Academic journal article Papers on Language & Literature

Truth, Care, and Action: An Ethics of Peaceful Coexistence in Ian McEwan's Solar

Academic journal article Papers on Language & Literature

Truth, Care, and Action: An Ethics of Peaceful Coexistence in Ian McEwan's Solar

Article excerpt

Ian McEwan's Solar has received wide critical attention since its publication in 2010, perhaps due to its focus on climate change, an issue that is often in the headlines. Graeme Mitchison and Jessica Griggs noted McEwan's interest in science in their analysis of the book (Mitchison; Griggs 24, 25), while Stephen Morrow and others pay more attention to McEwan's treatment of the central character, Michael Beard (74). Since there are few detailed examinations of this novel, the current study serves to clarify McEwan's views as to why people have resisted the truth about the present crisis, and what they should do now, as in an interview about Solar the author stated, "I'm writing a novel that has at its center a character who has rather too many weaknesses and faults. He's determined to do something about climate change. But what keeps getting in the way are all his defects" (Conversations with Ian McEwan 191). In Solar, by showing the downfall of an energy scientist and the danger facing consumerist society, McEwan, instead of advocating science and technology as a solution to the ecological crisis, tries to open a space for ethics based on facing one's self and the outside world courageously and attentively, which embraces both inter-human relationships and people's relationship to the natural world.

Solar is about a character who is "generally adept at avoiding inconvenient or troubling thoughts" (241) and is forced to face the consequences of this inaction at the end of the work. In this study I use Alain Badiou's views of an event as the basic theoretical framework to show McEwan's diagnosis of the problem as well as his proposed solution. Badiou argues that an event erupts from a situation and, because it cannot be predicted according to the rules of representation of the situation, appears as a supplement to it (Infinite Thought 46). Situations all consist of unique items that are counted (presented) as though they are the same (Badiou, Being and Event 24), which are recounted (re-presented) after the first count. Thus, individuals become ones (the first count) and belong to different social groups (the second count). Situations can overlap, although they are organized differently (Badiou, Logics of Worlds 36, 114, 101). People can thus appear to be in a new situation when they actually remain in the old one, as a person haunted by his past can move to a new place but fails to escape from it.

Each situation has a void that escapes counting (Being and Event 87), and when an event erupts, it comes from the site on the edge of the perceived, or the barely noticed part (175). Thus something unusual can happen in a person's daily life but be misunderstood and treated as nothing when that person holds to his/her old way of understanding reality.

Yet a subject is constituted when he or she interprets an event as presented in a situation and decides to take it seriously (Being and Event 181), the existence of which is otherwise undecidable. A Badiouean inquirer must not care about self-interest and is only interested in the truth of the situation (Badiou, Ethics 49). This inquiry is conducted by connecting elements in a situation to the event, though this procedure has to be endless, because "truths, in so far as they touch the real, are related to the infinite" (Badiou and Engelmann 15). Because the event can reveal what was earlier overlooked in a situation (Badiou, Logics of Worlds 452), it "compels [the subject of an event] to decide a new way of being" (Badiou, Ethics 41) and take action to reshape the situation according to the knowledge gained from this procedure.

The first encounter between lovers is also an event for Badiou. Because of love, two formerly solipsistic people form a subject of two-in-one, as they are one subject of love that views the world through the prism of their difference (Badiou and Truong 26). Fidelity in this context means that the couple is faithful to that encounter and keeps constructing a truth of their love. …

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