Eithne Lannon – The Remains of the Day

THE LETTER 10 (Summer 1997) pages 98-110

This paper sets out to examine the obsessional and his desire through an exploration of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel The Remain’s of the Day. It focuses on the protagonist of the novel Stevens, butler of Darlington Hall and his struggle with his desire. In The Ethics of Psychoanalysis Lacan says of the obsessional:

(What the) behaviour of the obsessional reveals and signifies is that he regulates his behaviour so as to avoid what the subject often sees quite clearly as the goal and end of his desire.

In other words what the obsessional (in this case Stevens) fears is an encounter with his desire and he engages in compulsions and rituals in order to protect himself from such an encounter. Stevens uses the institution of the butler and its in-built ritualistic nature as a socially approved medium through which he can engage in the ritual and control inherent in obsessional behaviour. It provides for him an established set of rules and rituals, which are shared and understood by others in the profession and those who act within the institution. In his role as butler Stevens seeks to attain a perfect ‘dignity’ and within this context is able to justifiably avoid the risk of realising his desire.

Throughout the novel Stevens engages in an intense internal dialogue, to the extent that the act of thinking itself comes to constitute his obsessional neurosis. As the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that his need to mask his desire dictates his actions in relation to both Miss Kenton (a former housekeeper) and his father. The narrative begins as Stevens undertakes a trip to meet Miss Kenton in order to persuade her to return to employment in…

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