Briony S Being For Metafictional Narrative Ethics
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ISSN: 0011-1619 print/1939-9138 online
Metafictional Narrative Ethics in Ian McEwan’s Atonement
DAVID K. O’H ARA
ABSTRACT: This essay attempts to identify an unusual brand of self-conscious narrative by focusing on Ian McEwan’s novel, Atonement (1992). What makes this minority metafictional style especially unique is not only its presence in the work of one of the late twentieth century’s preeminent British novelists, but also its ethical character. For this reason, the kind of metafiction being discussed should not be conflated with more traditionally ideological forms that attest to their own fictionality in the name of undermining “realist” illusions.
Rather, it will be argued that self-conscious narrative, in the case of McEwan, is oftentimes utilized in order to reassert an ethical complex that lies between author and reader, text and world. The fundamental differentiation being made, then, is that between a properly postmodernist metafiction and what might be considered a restorative metafiction that works, in a self-justifying manner, toward an affirmation of narrative ethics. For this latter style of metafiction, storytelling does not mark the beginning of a free-play of signifiers or a dispersal of constituting fictions, but rather the beginning of a dialogical and ethical relationship between texts and readers; of stories not just being told from one to another, but by one for another.
Ultimately, this essay examines the way the Ian McEwan of Atonement explores the same self–Other dynamics that underpin the work of Levinas, MerleauPonty, and Zygmunt Bauman while metafictionally making claims about narrative not unlike those found in the hermeneutic philosophies of Richard Kearney
and Paul Ricoeur. For it is precisely this same ethical propensity of narrative as understood by Kearney and Ricoeur that Atonement not only
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