Narrative Skepticism: Moral Agency and Representations of Consciousness in Fiction

By Linda S. Raphael | Go to book overview

5
The Remains of the Day:
Skepticism in a First-Person Narrative

As failures go, attempting to recall the past is like trying to grasp
the meaning of existence. Both make one feel like a baby clutch-
ing at a basketball: one’s palms keep sliding off….

I remember, for instance, that when I was about ten or eleven it
occurred to me that Marx’s dictum that “existence conditions
consciousness” was true only for as long as it takes conscious-
ness to acquire the art of estrangement; thereafter, conscious-
ness is on its own and can both condition and ignore existence.

—Joseph Brodsky, Less than One

STRADDLING THE LINES BETWEEN MODERNIST AND POSTMODERNIST fiction, Kazuo Ishiguro has produced novels that represent both the concerns and the techniques of much late-twentieth-century fiction. As defined by Brian McHale, the dominant feature of modernist literature is epistemological, whereas the dominant feature of postmodernist fiction is ontological. McHale develops his definition on the basis of the suppositions of the following theorists:

David Lodge: postmodernism uses contradiction, discontinuity,
randomness, excess, and short circuit.

Iban Hassan: postmodernism “modifies or extends” the modern-
ist rubrics of urbanism, technologism, dehumanization, primi-
tivism, eroticism, antinomianism, and experimentalism.

Douwe Fokkema: postmodernism uses compositional and se-
mantic conventions such as inclusiveness, deliberate indis-
criminateness, nonselection or quasi-nonselection, and logical
impossibility.1

-168-

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