Graham Swift and the Ethical Self

Nozar Niazi, Siamak Niazi


Ethical theories study the nature and criteria of right and wrong action, obligation, value and the good life, and the related principles. Peter Singer, in his book, Ethics simply states that 'Ethics is about how we ought to live.' (P-3) Graham Swift (born in 1949) is an English novelist whose work is tinged with contemporary ethical issues. He creates situations in which his characters look for better ways to relate to and with each other. These characters try to understand themselves, their place in a world that baffles them, and their relations to others.In this paper we will try to illustrate and discuss the various methods Swift’s characters adopt to wrestle with and at the same time address their contemporary problems. We will trace their problems back to modernity and its adoption of a philosophy or a system of thought that was purely rational and therefore uneven and incomplete. We will consider Swift’s work in general as postmodern with subjects and concerns reflecting some of the contemporary ethical and critical debates. We will also perceive and present Swift’s work as a response to the inadequacy of modernity and an attempt to come to terms with its shortcomings in the hope of an improved and wiser modernity. We will suggest that in Swift's work there is a visible progressive development from melancholia to mourning, meaning that Swift's latest characters are more prepared to accept their losses and move on towards a healthy mourning. We will see that in the modern epoch, which in the main, is not designed according to human values, Swift's characters endeavour to take charge of defining themselves, of writing their own stories, and their own values in their own ways. In order to sustain their identities, we will show that Swift's characters choose different methods, which, regardless of their consequences, may be considered ethically valuable and in harmony with human dignity. In order to tailor this study to the size of an article, we will be as concise as possible. In so doing, the main focus will be on Swift’s major novel, Waterland (1983) and his last two novels; Last Orders (1996), and The Light of Day (2003). Key words: Graham Swift; History; Modernity; Ethics; Self; Melancholia; Healthy mourning

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