The transfiguring event : phenomenological readings of Ian McEwan's late fiction
This thesis performs a phenomenological reading of Ian McEwan’s later novels, using the philosophy of Maurice Merleau-Ponty in particular. Chapter One examines fundamental concepts in Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology—perception, embodiment, inter-subjectivity, and ambiguity in Enduring Love. It also uses Levinas’ idea of ‘the other’ to tease apart the complexities of the novel’s love triangle. Chapter Two examines Merleau-Ponty’s ideas on history and memory and their relation to the self in Black Dogs. The phenomenological understanding of these terms allows us to re-evaluate the novel’s status as ‘memoir’. Chapter Three presents Merleau-Ponty’s ideas on perception and embodiment to explicate the phenomenon of misperception in Atonement. The reading focuses on the ambiguous, problematic nature of perception and the important role the body plays in establishing the ‘truth’ of a traumatic event. Chapter Four investigates being-towards-death in Amsterdam, using both Heidegger’s writings and Merleau-Ponty’s concept of ‘co-existence’. The chapter also highlights Amsterdam’s portrayal of authenticity and the effects of non-representation on the reader. Chapter Five examines On Chesil Beach’s depiction of sexuality and language alongside Merleau-Ponty’s writings on sexual being, the body, and expression. It illustrates that the Merleau-Pontian understanding of bodily and linguistic gesture provides insight into why McEwan’s text focuses on both sexuality and language and how the failure of one often leads to a failure of both. It focuses on the various ‘misreadings’ in On Chesil Beach. Chapter Six examines Saturday and its depiction of being-with-others after 9/11. Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology articulates the intertwined relationship of subjective and social realities portrayed in the novel. Saturday exemplifies Merleau-Ponty’s argument that literature can show the true potential of phenomenological philosophy. By undertaking a phenomenological-literary study that emphasises the unveiling potential of McEwan’s novels, this thesis illustrates one way that literature, like philosophy, ‘consists in relearning to look at the world’ (Phenomenology of Perception 2002, xxiii).
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Date: 2022-02-24
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations. Electronic copy restricted until 24th February 2022
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