The Vocational Imperative
: Kazuo Ishiguro's Fictions and the Discourse of Denial

  • Alyn Webley

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    The reflective first-person narratives of Ishiguro's texts contain a
    representation of the way in which people's immersion in hegemony, combined with the demands of a disciplinary society, results in the internalisation of hegemonic values. This sophisticated understanding of the individual subject's relationship with his or her social environment puts
    Ishiguro in tune with ideas presented by various twentieth-century theorists.

    This thesis introduces the concepts of 'interpretive consonance' and 'vocational imperative' as a means of understanding Ishiguro's writing as a fictional embodiment and exploration of these ideas.

    Following a general introduction, the first chapter establishes frames for a reading of Ishiguro's works by elucidating the theoretical underpinning of the concepts of interpretive consonance and vocational imperative. I use Gramsci's notions of hegemony and consent to clarify the concept of interpretive consonance, the idea that the uncritical ingestion of a particular
    set of social values shapes Ishiguro's narrators' perceptions of events in their surroundings. That is, their interpretation of their environments is consonant with the hegemonic values that they have assimilated. Foucault's analysis of power and discourse is then used to explain the development of the functionally based subjectivity of Ishiguro's narrators and their almost fanatical
    adherence to the confines of their vocations - the notion that they are bound by a vocational imperative. Freud's concept of the super-ego is then utilised to explain the individual psychological dynamic involved in shaping the personal identities of Ishiguro's narrators around their vocations.

    Subsequent chapters follow the chronological order of Ishiguro's novels. In them, I use the concepts of interpretive consonance and vocational imperative to explore Ishiguro's writing. Chapter two, on A Pale View of Hills, emphasises Ishiguro's use of hegemony and the discourse of motherhood in his construction of the experiences of Etsuko in post Second World War Nagasaki. Chapter three focuses on Ishiguro's understanding of the relationship between power and subjectivity and the delineation of the development of the fascist beliefs of Ono, the narrator in An Artist of the Floating World, under the guise of his commitment to his career as an artist. Chapter four, on The Remains of the Day, analyses the type of vocational narration used by Stevens, the butler, in his attempts to negotiate both his personal failures and his historical misjudgements. Chapter five explores notions of self-division and dislocation to be found in The Unconsoled, as Ryder, the pianist, struggles in vain to fulfil his professional commitments in a bewildering environment. Chapter six, on When We Were Orphans, examines Ishiguro's construction of the vocational identity of Christopher Banks, the detective, on the basis of an understanding of how historical forces create conflict and loss in the sphere of the family. Chapter seven, on Never Let Me Go, discusses the fate of the clones who must complete their vocational imperative at the cost of their lives in a social atmosphere of total administration. I conclude with an assessment of Ishiguro's novels as an invitation to reflect on the personal and cultural devastation caused by the historical traumas and pressures of twentieth century, and early twenty-first
    century, life.
    Date of Award2008
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorJane Aaron (Supervisor)

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