Narratives of History, Anxiety, and Incapability in Ian Mcewan$S Later Novels

  • Chen, Chung-jen (PI)

Project: A - Government Institutionb - National Science and Technology Council

Project Details


As one of the most important British writers, Ian McEwan is widely considered as an expert in revealing personal and interpersonal risks and confrontations while reflecting over contemporary issues. Peter Childs calls him “a writer who is simultaneously interested in personal responsibility and global issues”in “a compassionate and contemplative way.” Similarly, Michael Ross argues that McEwan adheres to the tradition of the Condition of England novel with his manifestation of landmark movements with an empathetic concern. Incapability caused by disease, trauma, or anxiety remains a major concern in McEwan’s later novels. For example, in Enduring Love, the sense of incapacity enhanced by a stalker of de Clérambault’s syndrome haunts and dismantles the protagonist’s marriage life. His Saturday address to a deeply felt anxiety of trauma and incapability as the narrator’s thought is largely occupied with concern’s of his mother with Alzheimer’sand the intruder with Huntington’s Disease, both known as results from degenerative brain disorder or dysfunction. In On Chesil Beach, two newlyweds plagued by difficulty and anxiety in sex ended up in miscommunication. In this research project I explore the way in which McEwan extends his distinctive engagement with confrontation, disease, and incapability in his novels since late 1980s, namely The Child in Time (1987), The Innocent (1990), Black Dogs (1992), Enduring Love (1997), Amsterdam (1998), to his recent works of Saturday (2005), On Chesil Beach (2007), and Solar (2010). It would be ostensible to call Ian McEwan’s works the Condition of England novel, for a great majority of his recent novels are set in the recent political and social backgrounds of England and reveal much of his concern for the current state of his native country and that of all human beings. Meanwhile, critics tend to agree with the notion that, in McEwan’s works, the private is linked to the public, as he extends his concerns of insecurity to his treatment of domains in both the public anxiety and the personal emotion. Therefore, intra and inter personal anxiety in McEwan’s later novels not only indicates an individual experience but also amplifies a collective sense of anxiety in a wider cultural-social context.With a pathological reading of the narratives of incapability crucial to the development of McEwan’s novels, this project analyzes why illness and disease perform as a metaphor in illustrating and measuring displacement, violence, or trauma to the existing political and historical conditions. As McEwan’s recent novels suggest a possibility of reconciliation and compensation for the individual and collective loss, I try to read the clustered symptoms of clinical implications and social influences to foreground a sense of personal affection cast in the shadow of sharp and uncomfortable relief. In short, McEwan’s arrangement of the conjuncture of the present and the past, the private and the collective are achieved and maintained at the narratives of history, anxiety, and incapability.
Effective start/end date8/1/117/31/12


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