Kazuo Ishiguro's Non-Actors

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At center-stage in Kazuo Ishiguro’s work is the figure of the non-actor: a character-type which confronts us time and again with scenarios in which action is devalued. This essay shows that, despite finding themselves in situations that mandate action, Ishiguro’s characters opt instead for risk-averse and mechanical-like behaviors that are antonymous to change. This, however, is not a solely aesthetic phenomenon, and the essay examines the figure of the non-actor in Ishiguro’s novels as part of a broader turn toward non-action. It does so by considering this figure in relation to a distinctly twentieth century context within which, as Hannah Arendt has it, human action came to be seen as more dangerous than ever before. Ishiguro’s non-actors, I argue, can be seen as the legacy, but also as the mutations, of this understanding in our own era and the contemporary novel. This legacy, the essay demonstrates, reveals an under-examined aspect of the neoliberal mindset that dominates the post-Cold War world. Rather than promoting the worthiness of individual, self-serving action, Ishiguro’s novels bring to the forefront something different, though no less pernicious: a wholescale devaluation of the individual’s capacity to act.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)360-382
JournalNovel: A Forum on Fiction
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2020


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