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

PhD Thesis

Webster Thomas, Diane A 2013. Identity, identification and narcissistic phantasy in the novels of Kazuo Ishiguro. PhD Thesis University of East London School of Law and Social Sciences
AuthorsWebster Thomas, Diane A
TypePhD Thesis

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 psychoanalytic
literature 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 ego in 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 projective
identification into the ‘other’ with the re-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.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Publication dates
PrintDec 2013
Publication process dates
Deposited20 Jan 2014
Publisher's version
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