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‘An inevitable course’
Political responsibility in The Remains of the Day
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Moving away from the Japanese setting of his early works, Sara Upstone’s chapter ‘“An inevitable course”: political responsibility in The Remains of the Day’ offers a re-evaluation of Ishiguro’s most celebrated novel. In the first part of the chapter, Upstone draws on Derrida to advance the notion of ‘nonresponsibility’, suggesting that Stevens, as a butler, struggles to move beyond conditional hospitality and claim personal responsibility when confronted with socio-political events beyond his remit. Developing this line of thought, the second half of the chapter goes on to consider the fruitful consequences of rereading the novel in light of the 2016 British EU referendum, where questions of accountability are brought to the fore, forming parallels with Shaw’s reading of The Buried Giant in the process. For Upstone, then, Stevens functions as ‘a synecdoche for the British voting public and its emergent political consciousness’, with the fateful Brexit vote not an aberration but rather ‘an inevitable course that has its roots in twentieth-century attitudes towards political responsibility’. In this sense, The Remains of the Day emerges as a prescient novel which taps into the early stirrings of an exclusive English nationalism and Britain’s wider desire for a more accountable politics. However, Upstone provides a delicate balance by also acknowledging Ishiguro’s claim that the novel is work of fabulism, rather than direct political commentary, gesturing to the novel form’s more general function ‘as an abstract space for applicable meaning’: a quality that assumes a fresh piquancy in Ishiguro’s later works.

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