Ethics of the real : Michael Ondaatje's Anil's Ghost and the touch of the world

Rosochacki, Elke (2008-12)

Thesis (MA (English))--Stellenbosch University, 2008.


This dissertation rests on the assumption that the literary text is fundamentally part of the world from which it emerges. Following Heidegger's understanding of the work of art as a form of unconcealment, it argues that Michael Ondaatje's fictional work Anil's Ghost discloses the particular, historically contingent conditions that determine the ethical relations people are cast into during a time of war in the present era of globalization. The novel interrogates the idea of truth in its meta-fictional discourse and stakes out the grounds of its own fictional truth in contra-distinction to truth as fact offered by Western empiricism. Alongside the implicit criticism of Western epistemology, the novel mounts a critique of the universal human rights discourse and suggests that an ethical approach to the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka is preferable to a political solution imposed from the outside. War is presented as a radically embodying event in which the body is made vulnerable to death and injury: and the ethical imperative to alleviate physical suffering is identified as the most immediate and appropriate response to the crisis of war. Following Levinas, ethics is understood to transpire in the corporeal relation between individuals. By attending in detail to the embodied experience of being in the world, the novel prepares the ground for an ethics of the body that is closely aligned to the ethics as first philosophy espoused by Levinas. The dissertation argues throughout that the novel discloses the nature of ethical relations between people in the world by means of its aesthetic forms of language. The domain of the ethical and aesthetics are thus commensurate.

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