Ian McEwan: A Novel Approach to Political Communication

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Since authors are skilled communicators, novels can help reimagine our communicative motivations and public sphere in a contemporary context. Their fiction can situate politically-conscious narratives in pertinent, culturally salient contexts to reflect and challenge our deepest convictions. In this work I consider three novels by British author Ian McEwan, which show his liberal-communicative thought: Black Dogs, Amsterdam and Saturday. These texts exemplify his aesthetically accomplished and intellectually dense oeuvre. Each novel explores one major theme. Black Dogs addresses historical narratives, concerned with how we integrate past events into our current identities. Amsterdam challenges the notion that expert elites can achieve greatness when their actions lack moral responsibility. Saturday undermines the deterministic conception of reason and science in light of political, economic and ecological insecurity and irrationality in today’s post-9/11 world. In all three books, daily random events shatter the protagonists’ worldviews. McEwan takes a liberal-pluralist approach, representing the contingent and irrational elements challenging classic liberalism. Promoting individual autonomy, reason, and scientific progress, perfectionist liberal thinkers like John Locke and John Rawls presented fundamental moral entitlements that bind all human beings across time and place by virtue of their humanity. However, as different cultures interact, issues of legitimacy, stability and cooperation in democratic societies arise. Current political and communication theory addresses these concerns by seeking common ground from which to evaluate diverse political orders. Influenced by John Durham Peters’s ethical-political communication theory, this study sets out a theoretical framework that combines political and communicative investigations, and sees today’s liberal and communicative projects as similarly motivated. Within this space, I critically examine McEwan’s contribution to a communicative and political moral code that can guide us through the fact of pluralism. This moral code accepts the burden of reason, and the fragility of happiness in modern time, pointing to our psychological pathologies and contradictions in moral conscience. We can be skeptical about our moral, political and scientific convictions while avoiding moral relativism. We can celebrate individual autonomy, self-fulfillment and freedom of choice only if they come with empathic interest for the other. Any other possibility will diminish our greatest achievements.
Mass Communications, Literature--English, Political Science
Cohen, N. (2014). Ian McEwan: A Novel Approach to Political Communication (Doctoral thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from https://prism.ucalgary.ca. doi:10.11575/PRISM/26407