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Anosognosia, or the political unconscious: limits of vision in Ian McEwan's Saturday

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-07, 21:35 authored by Martin Ryle
The article begins by noting that Ian McEwan is widely praised as a writer whose literary distinction is matched by his importance as a chronicler of our times. The international reception of Saturday saluted it as what one reviewer called 'a detailed portrait of an age'. McEwan (especially in recent work) elicits from his readers a response that includes a directly political element. Saturday appears to do so especially in relation to Iraq, since its action is set on the day of the very large London demonstration against the invasion (15 February 2003). However, the novel's true - and anxious - political and social concern is with questions of class, privilege and inequality within the nation. When the protagonist, neurosurgeon Henry Perowne, meets a street sweeper, he is disturbed by the disparity between their lives, and acknowledges that he cannot enjoy the anosognosia (lack of awareness of his own condition) of well-to-do citizens in earlier times. But in the sequel, the novel strives to repress the implications of this encounter. It goes re-stages the question of class by way of Perowne's violent dealings with the small-time criminal Baxter: in Baxter, who suffers from Huntingdon's chorea, lower class identity is reinscribed, no longer as stoical subaltern labour but now as resentment and pathology. Contrasts drawn with other novels (by Hardy, Gissing and Ishiguro) highlight how Saturday figures progress, and how its back-story of social mobility places Perowne as a deserving member of the professional classes. A concluding theoretical reflection (with reference to Marxist critics, and again to Gissing) argues that although the novel's figures of anosognosia and 'thinking small' seem to declare and police a limit to what it wants (us) to know, they in fact excite and require a fully contextual reading.


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Wayne State University Press





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