What the butler never said: from fiction to psychoanalysis in Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day

Activity: Public engagement and outreachPublic speaking engagements


What can psychoanalysis learn from literary fiction? In this paper, I suggest that Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel The Remains of the Day sheds light on what Freud (1900), in The Interpretation of Dreams, calls the “day-residues”; those unnoticed memories and fragments of experience that in the dream come to be imbued with psychic significance. Ishiguro’s unreliable narrator is the butler Stevens, whose desire for ‘dignity’ and ‘greatness’ ensures he has carefully erased any trace of feeling from the account he offers of his life and relationship with Miss Kenton, the housekeeper with whom he once worked. But what readers eventually come to know of Stevens and what Stevens comes to know about himself, is gleaned less from what he says than from what he does not say. Drawing on Freud, Laplanche, Bollas and Barthes as well as a brief clinical example, I explore parallels between the inarticulate nature of the knowledge embodied in Ishiguro’s novel and the tacit kind of knowing exemplified within the psychoanalytic transference. I conclude that literary fiction has the capacity to illuminate how psychoanalysis accommodates and expands the borders of knowledge that is unspoken or inaccessible.

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Period3 Feb 2022
Held atSouthern Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (SAFPAC)
Degree of RecognitionNational