GENOCIDE, MEMORY, AND THE DIFFICULTIES OF FORGIVENESS IN CARD'S ENDER SAGA AND ISHIGURO'S THE BURIED GIANT.
The field of memory studies has long wrestled with forgetting in the wake of the atrocities of the twentieth century, particularly as forgetting intersects, on one hand, with forgiveness, and on the other, with accountability for past crimes. The Ender saga and The Buried Giant, despite their differences in genre, demonstrate together how crucially forgiveness and forgetting weigh against each other in posttwentieth-century consciousness. That is, Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead illustrate a forgiveness, equipped with full memory, that comes too easily at the expense of the annihilated and fails to implicate those who planned and benefitted from the slaughter. Conversely, The Buried Giant demonstrates a forgetfulness which, lacking the memory that Paul Ricoeur identifies as necessary for "difficult forgiveness," all but guarantees that war and genocide will recur. Together, the novels portray scenarios of forgiveness and forgetting so vast as to exceed possibility. In these exaggerations, however, the novels hold a mirror to more possible scenarios of forgiveness and forgetting as attempted and theorized following the century's mass tragedies.
Ricoeur's Memory, History, Forgetting ends with a proposal for remembering narratives of suffering and the opportunity for the wronged, accordingly, to offer forgiveness (457). This article examines the extent to which apparent forgiveness for genocide, explored in Ender's Game and its sequel, Speaker for the Dead, falls short of "difficult forgiveness," as does what initially appears as a nostalgic co-existence in The Buried Giant between previously warring peoples. This article additionally considers how these fictional works present the possibility of an "unconditional forgiveness" as defined by Jacques Derrida and Martha Nussbaum. "Unconditional forgiveness," as articulated by Derrida, retains painful memories and, if it can exist at all, resists meaning and political motive (45). Unconditional forgiveness similarly, in Nussbaum's estimation, occurs only rarely, but can be supplanted by a third option, "unconditional love." Unconditional love may rely on memories of wrongs in the crucial "transition" stage, but ultimately leaves the issue of forgiveness in the past (6). Central to this study is the distinction between communal versus individual acts of memory. Although none of the novels demonstrate difficult forgiveness, unconditional forgiveness, or unconditional love on a corporate scale, The Buried Giant depicts in its aging protagonists, Axl and Beatrice, some success toward these ideals on an interpersonal level. In so doing, the novel presents a model of reconciliation between individuals consonant with what Ricoeur, Derrida, and Nussbaum find essential for a broader scale.
This article considers, finally, how the novels' fantasy-inspired elements enable contemplation of forgiveness and forgetting from a productive distance, even while alluding to horror so widespread as to seem unrepresentable, or so fresh as to impede any reaction except pathos. As Margaret Atwood has argued for the umbrella term of science fiction, fantastic settings invite consideration of issues that are dangerous or troubling because "they're acceptable to us there, whereas they wouldn't be here" (64). (2) In the abstraction of settings inhabited by giants and other mythological creatures, the novels permit a cognitive space free from the specificity of real-life holocausts. Yet they ultimately invite recognition of readers' complicity in mass injustices such as those examined by Ricoeur, Derrida, and Nussbaum, and, in the process, compel insight into how reconciliation might or might not occur.
METAPHORS of the giant's body, in each novel, signify memories of mass slaughter and bodily remains that, even though buried, cannot be easily overlooked. In Ender's Game, the giant's corpse originates as an object in a fantasy computer game by which adults who are secretly training Ender spy on his emotional development. Later marking the entrance to a castle fittingly named The End of the World, the giant's corpse serves as a memorial of Ender's way out of a dilemma: a choice of two drinks offered by the giant, both of which are poisonous. Ender's solution, to kill the giant who would otherwise kill him, allows him to continue in the game but shocks even the adults who are monitoring him. Ender, they observe, is alone--with the exception of one other student who later turns out to be suicidal--in attempting to continue the game at all costs, rather than simply recognizing that the game is unfair and giving up. "This was supposed to be a game," Ender reflects, rather than a choice between his character's death and "an even worse murder" (98). "I'm a murderer," he confesses with horror, "even when I play" (98). The giant's slain corpse anticipates Ender's later use of a weapon of mass destruction when the star battles he is fighting also appear to be a game that he cannot master unless he plays against the rules. Well after the genocide, Ender comes to know the giant's body as something more than merely an object in a game. Rather, the giant's skeleton becomes a geographical marker through which an alien race, slaughtered in a battle that he thought was a simulation, can posthumously communicate its sadness and forgiveness.
In The Buried Giant, the eponymous metaphor similarly refers to geographical places: the giant's burial mound, which Axl and Beatrice anxiously skirt at the novel's beginning, and the giant's cairn, at which they arrive at the novel's end. Beatrice warns Axl of the burial mound at the onset of their journey: "the path goes over where the giant is buried. To one who doesn't know it, it's an ordinary hill" (31). Although she mentions no particular consequence of walking over the mound, the hill, like a bad memory, is most prudently left undisturbed: "It'll do us no good treading over such a grave" (31). By the time they reach the giant's cairn, which surrounds the lair of the she-dragon, Querig, the couple has already unwittingly walked over a mass grave of slaughtered children. By that point in the novel, it appears perfectly plausible that this particular cairn might, according to the narrator, "have been erected to mark the site of some such tragedy long ago when young innocents were slaughtered in war" (267). Once Querig is slain, "the giant," according to the Saxon warrior, Wistan, "once well buried, now stirs." Britons and Saxons, who have lived peacefully as neighbors, will rekindle old hatreds, and "men will burn their neighbours' houses by night. Hang children from trees at dawn. The rivers will stink with corpses bloated from their days of voyaging" (297). The novel exemplifies one theory of what happened to the two distinct populations: that the Saxons eventually annihilated sixth-century Britain's Celtic-Roman inhabitants. The giant alludes to memories of warfare and genocide, which in turn morph into vengeance, rather than any remorse and forgiveness on behalf of perpetrators and victims. Buried giants thus, in Card's and Ishiguro's novels, challenge those who encounter them--those who might remember, who might recognize their complicity in violence, or who might forgive--to make sense of mass slaughter and, ideally, work toward justice and reconciliation.
Collective remembering and forgetting, in Ricoeur's schema, requires three different kinds of memory, all of which function in his concept of difficult forgiveness. Ricoeur equates the first kind of memory, written traces, with the archive. In the wake of traumatic events, written traces are often officially recorded and may originate as much from motives of keeping the peace as justice for the wronged; he uses the example of French narratives of history following the Nazi occupation. The second, cerebral traces, which Ricoeur defines as being embodied in the neurons and wetware of the brain, most closely resemble the traditional use of the word memory. The third, psychic traces, which Ricoeur defines as leaving an emotional imprint, can result in "recognition": a memory, fleeting or recurring, that becomes inscribed on our pathos and becomes part of our continually forming identity. Recognition, to Ricoeur, consists of "a passive persistence of first impressions: an event has struck us, touched us, afflicted us, and the affective mark resides in our mind" (427). Psychic traces, to Ricoeur, are "much more deeply concealed" in human experience than the other kinds of traces, and are integral to making sense of complex realities (415). Ricoeur's definition of "difficult forgiveness" relies on psychic traces, as it is a forgiveness extended by the victim after the perpetrator's sincere and "salutary identity crisis that permits a lucid reappropriation of the past and of its traumatic change" (456).
All three forms of memory can be traced in the Ender saga and The Buried Giant, but only two of the three figure prominently in each. Written traces assume importance in the Ender saga in the publication The Hive Queen, a memorial account of the annihilated culture and the misunderstandings that led to its extermination. Cerebral traces, or more specifically, their loss and recovery, are essential to The Buried Giant because the characters' lack of memory resembles the neurological damage basic to the clinical term amnesia. The characters' memory loss also, however, exemplifies Ricoeur's concept of amnesia as an inadequate response to wide-scale horror. Psychic traces figure most prominently in the following discussion of the novels, as they necessitate wrongdoers coming to recognition and participating, at least in the case of difficult forgiveness, in a relationship between themselves and those they have wronged. A discussion of the novels at some length, as well as consideration of Ricoeur's categories of amnesty versus amnesia, is necessary to delineate both what is unsettling in Ender's recognition of his crimes and subsequent forgiveness for them, and what breaks down in Ishiguro's early medieval Britain, in which forgetting substitutes, only temporarily, for a forgiveness that is unlikely to happen. Examination of what prevents difficult forgiveness from happening in each novel in turn can help us explore less transactional alternatives as discussed by Ricoeur, Derrida, and Nussbaum.
WRITTEN and psychic traces in the Ender saga move Ender, and eventually all of earth, from belief in the necessity of annihilating its enemy to recognition of the senselessness of the slaughter. Although the novels depict an ensuing forgiveness by the last remaining remnant of the alien culture, the forgiveness in the novels has troubled critics for seeming to condone genocide too easily. John Kessel has accepted the novel's implication that Ender's unknowing murders of two of his classmates were not his fault, since the adults in charge pushed him into committing them. In reference, however, to the implication that Ender is innocent of the genocide he has caused, Kessel concurs with Elaine Radford's equation of sympathizing with Ender to sympathizing with Hitler. (3) Kessel argues that the acquittal of Ender's commander, Colonel Graff, for the murders in the Battle School is "essentially . . . a Nuremberg defense" (91). Speaker for the Dead, which continues to explore the consequences of Ender's actions, shows subsequent millennia hating and labeling Ender alone as a "xenocide," with earth's inhabitants ironically having forgotten their full approval of his actions at the time of the destruction. Yet the issue of his complicity in the genocide surfaces as rich matter for academic debate, with judging on intent alone, on the one side, pitted against horrific consequence on the other. Having come to recognition not only of his crimes, but also the matter of his intent, Ender clarifies:
I thought I was playing games. I didn't know it was the real thing. But that's no excuse .... If I had known the battle was real, I would have done the same thing. We thought they wanted to kill us. We were wrong, but we had no way to know that .... Except that I knew better. I knew my enemy ... I knew her so well that I loved her.... I wanted to quit. I wanted to go home. So I blew up her planet. (371)
Ender's knowledge that he was using a weapon of mass destruction even as he believed he was participating in a simulation has caused Kessel to suggest that the idea of excusing Ender's xenocide appeals particularly to the narcissistic and angry. Ender Wiggin, he writes, "gets to strike out at his enemies and still remain morally clean" (95) even as, he posits, genocide outside of fiction is never an accident and one's culpability in it should never be measured by intent alone.
Although battle simulation is a major part of Ender's education, it comprises only one of two structured games foundational to Ender's training to be a military commander. The first, hand-to-hand combat in zero-gravity, morphs into the computer-assisted commanding of an air fleet that he is tricked into using as a first strike against a hive-like, alien civilization that had previously almost destroyed earth. The second, the fantasy role-playing game referred to as "the mind game" by the adult commanders who spy on Ender, requires Ender not only to kill the giant, but also, in a scenario that notably anticipates the Hunger Games, to kill lupines with the faces of his classmates in order to get to Fairyland and the castle at The End of the World. Graff and the others in charge admit to the psychologically disturbing nature of the game, as Ender and then the game itself spin out of their control, culminating with the seemingly hacked image of Ender's psychopathic brother facing him in one of the castle mirrors.
Pertinent to Ender's understanding of his crime and the means by which he might atone for it, the mind game also becomes the means by which the dormant hive queen can communicate with Ender after the massacre. That is, only after visiting a landscape on a colony of the world that he destroyed does Ender recognize it as exactly matching the terrain that has grown out of the giant's body. "It's like a giant died here," his friend Abra comments, "and the earth grew up to cover his carcass" (361). Understanding that the alien race had entered his mind and duplicated the mind game's topography in the weeks before the civilization's destruction, Ender sees in what he immediately recognizes as "the Giant's Corpse" both a means of understanding the aliens' initial attack on earth, and a path to the pupa of the surviving hive queen. (4) Yet Ender's attack had gone further even than the kind of murder that the former great battle commander, Mazer Rackham, had described as inherent in killing a queen: "Only queen-killing, really, is murder, because only queen-killing closes off a genetic path" (312). In nightmares that Ender only later realizes were communicated to him by the alien race, he relives the mind game, recognizing that "you had to kill the children to get to the End of the World" (344) and that he was grieving not just for the murder of the queen, but also for "a billion, billion murders" (345). After Ender's transcription of her story, so it can never be forgotten, a religion arises from the queen's forgiveness and invitation to colonize the worlds they had built.
Written and psychic traces, as defined by Ricoeur, thus occupy a central role in Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead. Ender's publication of The Hive Queen documents history and, as is the case with many real-life archives, originates from restorative motives. Cerebral traces come into little play, as Ender's eventual time travel allows him to remember, centuries later, with the acuity of a still-young man. Psychic traces circulate most saliently in Ender's dreams: his journeys into himself in the mind game, and his later reflection in the vacant planet, and conversations with the hive queen. All comprise his extended time of recognition. Through the transcription of The Hive Queen, he invites his and subsequent cultures to work through the tragedy of their erasure of a culture. Ender's reflection and forgiveness by the hive queen thus almost meets Ricoeur's definition of a "difficult forgiveness." Yet the exchange between the hive queen and Ender falls short, both in the rapidity with which the hive queen seems to offer forgiveness and in the indefinability of just who--herself or her society - she represents. The pace with which the hive queen extends forgiveness might reasonably be attributed to the novel's narrative compression following the decisive battle and across Ender's decades of time travel before realizing the magnitude of his crime. But notwithstanding what would pass as generations on earth and possibly for the hive civilization, the novel shows no moment where the hive queen might not be ready to forgive.
The possibility of those who have been wronged choosing not to forgive is exactly what Derrida identifies, in On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness, as an ingredient necessary for an authentic forgiveness to occur. Authentic forgiveness, by his definition, requires that a victim unconditionally forgive the unforgiveable. Derrida distinguishes the possibility of this kind of forgiveness as offered by individuals from acts of amnesty or recognition with a political goal and particularly from pardon extended by the state or a tribunal. "If anyone has the right to forgive," he writes, "it is only the victim, and not a tertiary institution" (44). Because, he argues, the victim's pain can only be understood by the victim, and because forgiveness enacted to achieve anything else--"acquittal or prescription ... acts of mourning, or some political therapy of reconciliation"--is intrinsically conditional, "pure and unconditional forgiveness, in order to have its own meaning, must have no 'meaning,' no finality, even no intelligibility" (45). The "aporia," he asserts, lies in the tension between unconditional forgiveness between individuals and conditional forgiveness between political groups and in judicial proceedings. If the hive queen's forgiveness, meeting all other qualities that Derrida defines as pure and unconditional forgiveness, falls short because it does not show any moment when she might do otherwise, it also falls short because the hive queen might or might not communicate as an individual. That is, she speaks and acts on behalf of a civilization whose members lose all life, simultaneously, upon the death of their queen. Thus, if she speaks as an individual, her forgiveness appears to come too soon, without earlier signs of anger or even internal conflict; if she speaks as a society, her pardon, if she even has authority to speak for an entire race, may lie more in hope of propagation of a new society in the future.
The distinction between the individual and the communal plays as well into Ricoeur's caution against collective memory, and implicitly, collective judgment overshadowing personal experiences. This distinction in turn can help to explain another reason why the forgiveness offered by the hive queen falls short: that is, the failure of Ender's society to accept responsibility for the xenocide. Ricoeur writes that the "prime danger" in subsuming one's personal narrative to an official, communal one "lies in the handling of authorized, imposed, celebrated, commemorated history" (448). Memory can then invert to a forgetting of past faults--an amnesia--that is convenient at best or out-and-out "devious" (448). Just as ensuing generations who read The Hive Queen come to blame Ender alone, overlooking earth's participation in the intergalactic wars, so, Ricoeur states, can evolving communal memories deprive "the social actors of their original power to recount their actions themselves" (448). Amnesia, to Ricoeur, is "forgetting by avoidance (flute), the expression of bad faith and its strategy of evasion motivated by an obscure will not to know, not to investigate the harm done by the citizen's environment, in short by a wanting-not-to-know" (448-49). If Ender's Game and its sequel ironically cheapens the memory of Ender's xenocide by offering a forgiveness that is too fast or easy, it also cautions, more poignantly, against the dangers of selective memory and the convenience of blaming the assassin alone, rather than those who trained him and benefitted from the crime.
Unsatisfying as the hive queen's forgiveness is in meeting Ricoeur's concept of difficult forgiveness and Derrida's ideal of unconditional forgiveness between individuals, the hive queen's reconciliatory response to Ender contains a central ingredient of Nussbaum's definition of unconditional forgiveness. That is, the hive queen sets no conditions in order to reconcile with Ender, thereby practicing what Nussbaum identifies in Anger and Forgiveness as the most powerful of recent decades' Truth and Reconciliation efforts. Nussbaum classifies these efforts as responses to large-scale injustice that practice "unconditional forgiveness" rather than a forgiveness that she defines as "transactional" (10). Transactional forgiveness, in Nussbaum's definition, comes from the Judeo-Christian tradition in the form of what she calls a "score-keeping God" and the necessity for "self-abasement" in order for wrongdoers to be judged with leniency (ll). (5) Particularly, she states, in its requirement of an apology--something that the hive queen never demands of Ender--transactional forgiveness frequently stems from anger and a desire for revenge rather than transformation of individuals and society.
Nussbaum pinpoints this difference in the proceedings of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission and how Desmond Tutu initially framed them through language of confession and pardon. Nussbaum privileges the Stoics--for example, Nelson Mandela's meditations while in prison on Marcus Aurelius--over the influence of traditional Christianity, for example, in Tutu's writings in the interest of spiritual wholeness. Yet, for her, the crucial factor is apology. That is, although South African perpetrators of injustice were offered the opportunity, in exchange for amnesty, to tell what they had done, nowhere did the proceedings require them to express remorse. The forgiveness that they were granted is thus, by Nussbaum's definition, unconditional.
Nussbaum joins Ricoeur, Derrida, and others in finding record of wrongs to be necessary, at least through the phase that she identifies as "transition." Nussbaum argues that in a revolutionary political context, the transition phase requires truth-telling in order to acknowledge "wrongdoing and its seriousness" (237). Like Ricoeur and Derrida, she acknowledges the need for perpetrators of crimes to confess, but emphasizes that truth-telling should move forward in generosity, rather than shame. "Telling what one has done does not need to humiliate," she states, "if it is framed as a precondition for a future of trust and respect" (241). Like Ricoeur and Derrida, as well, Nussbaum recognizes the power of forgiveness rituals between individuals. Nonetheless, she finds the greatest possibility for transformation in practices that she argues can be learned: in the embracing of grief rather than anger, reform rather than retribution, and "generosity and reason" (243) -the ingredients of what she calls "unconditional love"--rather than forgiveness alone.
As with the practices of amnesty that Ricoeur and Derrida have criticized, a sense of practicality underlies Nussbaum's observation that "Anger is politically futile, and generosity productive" (236). Generosity and reason succeed where forgiveness may not, she argues, partly because even unconditional forgiveness risks a "smug superiority" on behalf of the wronged (149). Most notably, however, she implies that memory of wrongs--an element so important in the transition stage and still more so in transactional forgiveness--becomes secondary or even inconsequential as one moves forward in a spirit of giving. She observes, for example, that "generosity and forgetfulness of past wrongs" moved Nelson Mandela, like the father in the Prodigal Son, to befriend the South African rugby team as "my boys," offering "his parental embrace of his former adversaries" with "no allusion to the past" (235). It is exactly this spirit, she notes, that Tutu and his daughter Mpho later captured in The Book of Forgiving, which speaks critically of models of forgiveness "with strings attached" (243). According to Nussbaum's logic, the most transformational act is neither Ricoeur's "difficult forgiveness," which forces wrongdoers' identity crises, nor the "unconditional forgiveness" which, in Nussbaum's definition, requires no remorse, nor even Derrida's "unconditional forgiveness," which defies meaning and, on a collective scale, possibility. Transformation at its most powerful, Nussbaum suggests, exists when forgiveness and, with it, memory of past wrongs, becomes erased altogether and the only thing granted is love.
Consistent with the aforementioned definitions of forgiveness and love, Card's hive queen confronts Ender with the destruction of her civilization even as she requires no apology. Her reconciliation, however, fails to fulfill the complete ideal of unconditional love by Nussbaum's definition because her conversation with Ender retains the language of forgiveness. The hive queen's forgiveness of Ender and the people of earth cannot be called unconditional love because it retains the language of forgiveness. Although the queen requires no apology from Ender and exhibits no superiority toward him, the wrongs that the people of earth have committed will need to be processed for centuries before they can possibly come to true remorse and, eventually, in turn forgive the queen's civilization for its earlier brutality in war.
"I'll carry you," Ender promises as he carries the pupa. "I'll go from world to world until I find a time and place where you can come awake in safety. And I'll tell your story to my people, so that in time they can forgive you, too. The way that you've forgiven me" (366). Mutual reconciliation at the novel's end, like the hive queen's cocoon, remains dormant.
THE BURIED GIANT, in its depiction of the aftermath of genocide, offers no opportunity for forgiveness between warring cultures because the memory necessary for any kind of forgiveness has been obscured. Yet in the story of Axl and Beatrice and their recovery of memory, the novel ultimately allows for a progression from difficult to unconditional forgiveness to possibly even unconditional love. In so doing, The Buried Giant presents Axl and Beatrice's love as an alternative to total oblivion when forgiveness is not possible or cannot progress quickly enough to enable healing and reconciliation.
Still more so than in the role-playing game that the hive queen uses to confront Ender, fantastical elements in The Buried Giant's setting invite questions about memory and the possibilities of forgiveness in response to wide-scale horror. Set in Anglo-Saxon England, The Buried Giant unfolds in a landscape of decline, with the Romanbuilt roads largely in ruins, and well before the elaborate castles and universities of the high Middle Ages. Although historical in time and place, its setting is clearly fictional, as an aging Sir Gawain emerges as one of the protagonists. The novel thus arguably fits the distinction of low fantasy, containing magical elements but occurring in a "primary" contemporary or historical world (Stableford 198). (6) Although The Buried Giant's dragon and ogres, whom the narrator matter-of-factly catalogs as populating the land, have caused those who have nominated it for several fantasy awards to see it as akin to Tolkien or A Game of Thrones, Ishiguro has denied that these so-called "surface elements" make the novel. (7) "Will readers follow me into this?" Ishiguro asks in an interview with Alexandra Alter in the New York Times. "Will they understand what I am trying to do? Or will they be prejudiced against the surface elements? Are they going to say this is fantasy?"
Yet in his lecture upon receiving the 2017 Nobel Prize, Ishiguro describes his exploration of memory even in the decidedly historical setting of The Remains of the Day as one motivated by the same types of distance that elements of fantasy can bring. In wanting to write "fiction that could easily cross cultural and linguistic boundaries, even while writing a story set in what seemed a peculiarly English world,"
Ishiguro also situates the butler Stevens in "a kind of mythical" England: one epitomized by the unassuming dignity of the English butler and the apex of the British empire. This England's contours, Ishiguro posits, "were already present in the imaginations of many people around the world, including those who had never visited the country." Although nowhere in the speech does Ishiguro name The Buried Giant, his most recent novel before being awarded the prize, implicit references to it abound. Those include his mention of visiting Auschwitz in 1999, where "I thought I'd come close, geographically at least, to the heart of the dark forces under whose shadow my generation had grown up"; Ishiguro wonders who will keep remembering those horrors. In the speech, he mentions, additionally, the new "buried monster awakening" in the form of twenty-first-century racism, which the privileged are only beginning to see, as if through a mist. Stevens's recognition in The Remains of the Day of the misguidedness of his loyalty to a Nazi supporter thus anticipates the collective memories of genocide that Axl and Beatrice confront in their still more mythical England.
Elements of fantasy, in distancing Axl and Beatrice from The Buried Giant's already remote historical setting, situate the couple's discovery of troubling memories in catastrophic consequences that could occur in any location or time period. Upon discovering, for example, that she might not be able to accompany her husband via ferry boat to a mysterious island, should they not be able to recover their memories, Beatrice supports the endeavor of their eventual traveling companion, Wistan, to kill the dragon. She does not realize, however, what she would know, were their memories intact: that Wistan is their mortal enemy and would slaughter Beatrice's people in revenge. Neither does forgiveness come easily for the Briton monks they encounter on their journey, who undergo painful penance by vicious mountain birds for past slaughters, the memory of which is literally just below the surface of their fortress-turned monastery. That is, in the secret tunnel leading from the monastery, Axl and Beatrice realize that they are stepping on a bed of bones, including those of children. Gawain speaks obliquely of the long-ago slaughter: "Once, years ago, in a dream, I watched myself killing the enemy. It was in my sleep and long ago. The enemy, in their hundreds, perhaps as many as this. I fought and I fought. Just a foolish dream, but still I recall it" (173). Yet Gawain bristles defensively at Beatrice's uncomprehending query about the bones of children: "What is it you suggest, mistress? The skulls of babes? I've fought men, beelzebubs, dragons. But a slaughterer of infants? How dare you, mistress!" (174).
The monks' remorse, although more explicit than any Gawain might have, nonetheless fails to impress Wistan who, in being impervious to the mist, recognizes the monks' status as brutal enemies:
My surmise is that the custom here has been for the monks to take turns ... exposing their bodies to the wild birds, hoping this way to atone for crimes once committed in this country and long unpunished .... Yet let me say I feel no pity to see your gashes. How can you describe as penance, sir, the drawing of a veil over the foulest deeds'? (151)
Wistan regards their penance as only another form of forgetfulness that hides or cheapens future crimes: "Your Christian god of mercy gives men license to pursue their greed, their lust for land and blood, knowing a few prayers and a little penance will bring forgiveness and blessing" (151). Seeing through their guise as peaceful allies, he assesses their capacity for vengeance as equal to that of the Saxon families who had died besieged in what had earlier been their fort. Wistan reasons that even facing death, his fellow Saxons would have cheered to see the invading Britons slaughtered in waves, thus enjoying, in advance, their revenge on the enemies who would slaughter them.
The dangers of unearthing long-established hate, Gawain's denial of his former brutality, and the failure of the monks to reconcile with the actual people they had harmed underscore what Nathaniel Rich has summarized as the central dilemma of the novel: "Forget everything and lose your soul; remember everything and lose the ability to forgive." Remembering certainly brings catastrophe as Wistan's eventual slaying of Querig lifts the cloudy peace that Merlin had established when Arthur's prior treaty, to spare the innocent in warfare, no longer held. As the dragon weakens, grudges, both personal and societal, surface. Wistan's Saxon protege, Edwin, realizing that he will never be able to save his mother who was captured in war, promises to avenge all Britons. Gawain recalls not only his own crimes, but also the torturing death he allowed a young woman to commit on the battlefield against a presumed Saxon rapist. Wistan accounts for his ancient grudge against the Briton Lord, Brennus, which has allowed him to hate even his former Briton comrades-in-arms. Even Beatrice, in the clarity of mind she has craved, remembers not only happy moments with her husband, but also a long-ago infidelity and that their son has already died. Still worse, in a memory that causes Beatrice to pass to the island alone, Axl recalls that he had, out of spite, forbidden her from mourning their child. The comfortable fog of a couple in their autumn years thus dissipates with the dragon's breath, as will the hazy co-existence of what Gawain refers to as "old foes" living "as cousins, village by village" (285). If the loss of memory, as Beatrice understands it at the novel's beginning, numbs emotion and obscures the richness of human experience, its recovery, minus the ingredients necessary for reconciliation, threatens to inflame passions and in so doing, destroy the lives it otherwise might enrich. The buried giant of mass cruelty and memories thereof in Ishiguro's novel thus promises far more danger than hope, lacking what ultimately comprise the two most fantastical elements in the Ender saga. That is, neither Wistan and Edwin, nor any of their Briton enemies possess empathy and the capacity for reconciliation on the scale of Card's hive queen. More notably, Ishiguro's protagonists lack the expanses of time, that exist in the Ender saga, for processing painful memories before the desire for blame and retribution will ignite new holocausts.
Ishiguro has spoken not only on his fiction's reflection on mid twentieth-century atrocities, but also on the ongoing nature of war and genocide following the Cold War. In an interview with National Public Radio, he states that in writing The Buried Giant, "I was tempted to look at actual historical events: the disintegration of Yugoslavia, the Rwanda genocide, France in the years after the Second World War." Ishiguro has previously spoken in an interview with Der Spiegel about his desire to write a novel that explores cultural memories and their erasures, acknowledging that Germany, with its Nazi past, has considered these questions "more thoroughly and perhaps more successfully of all the big nations." In reference to the United States' history of slavery, as well as the histories of occupied countries during World War II, Ishiguro asks, "is it a good idea to start digging up all the people who collaborated, or is it best to move on?" (8) Some alternative - if not complete amnesia, at least freedom from particularly painful memories and the imperative to apologize or forgive--seems necessary in the course of survival and reconciliation.
Yugin Teo has traced the complexities of remembering, forgetting, and forgiving in light of the aforementioned injustices in Ishiguro's work preceding The Buried Giant. Teo has defined Ishiguro's earlier novels as demonstrating "the work of memory": that is, "the effort of the individual to mediate with their past through the processes of forgetting, remembering, and the releasing of painful memories in order to break cycles of regret and retribution" (9-10). Identifying in Ishiguro's fiction the importance of remembering what has been lost, Teo finds a greater engagement with nostalgia in Ishiguro's work than in Ricoeur and Freud's theories on memory, with which he compares them. Teo posits that nostalgia is necessary for Ishiguro's characters to prolong positive memories of what has been lost, even as, in their search, they often recognize mistakes that they have made. (9) Teo acknowledges in Ishiguro's novels not only individual recognition of faults, but also communal de-humanization of others that the characters' societies still need to face. (10) Teo sees, finally, in Ishiguro's more recent novels--that is, The Unconsoled, When We Were Orphans, and Never Let Me Go--not only the work of memory, but also the possibility of forgiveness. Teo's analysis points to a pivotal tension in Ishiguro's work between individuals and the broader society that plays out, in a larger scale, in The Buried Giant. That is, although memory and, through it, recognition, in Ricoeur's terms, are required for any forgiveness to happen, that very possibility is compromised by the forgetting that was mandated in the name of peace.
The Buried Giant's, magically inspired forgetting nearly illustrates Ricoeur's concept of "amnesty": that is, a process of forgetting that "brings to conclusion serious political disorders affecting civil peace" (455) and holds pardon, a judicial category, rather than punishment or forgiveness, as its goal. Although the forgetting brought about by the dragon's breath is clearly amnesia, determining Ricoeur's distinction between amnesty and amnesia is less clear in non-fictional contexts. Still harder, history has proven, is determining whether difficult forgiveness, amnesty, or even amnesia is the most reasonable goal. Choosing is especially difficult, given the time that processes of reconciliation can take, and the quickness with which the desire for retribution can organize, if no forgetting occurs. Ann Whitehead has identified in memory studies since the 1980s an increasing focus on forgetting in line with "an accelerated fashion for scenes of public repentance, forgiveness, apology, or confession" (153). She notes, in particular, Truth Commissions, such as those in South Africa and Chile, as well as the work of the Canadian government, which subsequently has resulted in Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission concerning residential schools for aboriginal children. Ricoeur posits that work of this kind, which has advanced pardoning and reconciliation, differs pointedly from the more punitive work of the Nuremberg Trials. Moreover, Ricoeur's concept of difficult forgiveness, in which victims extend forgiveness of their own volition, allows for some memory--"a sort of forgetting kept in reserve" (414)--as the process honors the victims' pain and restores their dignity. As such, difficult forgiveness differs from amnesty and amnesia, which require forgetting more than remembering, in various degrees.
Although not amnesty, for example, the spell in The Buried Giant that forces forgetfulness shares with amnesty some of its goals, such as what Ricoeur refers to as "urgent social therapy" (456). Because recognition, let alone forgiveness, is not even in question, the artificial forgetfulness between Briton and Saxon serves only as well as many other, real-life emergency measures between warring factions. Twentiethand twenty-first-century scenarios analogous to the state-mandated forgetfulness in The Buried Giant include mutual submission to a more powerful sovereign, which promises to dissolve once the super or colonial power loses authority. This intersection between communal memory and the state has motivated Deimantas Valanciunas's assertion that memory in The Buried Giant lacks agency, controlled as it is not by any decision by the Britons and Saxons to forget but rather, by Arthur's mandate alone. Drawing on Maurice Halbwachs's concept of collective memory, Valanciunas notes that the novel "constructs a national identity as never autonymous since national (collective) memory is being controlled by the state apparatus of power, since it is King Arthur who controls the memory as well as the production of the national past" (222). Valanciunas observes that even personal memories in the novel "should be regarded as part of a much larger phenomenon, i.e. collective forgetting" (219), especially since many characters' traumas "are triggered, or at least stimulated, by the same events: war and ethnic conflict" (220). Catherine Charlwood has similarly commented on national identity in the novel, particularly as defined by Benedict Anderson: "The nation in The Buried Giant is an imaginary construct precisely because it has been falsely united through amnesia" (28). To Charlwood, as to Valanciunas, the interdependence between sought-out personal and dangerous communal memories constitutes the novel's deepest conflict: whether the recovery of personal memories can only also reignite buried hate, or might possibly offer the avenue for lasting peace."
Ricoeur has allowed for one solution to the problems which are inherent in amnesty and which threaten to slide into cultural amnesia, in the distinction between individual and communal memory. That is, whereas a "commanded forgetting" might be a necessary response to "civil wars, revolutionary periods, violent changes of political regimes" (452-53), a difficult forgiveness between individuals both requires memory in order for perpetrators to come to depth of understanding and can allow for a more thorough erasure of traces as a result. Like Derrida and Nussbaum, Ricoeur has acknowledged the near-impossibility of meeting supposed Christian ideals even in interpersonal exchanges of forgiveness. Yet in reflecting on Paul's encomium on charity in 1 Corinthians 13, Ricoeur interprets in it room for both memory of the traumas that shape victim and perpetrator and ultimate erasure of them as part of the process: "If love keeps no score of wrongs, this is because it descends to the place of accusation, imputability, where one's scores, one's accounts, are kept" (467). Ricoeur's assertion that wrongs should be recognized, at least temporarily, accords with Nussbaum's definition of the transition stage and the scenario, identified by Teo in Ishiguro's novels leading up to The Buried Giant, of remembering in order to obtain relief from painful memories.
Even though the suppression of memory on a societal scale ultimately fails in The Buried Giant, the period of forgetfulness succeeds, in the story of Axl and Beatrice, in abating the couple's anger and grief and allowing their healing. Charlwood has argued that personal memories offer Axl little more than an escape from "his military past" (34) and possibly his disappointment in Arthur for violating the treaty that Axl had brokered (37). Surely, Beatrice and Axl's memories of jealousy, infidelity, spite, and the loss of a child tarnish their qualifications to pass to the island simultaneously. Their memories, however, enable recognition of each other as well, according to Ricoeur's description of the forgiven as "capable of something other than" their "offenses" (493). Axl's recognition is especially poignant, as he admits to withholding a forgiveness that he had pretended to offer: "I spoke and acted forgiveness, yet kept locked through long years some small chamber in my heart that yearned for vengeance" (313). As time, however vast, enabled Ender's slow process of recognition and creates the possibility for the hive queen's acceptance, time in Axl's estimation seems to have been necessary in dulling his anger. Even while ambivalent about the effects of forgetting, as when he asks Beatrice, "Could it be our love would never have grown so strong down the years had the mist not robbed us the way it did?" (316), Axl is more sure as he addresses the Boatman about the healing effects of time: "it's no single thing changed my heart, but it was gradually won back by the years shared between us" (313). Time in the novel may be too compressed for Britons and Saxons to come to sufficient reconciliation, but Axl and Beatrice model, nonetheless, the process of it across generations.
True to Nussbaum's ideal, love, rather than forgiveness, ultimately colors Axl's assessment of his life to the Boatman: "I suppose there's some would hear my words and think our love flawed and broken. But God will know the slow tread of an old couple's love for each other and understand how black shadows make part of its whole" (313). Axl's love for Beatrice escapes being compromised by remembrance of past wrongs because Axl has moved beyond a forgiveness that, as he sees in his moment of recognition, turned out to be transactional and self-serving. And their love is not deceived any longer by the mandated forgetting that, while it shielded them from pain, also blocked them from the memory that enabled their healing and a generosity without conditions.
TEO has recognized in Ishiguro's work the potential for readers to apply the characters' "introspective act of remembering" (9) to their own memories and histories. This participation occurs, he observes, as readers from a range of backgrounds are "transported into the worlds" that Ishiguro creates:
Ishiguro's writing not only triggers the memory of readers in one specific culture, but the collective memories of readers as well who have common but differing experiences of the Second World War and the painful processes of migration and relocation. (9)
Yet in The Buried Giant, as in the Ender saga, readers are encouraged to engage in issues of collective remembering, forgetting, forgiving, and moving forward in situations where there are no easy answers. In the wake of a century marked by atrocity, these fictions underscore the memory work associated with difficult, all-encompassing forgiveness and love, with fantasy elements distancing readers from what would, in more historically accurate settings, render mass slaughter beyond comprehension. Like mass graves, the giants of crimes against humanity can rarely be buried without a trace. Yet these novels, from the remove of fantasy and considering the possibilities of transformation, invite questions about memory, forgiveness, and unconditional generosity pivotal to the concord of future generations.
1 Although Ender's Game is typically classified as science fiction, as evidenced by its winning the Nebula and Hugo awards in the 1980s, it is often also described as young adult literature, for example, its listing on the Young Adult Library Services Association's ultimate teen bookshelf. Yet, as Card writes in the introduction to Ender's Shadow, he did not write Ender's Game for young readers: "I have gratefully watched as Ender's Game has grown in popularity, especially among school-aged readers. Though it was never intended as a young adult novel, it has been embraced by many in that age group" (1-2). Card contrasts this popularity with a corresponding lack of interest among youth in the sequels. He claims in the preface to the 1991 edition of Ender's Game that he only initially revised Ender's Game "to set up the much more powerful (I thought) story of Speaker for the Dead" which has not had the same following of young readers as Ender's Game (19).
2 Despite some differences between her and Ursula K. LeGuin's definitions, Atwood claims that fantasy, science fiction, and speculative fiction belong under the same classification of the "wonder tale" (8). All of these forms, she attests, are capable of creating worlds suitable for examination of memory and pathos.
3 Radford finds particularly troublesome the concept, introduced in Speaker for the Dead, of judging "entirely on human motive, and not at all in the act" (Speaker 35). She posits that judging in this way excuses spousal abuse in Speaker for the Dead as well as genocide in the Ender saga (11-12).
4 In sequels beginning with Ender's Shadow, the hive aliens come to be called by their entomological name, the Formics. Yet the persistent use in Ender's Game of the pejorative term, Buggers (so named because of their insect-like qualities) has encouraged comparisons with Card's work from 2008-2012 opposing the legalization of same-sex marriage. James Campbell discusses Card's politics in Ender's Game, charting both moments of tenderness between boys and homophobia-charged violence in the almost exclusively male world of the Battle School. Jase Peeples articulates a similarly complex response to a boycott of the 2013 film version of Ender's Game on the grounds that many LGBT youth have found in Ender a figure with whom they can empathize, both in experiencing bullying and in navigating a world whose attitudes toward outsiders resembles their own.
5 Although she identifies unconditional forgiveness as well in Judeo-Christian scriptures, most notably in Psalm 103 and in several of Jesus's statements in Luke, Nussbaum argues that transactional forgiveness tends to be seen as canonical to Christianity.
6 The distinction between high and low fantasy resembles what Sheila Egoff summarizes as high fantasy's fully developed "secondary" or fictional worlds, with Tolkien's Middle Earth as the prime example (15).
7 Fantasy awards for which The Buried Giant has been nominated include the World Fantasy, Mythopoeic, and Locus awards.
8 Ishiguro's concern with the legacy of racism in the twenty-first century has surfaced in the wake of the United Kingdom's 2016 referendum to withdraw from the European Union. He states in the July 1, 2016 Financial Times, "If I were a strategist for the far right, I would today be rubbing my hands with excitement: never has there been a better opportunity, at least not since the 1930s, of pushing Little England xenophobia into neo-Nazi racism." Yet he articulates faith in the U.K. for having accepted large numbers of immigrants in the late twentieth century and having been a "decent, fair-minded place, readily compassionate to outsiders in need, resistant to hate-stoking agitators from whatever political extreme--just as it was in the first half of the twentieth century when fascism rampaged across Europe."
9 Examples from Ishiguro's work of the search for positive memories include Stevens's intimacy with the housekeeper, Miss Kenton, in the prime of his service to Lord Darlington, or the community in Never Let Me Go that Kathy and the other clones remember from their time at Hailsham boarding school.
10 Examples that Teo gives of the need for communal memory work in Ishiguro's novels include the racism and glorification of Empire embodied in the estate at which the butler Stevens serves, and the cloning of human lives for organ farming in Never Let Me Go (100; 76).
11 Valanciunas sees particular promise in Edwin, who "represents the new generation" (226) as he navigates between his grooming by Wistan for revenge and his sentiment toward Axl and Beatrice's parting request to remember their friendship. The request recalls in Edwin a conflicting "duty to hate all Britons," but also the doubt that "surely Wistan had not meant to include this gentle couple?" (328). The lifting of memory, although forcing Edwin to recognize his mother's abduction, thus also allows for memories of kindness to disrupt overgeneralizations of the enemy.
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|Publication:||Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2019|
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