Identity, identification and narcissistic phantasy in the novels of Kazuo Ishiguro

Webster Thomas, Diane A (2013) Identity, identification and narcissistic phantasy in the novels of Kazuo Ishiguro. PhD thesis, Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust / University of East London. Full text available

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This thesis explores Ishiguro’s novels in the light of his preoccupation with emotional upheaval:the psychological devastations of trauma, persisting in memory from childhood into middle and old age. He demonstrates how the first person narrators maintain human dignity and self- esteem unknowingly,through specific, psychic defence mechanisms and the related behaviours,typical of narcissism. Ishiguro’s vision has affinities with the post-Kleinian Object-Relations psychoanalyticliterature on borderline states of mind and narcissism. I propose a hybrid,critical framework which takes account of this, along with the key aspects of the traditional humanist novel, held in tension with certain deconstructive tactics from postmodernist writing. Post-Kleinian theory and practice sit within the humanist approach in any case, with both the ethical and the reality-seeking imperatives, paramount. Ishiguro presents humanism in the ‘deficit’ model and this framework helps to bring it into view. The argument is supported by close readings of the six novels in which the trauma concerns different forms of fragmentation from wars, socio-historic upheaval, geographical dislocation, and emotional disconnection. All involve psychic fragmentation of the egoin the central character,through splitting and projection. Ishiguro,himself, perceives some sorts of object-relations, psychic mechanisms,operating at the unconscious level,which he calls ‘appropriation’ and which the post- Kleinians have theorised. They have found a range of variants of projectiveidentification into the ‘other’ with there-introjection of a distorted self,suffused with narcissistic phantasy. While these defences are protective, Ishiguro seems aware that excessive projection comes at a cost: depletion of affect, weak identity, limited symbol formation,thinking and self-knowledge, and a diminished capacity to give meaning to relationships. These factors are all borne out in his narrators’ omnipotent behaviours–in re-enaction. Ishiguro’s narrative methods produce figurative representations of the narrators’ internal worlds through his external worlds of settings, while other conventions of the novel,such as plot, character, genre and so on,are reconfigured in their deficit versions.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the University of East London in collaboration with the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy
Uncontrolled Keywords: Fantasy
Subjects: Disabilities & Disorders (mental & physical) > Personality Disorders (e.g. narcissism)
Subconscious & Unconscious, Personality > Fantasy/Phantasy
Subconscious & Unconscious, Personality > Self Concept/Identity
Department/People: Adult and Forensic Services

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