The Games Body-Politics Plays: a Rhetoric of Secrecy in Ian McEwan’s The Innocent

  • Mark Ledbetter
Part of the Studies in Literature and Religion book series (SLR)


‘I know something you don’t know’ is a mischievous, if not cruel, gnostic chant often heard on children’s playgrounds. Even children know that flaunting secrets encourages life’s most scintillating, though pernicious, game: the quest for power. Little do our children know that they are preparing for a life of diplomacy and international relations when they play such games.


Protestant Work Ethic Master Plot Personal Violation Heinous Crime World Body 
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  1. 1.
    Ian McEwan, The Innocent (New York: Doubleday, 1989). All future references are to this edition and are parenthetically referenced in the essay.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Audre Lorde, ‘Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference’, in Ethics: A Feminist Reader, ed. Elizabeth Frazer, Jennifer Hornsby and Sabina Lovibond (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1992) p. 213.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Ibid., pp. 213–14.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    The something is indefinite by intention. It is crucial, but it is also a secret, and of course the point is not to allow any of us to know what the ‘thing’ is.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    David Jasper, Rhetoric, Power and Community (London: Macmillan, 1993) p. 3.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Michel Foucault, ‘Truth and Power’, in Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and other Writings, 1972–77, ed. Colin Gordon (New York: Pantheon, 1980) p. 122.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Of course the power play of body-politics did not end with the Cold War. We continue to see such posturing in the former state of Yugoslavia, as well as in the Middle East, and in the former USSR, to name only a very few examples.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    I am not talking about the political policy of isolationism that is an attempt to remain insular and without influence on another nation or to avoid being influenced by another nation. I am talking about the isolation of secrets by nations who control global information and economics.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    George Steiner, Language and Science (New York: Atheneum, 1970) p. ix.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Jean-François Lyotard, ‘The Sign of History’, in The Lyotard Reader, ed. Andrew Benjamin (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989) p. 393.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
  12. 12.
    As I complete this text, I am aware that the current discussion is to slice and divide Bosnia into three pieces, according to ethnicity. The editors of the current issue of the US magazine The New Yorker describe this act, technically called ‘partition’, as ‘dismemberment’ (New Yorker, 26 July 1993, p. 4).Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Whether by prediction or chance, it appears that McEwan’s novel becomes one of the first important fictions of ‘post-wall’ Europe.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Mark Ledbetter 1996

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  • Mark Ledbetter

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