Redeeming loneliness : Paul Ricoeur’s strangeness and recognition in Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, Home and Lila
Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2017.
ENGLISH ABSTRACT: In a dissertation which aims to bring together the work of French philosopher Paul Ricoeur, and American novelist and academic Marilynne Robinson, this study addresses themes of loneliness and its redemption in the seminal works Oneself as Another and The Course of Recognition by Paul Ricoeur, and Marilynne Robinson's novels Gilead, Home and Lila. In Robinson’s novels, loneliness is the posture of abject estrangement and the crisis of identity. This capacity to be strange in oneself echoes the strangeness of Ricoeur’s idem (sameness) and ipse (selfhood) identities, which deny the self any absolute knowledge of either itself or of the other-than-self. Both the self’s attestation of self-identity and interpretations of another’s self-narrative reveal the inevitable gap of understanding between them. Robinson demonstrates how the ostensible identity in family, or marriage, or the foundation of ‘home’ and body have the potential to deny both selfhood to the individual and, by extension, the potential to relate meaningfully with an other-than-self. However, be it via narrative or in seeking beyond itself, the self is enabled to identify and distinguish others – a paradox where its strangeness is the fellow feeling which makes them similar and recognisable to each other. Robinson suggests that this recognition, requires the practices of Biblical neighbourliness and grace, in order to restore and redeem the self from the poles of separation. The undeservedness of this neighbourly grace invokes superabundant giving, which is seen in Robinson’s novels in the practices of naming (christening) and blessing. In this dissertation, I intend both to address the dearth in academic material which addresses these subjects, and moreover, to explore the strangeness of Ricoeur’s theory of self which finds practical, narrative anchorage in the loneliness of Robinson’s characters. Furthermore, I shall establish the redemption of the estranged selves by means of Ricoeur’s theory of recognition and by examining how Robinson’s novels propose this recognition in the practices of the Neighbour and superabundant giving.