What the Butler Never Said: Psychoanalysis and Knowledge in Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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 can accommodate and expand the borders of knowledge that is unspoken or inaccessible.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of Psychotherapy
Early online date10 Aug 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Aug 2023



Cite this