Dr Lynda Ng research seminar

Fixing to Die: Kazuo Ishiguro’s Reinvention of the Bildungsroman

12th March - Thursday 1.30 – 3.00pm, Level 5 Boardroom, Australian Hearing Hub

The Bildungsroman could be described as a ‘future-facing’ genre, in that its protagonist is exposed to the vicissitudes of life, gains experience, and comes of age; he or she, in other words, learns how to live. The horizon of such stories, beyond just the events being depicted, is the individual’s life to come. In this paper, by contrast, I argue that a significant part of the coming-of-age process is the subject’s confrontation with mortality. This kind of encounter is crucial to Martin Heidegger’s philosophy, wherein he suggests that an authentic self can only be discovered via a confrontation with one’s own finitude.  In similar fashion, to leave one’s childhood behind, in the classic Bildungsroman denouement, can be seen in this Heideggerian light as a coming to terms with the end of life. This complex interplay between maturity and mortality is starkly evident in Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 novel, Never Let Me Go. Although often read as science fiction because of its concern with the ethics of cloning and organ harvesting, I consider it instead as an inverted Bildungsroman. Rather than a passage to adulthood and future life, the protagonist must come to terms with certain death; rather than learning how to live, she (and her fellow clones) must instead learn how to die.

Dr Lynda Ng is is an Honorary Associate with the School of Languages and Cultures at the University of Sydney. She is the editor of Indigenous Transnationalism: Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria (2018). She is currently finishing a book manuscript on Chinese diasporic literature, as well as drafting a book chapter for the Cambridge Companion to the Australian Novel. In 2019 she won the Margaret Church MFS Memorial Prize for the best essay published in MFS: Modern Fiction Studies the previous year.