Superheroes, Superegos : icons of war and the war of icons in the fiction of Kazuo Ishiguro – Pascal Zinck

This essay examines the enduring providential intervention of superheroes in the fiction of Kazuo Ishiguro, drawing on examples from his novels to probe linguistic, psychoanalytical, cultural, and historical aspects. Arguing that most of Ishiguro’s protagonists believe that they are entrusted with “a sense of mission” and that they are so omnipotent that they can alter the course of history, the essay adopts a psychoanalytical approach and questions to what extent superheroes and kung fu encounters with supervillains can be attributed to narcissism and the need to escape tyrannical families.

The contours of culture are often construed and perpetuated through cycles of imagination, manipulation and distortion. As subject to misrepresentation as the contour, the content of the culture suffers inevitable simplification; it is frequently reduced to a set of easily identifiable codes and signs.

Kazuo Ishiguro who was born in Japan after the cold war and emigrated to Britain at the age of six was weaned on manga and he later recreated a composite of Japan through the lens of Ozu, Mizoguchi and Kurosawa. The immigrant symbol of Superman may have appealed to the young exile who straddled two different cultures and yet felt homeless in both: “I had no social role, because I wasn’t a very English Englishman [and] I wasn’t a very Japanese Japanese either.” (Kazuo Ishiguro and Ōe Kenzaburō 82-83). The writer’s personal quest may account for his interest in larger than life heroes and their world-saving antics. Ishiguro’s fiction draws heavily on Sherlock Holmes, Tintin and Superman and most of his novels have in common superhero narrators who are all introspective and even obsessed with exploring their identity and have to redeem their own past. Another overarching theme is the battle with evil.

This essay explores the enduring providential intervention of Superheroes in Ishiguro’s fiction, drawing on examples from his novels to probe linguistic, psychoanalytical, cultural, and historical aspects. In the first part, I study megalomania and hyperbolic discourse focussing on the narrative strategies of ‘Supernarrators’, or narrators posing as Superheroes, despite the guise of their everyday identities. Then I will discuss Superheroics in the context of Freud’s “Familienroman.” The final part of my paper will probe the relationship between egomania, servitude and totalitarian ideology, examining whether it masquerades as fascist discourse or reduces modernity to saccharine or celluloid history.

What most of Ishiguro’s narrators, Ono, Stevens, Ryder or Banks have in common: at a nadir point in their life they feel the urge to reassess their career and regain prestige. One particular objective of their retrospective swansong is to cancel “Time’s Arrow”, to reconstruct time, so that the nostalgic enterprise freezes the protagonist’s “pivotal point somewhere in his youth” or re-enacts his zenith (TU 374, 512). The novels operate optical constructs which alternately magnify and minimise perspective. Ishiguro’s retro-fictions inevitably proceed from a lofty vantage point conveying the idea of superior moral ground. All his narrators may not be critically defined as Superheroes, but it does not prevent them from staking such claims as well as deploying their Superheroic mythologies. In An Artist of the Floating World, Masuji Ono acts as a guide taking the narratee along a steep path leading up to his villa overlooking “the bridge of Hesitation” and occupying “a commanding position on the hill” (AFW 7). The tableau is made grander by the presence of the sun and the gingko trees – oblique references to Amaterasu Ōmikami, the Sun goddess and the symbol of durability. The vista becomes more breathtaking with the value of the property and the auction of prestige at the end of which the narrator inherits a palatial villa.

In the incipit of The Remains of the Day, the ladder from which Stevens dusts the historical figures adorning Darlington Hall and hatches his journey west is a symbolic prop allowing the country house vestige to lord it over Mr. Farraday, his new American master. The Unconsoled’s star pianist, Ryder, spends an endless time in a lift before he can recover from his international flight. From the outset of When We Were Orphans, Christopher Banks recounts his meteoric ascent in the capital as he settles in Kensington after his Cambridge graduation.  Each of these four narrators expresses a sense of  “self-satisfaction,” not to say, “triumph” as they recapture the climax of their powers. They share with early Superheroes a combination of one-dimensional self-righteousness, overweening pride and self-aggrandizement.

The incipit of An Artist of the Floating World forms a diptych with the novel’s penultimate scene. In this analepsis Ono, who has just been awarded the ultimate artistic accolade, contemplates a surprise visit to Mori-san. He debates the propriety of acknowledging his master’s status, but in the end decides against it. The painter’s gaze at the lowly villa of his erstwhile mentor is a measure of his victory (AFW 204). Megalomania coincides with a sense of caste, of belonging to the elite as the narrator keeps harping on the apogee of the Migi Hidari (AFW 20-25), the artistic focal point he has helped to establish (AFW 204). Furthermore, the superheroic stance acts as a kind of camouflage detracting attention from the war ravages and, more to the point, from the narrator’s personal responsibility.

Stevens, the superlative butler of The Remains of the Day, basks in the same narcissistic radiance as he reminisces about his own personal heyday:

a deep feeling of triumph started to well up within me. […] Who would doubt at that  moment that I had indeed come as close to the great hub of things  as any butler could wish?  I would suppose, then, that as I stood there pondering the events of the evening […] they appeared to me as a sort of summary of all that I had come to achieve thus far in my life. I can see few other explanations for that sense of triumph I came to be uplifted by that night. (RD 227-228; confer 110)

The terms “headquarters,” “realm,” “centre,” “wheel,” “fulcrum,” “hub,” “limelight” punctuate Stevens’s centripetal discourse. These hyperboles may give the narrator a patina of aristocratic power, but their proliferation exposes them as pedantic banality. Incidentally, the term banal which designates legal obligation to a feudal overlord befits the butler’s linguistic as well as professional status. Hence Stevens’s lexicon of warfare reflects both his will to “command […] the English language” (RD 167) as well as the professional conditioning of the colonised (Miermont, 2000). Virtually engaged in a mock-Battle of Britain (RD 77), the self-proclaimed “general” chronicles his war councils and campaigns like Napoleon dictating his Memoirs from St Helena.

The narrator’s self-aggrandizement pervades his tedious tirades on dignity, the pedigree of former gentlemen’s gentlemen or the stringent criteria for joining the Hayes Society, the elitist organisation of butlers which replicates aristocratic hierarchy. Like the magic formula of silver polishing, verbal mimicry/onanism (Porée 88) is supposed to transmute his ancillary condition into Lord Darlington’s “noble and admirable” alter ego (RD 200, Confer 125). The narrator’s mock ‘John of Gaunt’ propaganda speech on the virtues of Britain is further evidence of his colonial ambivalence. The Midas-like butler mythologises the country as a synecdochic extension of his status.

In The Unconsoled, what should have been a low-key concert in an anonymous Mitteleuropa city is turned into an extravaganza. First Ryder, the soloist who, incidentally, has only been given a deadline and not a proper schedule, is repeatedly distracted from his rehearsals by petty organisational details which are blown out of proportion and which jeopardise the “glittering triumph” of his performance on Thursday (TU 398). Although the concert in itself soon becomes irrelevant, the social engagements around it impinge on the very fabric and future of the community. Thus the city’s elders turn to the pianist as a latter day Messiah supposed to resolve the musical and metaphysical crisis of the city. However exacting these demands, Ryder duly obliges, in the process shirking private commitments while flattering his ego (TU 158). Megalomania transpires as he poses for a photo call with the controversial Sattler building as a backdrop (TU 166, 167).

The dinner reception for the rehabilitation of Brodsky should also be mentioned. After councillors skirmish over a proper homage to pay to Brodsky’s dead dog, Ryder is invited to lecture ex-cathedra and deliver the city from its apathy. On another occasion he pontificates on post-modern composition and strains to make himself heard above the mêlée while exposing the dignitaries’ megalomania (TU 202).

The reader of When We Were Orphans has to take Christopher Banks’s definition of himself as a supersleuth out to eliminate arch criminals at face value. Very little detective work actually takes place in the novel and a Sherlock Holmes magnifying glass seems to be more like a childhood indulgence than a professional tool. Emulating Conan Doyle’s superhero, Banks appropriates mythical Englishness. The narrator is far more interested in social decorum and recognition as Ishiguro’s ubiquitous words of self-praise, “triumph” and “glow of well-being” suggest  (WWWO 36-38). For all his humble beginnings, a common topos of the Superhero genre, the detective is keen to rub shoulders with London’s socialites and ultimately outshine the luminaries of the League of Nations.

One diplomat impresses on him the idea of a creeping international conspiracy threatening to engulf civilisation (Confer “fungus,” “rot,” “serpent,” “maelstrom,” WWWO 43-44, 137-138, 145). Like Superheroes, Christopher Banks believes that he is entrusted with “a sense of mission” and that he is so omnipotent that he can eradicate evil as well as alter the course of history. Accordingly, he sacrifices his love life to follow the diplomat to Shanghai on a whim. As he finds himself caught in the crossfire between the belligerents, the narrator still entertains a Tintin-like naivety that he can restore peace and order with his magnifying glass. Going back to his native Shanghai also coincides with “the culmination of many years’ work” (WWWO 155), the mystery of his parents’ abduction, which Banks believes he can solve. This personal mission lends itself to megalomaniacal treatment as the narrator orchestrates the performance to celebrate his parents’ release from captivity (WWWO 111-112, 177-178).

Let us turn to a psychoanalytical approach and question to what extent Superheroes and kung fu encounters with Supervillains can be attributed to narcissism, male empowerment and the need to escape tyrannical families. According to Marty Roth, immaturity, narcissism and theatricality are common ingredients to superhero as well as early crime fiction (Roth  60). Freud’s “Familienroman” is the corner stone of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novels. The Manichean sense of mission reflects adolescent escapism as well as the failure of interpersonal relationships. All his narrators have in common problematic or hostile relationships with their parents, particularly the father figure. This paradigm is emphasised by military imagery (AFW, RD) and war-like role-play or memories of childhood toy soldier battles (AFW, TU, WWWO).

The narrators’ struggles to wrestle control from the Super-ego fit the template of the Kunstlerroman. The painter of An Artist of the Floating World asserts his vocation in a seminal scene with his father. The towering “Statue du Commandeur” browbeats the deviant son into submission (43-47). The patriarchal law, what Iritani calls “the machinery of Top-Down Communication,” requires absolute obedience and humiliation (Iritani, 1991). Thus young Ono witnesses the destruction of his paintings powerlessly. Paternal castration is re-enacted by successive mentors. As Masuji Ono learns his craft, he is humbled as a lowly apprentice at the Takeda studio, producing and reproducing bland Japanesery for the West (69). Carving out his own way in the name of artistic integrity, the rebel painter switches allegiances to join the atelier of Mori-san. (138-139) Ono has fond memories of his Sensei who gave him a sense of purpose and identity. Yet he becomes increasingly critical of the “floating world,” his mentor’s bohemian ideology and source of inspiration. Despite the new Utamaro’s encouragement “to liberate [his pupils] from […] arbitrary and confining habits” (139), Ono is summoned to bring his allegedly deviant paintings and to submit to the rigid hierarchical affiliations of his atelier (177-181).  As in the paternal scene, light and burning predominate (symbolically, the master predicts that his rebellious student will have a second-rate career as a fire engine illustrator). It is highly ironical to juxtapose these rituals of artistic mutilation with Ono’s own responsibility for the auto-dafé of the unorthodox works of Kuroda, his most gifted disciple. According to the Œdipal law, the artist’s survival requires protégés as well as the elimination of potential challengers.

The Remains of the Day follows a similar Œdipal pattern. The model is first mythologized before it is dismantled. In the same breath as Stevens posits the quintessence of Englishness, he recognises his father’s credentials as the ultimate British butler. Thus Stevens accumulates anecdotes (tiger, drunken visitors…)
about the forbidding embodiment of the male Super-ego silencing his charges into childish obedience. The overawing pater familias, also called Stevens, blots out the rising sun/son. Indeed, the coming of age of the Icarian butler does not limit itself to perfectly “executed duties” or “volatile” situations under control (RD 97, 227). It demands that the father be symbolically executed. The comparison of the old man’s garret with a “prison cell” and the intimation “be done with it” suggest a death sentence with Stevens as the executioner (RD 64-65). The paragon of dignity is ignominiously demised as evidence of physical decline and professional shortcomings multiply. Symbolically the father’s deposition is narrated before his actual collapse (RD 62-63). The fall is endowed with mythic significance. First, the father rehearses it in order to comprehend its portent. Both the narrator and Miss Kenton associate the memory with a jewel. Stevens’s myth as a butler is contingent on the dispatch of his father whose thrall no longer operates once the narrator embraces a substitute father figure in the form of Lord Darlington (to whom he becomes a Darling-son).

The protagonists of both The Unconsoled and When We Were Orphans are weaklings imprisoned in Œdipal trios by domineering mothers. The figure 3 is the prevailing signature tune on the Œdipal fugue of The Unconsoled (Vinet, 2004). Indeed, Œdipal triads dominate the novel, Ryder/Sophie/Boris, Hoffman/Christine/Stephan and Ryder’s parents/Ryder, to name the main ones. These trios have their verbal transcriptions like the cluster: “criticise, criticise, criticise” (258). The odd couple formed by Brodsky, the emasculated conductor (TU 308-313), and Miss Collins, his ex-wife, is a variation on the theme – the child seems to be missing, but Bruno, a strange-sounding name for a dog, becomes their substitute son (TU 327). Characterising musical structure, home design or hotel room transfer (TU 122, 214), triangulation comes to represent the semblance of “an ideal of family happiness” (TU 264). Rituals of humiliation and self-abasement abound, involving male figures (Brodsky, Christoff, Hoffman, Parkhurst, Ryder, Saunders, Stephan) cowering under tyrannical dragon-slaying females (TU 66, 264). The terms “manikin” or “puppet” are significant. Hoffman epitomises “the mediocrity [his spouse] has been chained to” (TU 354) Stephan, the son who feels like a hostage in the trio, represents another betrayal of the ego ideal (TU 75, 353-354). Another variation of the Œdipal fugue has Ryder recall childhood traumas. In a memorable episode, his mother vows to “skin [him] alive” (TU 262) as he takes refuge in a battered car wreck.

Boris, a mirror image of the young Ryder, keeps re-enacting Superhero scenarios. Most of these rituals relate to the symbolic murder of the father as ego ideal, whether they  focus on time elasticity and freedom from the constraints of gravity like “Number Nine,” “Solar Man,” “Superman,” “parachute jumps” or whether they provide parent-child reverse or substitute models like football or kung fu games (TU 211, 218-222).

The case of “Number Nine,” the dysfunctional, albeit versatile football figure, is emblematic as it combines the themes of narcissism, insecurity, abandonment, repression of the ego ideal and castration. The sets of twins (TU), the Doppelgänger figures, the themes of substitution (PVH) and cloning (NLG) represent different strategies of coping with personal or national trauma.

In When We Were Orphans, one of Banks’s most enduring memories is a childhood ritual. Puffin – note the mock Icarus nickname – used to dive from a flight of stairs into the family couch. To avoid chastisement he would counterfeit a hobble from a swollen ankle – the etymological meaning of Œdipus (WWWO 186). Most of the narrator’s Shanghai memories crystallize round maternal conditioning as well as paternal emasculation. Long before he vanishes, Banks’s father cuts a pitiful figure grovelling in front of his wife or reduced to slanging matches (WWWO 70, 82). Such a spectacle of  “resignation” leads young Christopher to escapism with his toy soldiers. Thus, he fantasises as Ivanhoe (WWWO 22, 106) or embroiders scenarios about the ego ideal or paternal failure (WWWO 56, 109-111, 119). The mock-Frankenstein delusions (WWWO 90-99), the homo/autoerotic bonding with Doppelgänger Akira and the kidnapping improvisations can be interpreted in this light, since both contain explicit references to castration (WWWO 91, 119).  So can the central and obsessive metaphor of orphanhood. Indeed Christopher Banks, who feels attracted to a host of orphans to the point of even adopting one, is no ordinary orphan. After intimations that he may be a “mongrel” and that he may have contributed to his parents’ estrangement (WWWO 76, 81), Banks takes for granted his father’s abduction and, for all his denials to the contrary, seems almost complicit in the snatching of his mother by the warlord, Wang Ku.

Orphanhood does not only enable reconstruction of the family model. More significantly, akin to Peter Pan resilience, it releases “the ultimate exhibitionistic fantasy staging of one’s death and resurrection” (Roth 55), and helps remove the pain of growing, the angst of adulthood. Exacerbated narcissism manifests itself through rituals of parricides or submergence with the ego ideal/Super state. In the Remains of the Day, Stevens interprets his role at the service of Lord Darlington in terms of “marriage” (RD 125 ).

The parricide and Œdipal components of Ishiguro’s An Artist of the Floating World have a historical as well as political translation. Indeed, despite their different artistic affiliations, Ono and his Sensei enforce a rigid hierarchical power structure inherited from the bushidō code of the Samurai (AFW 76, 77). The narrator makes an explicit link between the atelier and archery – another reference to feudalism – as if deviance and disobedience  required a kind of Darwinian targeting of the studio’s weakest members.

Ono’s dismissal of Mori-san’s decadent European influence – a reference to Kōtarō’s denunciation of “taihaiteki” or degenerate art – coincides with the rising influence of Chisu Matsuda. Contrary to previous mentors, Matsuda is not a painter but a patron of the “Okada-Shingen Society” (AFW 165-174). This “patriotic association” aims to rouse the artists’ consciousness “as though [they] have offered [their] right arm to the nation.” (Fujita, quoted in Winther-Tamaki 176) Embracing Matsuda’s nationalist ideology, Ono becomes a “spearhead of the new spirit” (AFW 73, 74).

Winther-Tamaki’s concept of “disembodiment” can shed some light on the painter’s renunciation of his personal quest as well as on his political indoctrination and aesthetic realignment. Disembodiment which is best illustrated by the totalitarian slogan ichioku isshin (one thousand beings, one sole spirit), can be defined as the ultimate stage in the subservience to and identification process with the Superstate, a combination of the Tennō imperial system and the kokutai fascist regime. Matsuda makes it very clear that the Okada-Shingen Society promotes a nationalist restoration, an expansionist Dai-tōa policy matching Hitler’s Lebensraum and the total mobilisation of the nation’s children for the war (AFW 170-174). The most extreme manifestation of disembodiment entails self-sacrifice and collective suicide as portrayed in Fujita’s martyrologies. 

Ono loses both his son and his wife to war. The ambivalent ceremony at the cemetery for Ono’s son “echo national disembodiment in the form of the Shinto commemorations performed at the Yasukuni Shrine where fallen soldiers were apotheosised as national deities” (Winther-Tamaki 166-167, quoted in Zinck 150). An ironic twist has Ono admit that his mourning is incomplete as the ashes he is honouring may not be his son’s. Furthermore, Ono is complicit with the sacrifice of his most gifted protégé. Although Kuroda subscribes to the “Patriotic Spirit” (AFW 103), his non-conformist works are destroyed as “unpatriotic trash” (AFW 182).

According to Winther-Tamaki, disembodiment operates on another level with the regimentation of artists.  In fascist Germany, artists such as sculptor Arno Breker, painter Elk Eber or film director Leni Riefenstahl turned to Greek colossi or medieval crusaders for their monumental style. The nazi myths of racial purity and physical beauty are synthesised with Hellenic archaism to create the body as a model of the Superstate. In Japan, the monumental style was expressed more particularly in medieval Samurai epics or irate Buddhist deities adorned with manji, the oriental swastika. Even modern warfare was initially interpreted from such a monumental perspective.

Not only does Ono’s discourse reflect an endorsement of military propaganda, but his paintings and those of his pupils are turned into sensō-ga. Ishiguro’s master painter emulates Yokoyama Taikan (Asahi, 1940) and Kawabata Ryūshi (Ikaru Fuji, 1944, illustration below) with their allegorical representation of Mt. Fuji. These sublime images invite the ultimate affirmation of and escape from the self into the brotherhood of death. It is difficult to resist reading the austere monumentality of Ikaru Fuji or the massed pine trees in Asahi “as Japanese subjects spiritualized into conformity with the gray eminence of the kokutai looming above.” (Winther-Tamaki 163) Likewise Ono marshals national emblems like Fujisan, Kyokujitsuki, legendary heroes (Lord Yoshitsune), and folklore rituals of manhood (Shishi-mai) into icons of power and submission.

The reworking of Ono’s most successful pre-war painting for propaganda is further evidence of the artist’s surrender. The emblems of social exclusion and revolution in the original masterpiece have become standard bearers for the war machine. The painter’s zeal for glamorising death through virile posing should be contrasted with the humanist withdrawal of Yasunari Nakahara (AFW 67). Ono’s fellow artist reflects Matsumoto Shunsuke’s distaste for the monumental and for mass obeisance.

Fascist ideology plays a part in The Remains of the Day and, to a minor extent, in The Unconsoled as the two narrators endorse an ideal of egomania and servitude. In the latter novel, the corporation of porters does not only enshrine ecstatic self-control and submission, it seeks to choreograph tribal loyalty as the sacrifice of Gustav – a mock-Atlas figure – illustrates (TU 399-406). The whole metropolis is infected with totalitarian values. The controversies surrounding Brodsky, Christoff or the Sattler monument mirror the rehabilitation of proscribed figures or the consignation of traitors to total oblivion.

The superlative butler of The Remains of the Day propounds the concept of  Übermensch, whether he enters into a disquisition on dignity or examines his contribution to butlerhood. The Hayes Society which punishes those who contravene its canons is organised along totalitarian lines. It is no wonder that Britain should reflect this orderly construct. When the narrator allegorises the country’s neatness and harmony, his discourse resonates with supremacist undertones. It should be mentioned that Stevens finds the concept of Celtic or Continental – i.e. Mediterranean – butlers, both alien and utterly abhorrent (RD 43).

Stevens fantasises about his mastery of silver polishing. He even insinuates that this expertise was conducive to Lord Darlington’s appeasement policy and rapprochement with Nazi ambassador von Ribbentropp. Stevens alludes to his lordship’s brief involvement with Oswald Mosley’s ‘blackshirts’ fascist organisation (RD 146) to detract attention from his connivance with fascist ideology as the references to international jewry and the dismissal of the two jewish maids make abundantly clear. The narrator’s complicity with fascism is further illustrated by his endorsement of Lord Darlington’s denunciation of democratic “nonsense” in favour of  the “strong [virile] leadership” of Germany and Italy (RD 196-199).

Modernity seems to have bypassed Kazuo Ishiguro’s narrators who take refuge in a mythical past and develop strategies of overcompensation and self-aggrandizement. In An Artist of the Floating World, Ono is repeatedly amused, yet baffled, by his grandson’s preference for American Superheroes. Ono is nostalgic for the past’s pastness (Lowenthal 8, 11), but more so for the irrelevance of Japanese ideals (Lord Yoshitsune). It is symbolic that Ono’s peace of mind should be disrupted by his grandson’s western games. Ichiro’s John Wayne-like cavalcades are performed in the very part of the house which was destroyed by American bombings. Furthermore the Godzilla film that Ono promises to show the young boy is a reminder of the nation’s defeat. Significantly Ichiro insists on sheltering from the bogey dinosaur under a replica Humphrey Bogart raincoat (AFW 79). Ono fails to comprehend the imposition of foreign models, which he equates with the end of Nihon and its replacement by Japan, a country that reinvented itself courtesy of Pax Americana as is depicted by Kono.

The narrator casts a wistful glance at the statue of the Taishō emperor, which he symbolically assimilates to an island surrounded by import
ed modernity (AFW 134). In  similar vein, Kitamura Seibo’s Nagasaki war memorial is derided as a policeman-like Greek god (PVH).

To Ichiro, Popeye, John Wayne or Bogart are measured against a different yardstick. Instead of emblems of the past, the sailor’s spinach fuelled indomitability, the cowboy’s bronco busting, and the private eye’s swank represent icons of masculinity, modernity and cultural emancipation. Yet for all their escapism and their Superhero worship, the celluloid myths disseminate propaganda and simulacrum as effectively as Ono’s war art. Ichiro is spoon-fed those myths in much the same way his parents embrace American-style economic imperialism. As Gary Cooper (PVH) and John Wayne (AFW) give way to Clint Eastwood with his long barrelled gun morphing into a quick fix giant space screwdriver (TU 98, 108), the cowboy Superhero extends to the astronaut, thus establishing the supremacy of Hollywood’s cultural imperialism.

In When We Were Orphans, Wang Ku, the formidable warlord, depicted with cap, pigtail and gown, resembles the Chinese men portrayed in Hergé’s Tintin comic strips or in Hollywood movies of the early 1930s such as the Fu Man Chu series. With the subplot of Diana Banks’s whipping at the hands of the Oriental, Ishiguro subverts the sexual clichés of Caucasian concubines and dominating Asian men to which Hollywood movies pander. The re-enactment of former battles between good and evil under the guise of Godzilla, John Wayne, Bogart or Popeye tends to obliterate or trivialise history as cartoon-like slapstick. As a consequence, major tragic events in history such as the Shoah and the nuclear holocaust are de-historicised. This kind of oversimplification is what Kazuo Ishiguro, after a visit to Auschwitz, has denounced as a “Guy Fawkes sort of way” (Mackenzie).

Kazuo Ishiguro’s narrators orchestrate their life performances as Superheroics. Autoeroticism, self-aggrandizement and exacerbated male power stem from unresolved Œdipal conflicts with tyrannical father figures or castrating dominatrices. Hence, the protagonists’ pathological attachment to the past and their obsession to “create a past out of a childhood divested of responsibilities and an imagined landscape invested with all they find missing in the modern world.” (Lowenthal 25) Their fascination for and overindulgence in robots, mythologies and superheroes are evidence of a fixed character type unable to pupate and whose performance is an attractive redundancy. These retrospective strategies become suspect as they adopt a revisionist focus. Indeed, although seemingly opposite polarities, egomania and servitude are sublimated towards a high mystic goal which was to feed Duce or Führer worship. Through the myths of silver polishing and solo performance, through tableaux of exhortation and sacrifice, Ishiguro examines the orgiastic transaction between the Superstate and its puppets.

The appeal of multiple movie image references may be seductive in a cold war context, or legacy, but as was the case with fascist propaganda, such celluloid icons only contribute to perpetuate the national myth, to convey a pop version of history as theatre, a Forrest Gump analogue and analgesic. Ishiguro makes use of his insider-outsider double vision to expose the fictionalisation of national or racial myths and challenge the simulacrum of cultural signifiers.


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Author Biography:

Pascal Zinck is Associate Professor at the Université de Lille and ERCLA – La Sorbonne. He has been a university academic since 1992, specialising in post-modern, post-colonial fiction. He obtained his PhD from the Sorbonne university, with a thesis entitled ‘The art of the fugue – alienation in the fiction of Kazuo Ishiguro’. Professional works include commissioning authors and writing a chapter and exhaustive bibliography for a book on The Remains of the Day published in 1999. He has written several articles on Ishiguro, the latest due for publication by Ebc-Montpellier UP, the University of Karlstad and the Sorbonne.
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