. 61
- Living in McEwan’s End Times. 99
- Denial 101
- Anger 106
- Bargaining, Depression and Withdrawal 109
- Acceptance: The Cause Regained (A New Beginning) 114
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.
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