Ethical Desire: Betrayal in Contemporary British Fiction
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This dissertation investigates representations of betrayal in works by Hanif Kureishi, Salman Rushdie, Irvine Welsh, and Alan Hollinghurst. In rethinking "bad" acts of betrayal as embodying an ethical desire not for the good but for "the better," this dissertation challenges the simplistic good/bad binary as mandated by neo-imperialist, late capitalist, and heteronormative society. In doing so, my project intervenes in the current paradigm of ethical literary criticism, whose focus on the canon and the universal Good gained from it runs a risk of underwriting moral majoritarianism and judgmentalism. I argue that some contemporary narratives of betrayal open up onto a new ethic, insofar as they reveal the unethical totalization assumed in ethical literary criticism's pursuit of the normative Good. The first full chapter analyzes how Kureishi's Intimacy portrays an ethical adultery as it breaks away from the tenacious authority of monogamy in portraying adult intimacy in literature, what I call the narrative of "coupledom." Instead, Intimacy imagines a new narrative of "singledom" unconstrained by the marriage/adultery dyad. In the next chapter on Fury, a novel about Manhattan's celebrity culture, I interrogate the current discourse of cosmopolitanism and propose that Rushdie's novel exposes how both cosmopolitanism and nationalism are turned into political commodities by mediafrenzied and celebrity-obsessed metropolitan cultural politics. In a world where an ethical choice between cosmopolitanism and nationalism is impossible to make, Fury achieves an ethical act of treason against both. The next chapter scrutinizes Mark Renton's "ripping off" of his best mates and his critique of capitalism in Trainspotting and Porno. If Renton betrays his friends in order to leave the plan(e) of capitalism in the original novel, he satirizes the trustworthiness of trust in Porno by crushing his best mate's blind trust in business "ethics" and by ripping him off again. The last full chapter updates the link between aesthetics and ethics in post-AIDS contexts in Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty. In portraying without judgment beautiful, dark-skinned, dying homosexual bodies, Hollinghurst's novel "fleshes out" the traditional sphere of aesthetics that denies the low and impure pleasures frequently paired with gay sex.
Contemporary British Fiction
Kim, Soo Yeon (2010). Ethical Desire: Betrayal in Contemporary British Fiction. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from