Truth in between: postmodern humanism in the fiction of Julian Barnes
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 18:15 authored by Lixia Liu
Contemporary British writer Julian Barnes (1946- ) has generally been treated as a purveyor of postmodernist fiction, but this designation is being increasingly challenged. The bases for this challenge are the heterogeneity of his fictional works, and the constant humanistic concerns that underpin them. This research therefore delineates postmodern humanism as a defining feature of Barnes‘s works, and in doing so seeks to bring together the two seemingly incompatible notions of postmodernism and humanism. I argue that Barnes holds on to the humanistic values centring on truth and love, despite his formal playfulness and occasional overlaps with postmodern poetics (suspicion of grand narratives, awareness of how language mediates value-construction, and so on). While echoing postmodern deconstruction of grand narratives, Barnes reconstructs the essence of truth and love and insists on their ethical necessity in lived life. In this way, he transcends the antithesis between postmodernism and humanism and establishes his concept of truth as "in between". In this thesis I examine five Barnes novels—Metroland, Flaubert‟s Parrot, A History of the World in 10½ Chapters, England, England and The Sense of an Ending— which, I argue, best illustrate the emergence and development of Barnes‘s postmodern humanism. In that regard, three themes dominate this sequence of texts: the interaction between art and life, human-animal relationships, and the fallibility of memory as a wellspring of identity and truth. I explore Barnes‘s deviation from postmodernism in light of his affiliations with contemporary humanism, insofar as the latter is developed by three French theorists, Emmanuel Levinas, Paul Ricoeur and Tzvetan Todorov. I draw, in particular, on their emphasis on the ethical relationship implicated in language and art, the ethics of the Other, and the belief in memory and truth. With Barnes‘s novels as my case studies, I take postmodern humanism as an extension of the modernist pursuit of dynamic unity between form and content and evaluate the significance of this pursuit in the larger context of the ethical turn that began in the age of postmodernism.