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This chapter argues that Ishiguro’s novels frame ethical issues through questions of agency. Hannah Arendt’s ideas about agency and action provide a way to understand this in detail: for Arendt, speech and action reveal ‘who’ the speaker is, and shows their involvement with the ‘web of human relationships’ and the ramifications of their actions; the representation of action is inextricable from style and form. Using these ideas, the chapter demonstrates that there are significant changes over Ishiguro’s work: the first three novels concern reflections on past actions; the second three explore different conditions of agency in both content and in style; the two most recent novels deal with the impact and risks of actions and reactions. This also illuminates two recognizable literary devices used by Ishiguro: the way his characters ‘project’ themselves onto others, and what he calls the ‘dream grammar’ in relation to some aspects of his prose and plotting.
‘English: Shared Futures’, the event after which this volume is named, was a huge celebration of the intellectual strength, diversity and dynamism of the English Language, Literature and Creative Writing community, held in Newcastle in the summer of 2017. Part-conference, part-festival, partprofessional meeting, it brought together 600 academics, writers, publishers, teachers and students.
Like a more traditional conference, it had around 150 panels on a range of intellectual matters from Old English to contemporary literature and theory to creative writing; plenary lectures from Deborah Cameron (English Language), Bernardine Evaristo (Creative Writing) and Brian Ward (on Martin Luther King's honorary degree from Newcastle University, to celebrate our local connections) and a plenary panel on literary biography from Martin Stannard, Kathryn Hughes and Andrew Hadfield. Sixteen of our learned societies ran sessions. And all the major UK academic publishers attended, as did many of the smaller local publishers in this vibrant and creative part of the country.
Like a professional meeting, there were sessions on advocacy, collegiality, diversity, management, broadcast media, harassment, employability, TEF, mentoring and calibration. Well aware of the consequences of precarity in the profession, there were sessions organised by and for early career academics and PhD students, and the English Association used the conference to pilot a large, site-specific mentoring scheme, putting junior and senior academics in touch. There was a special interest too in pedagogy across the discipline, focusing on the curriculum, creativity, new approaches and on crossing the HE/Secondary school divide. Specially sponsored by University English, there was an international panel on ‘The Discipline of English and the Work of the Humanities’ with Stefan Collini, Helen Small, Amanda Anderson and Chris Newfield.
And like a literary festival, we had a feast of readings, talks and exhibitions. For many, the highlight was the ‘Night of Three Laureates’ with readings from Carol Ann Duffy and Lorna Goodison, respectively Britain's and Jamaica's Poets Laureate, and Jackie Kay, the Scottish Makar, and there were readings from ‘The Cold Boat’ project and other local poets.
Postmodern ethics is often described in vague terms such as “openness,” “otherness'” and “fracture” and an “opposition to totalizing systems.” In this chapter, I aim to explain, in one way, why these terms are vague and why they have come to mean so much for postmodern thought. I also argue that postmodernism is first an ethical position before anything else.
Mary Midgley writes that
the strong unifying tendency that is natural to our thought keeps making us hope that we have found a single pattern which is a Theory of Everything – a key to all the mysteries, the secret of the universe . . .A long series of failures has shown that this can’t work. That realisation seems to be the sensible element at the core of the conceptual muddle now known as postmodernism.
Midgley’s comment is clearly right about postmodernism: it is a “conceptual muddle” (just what does it mean?) and there is some form of “core element,” however expressed. She is also right that there is (more than) a tendency in western thought (but perhaps not a natural tendency) to reduce everything to a system. Is she also right that this tendency has failed to work and that the “sensible element” of postmodernism is the “realisation” of this failure?
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