By Stephen Henighan
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Extra resources for A Report on the Afterlife of Culture
Poles pointed to this place, where they had imprinted a fixed vision of Polishness on the featureless, much-invaded plain across which their country was spread, as the place where their national soul had revived. But you only had to glance around the square to know that in the Stare Miasto the image had defeated history. *** In La condition postmoderne (1979) the French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard, who is often credited with defining the term “postmodernism,” traces the beginning of contemporary culture’s separation from the great narratives of Western civilization to the late 1950s.
In his twenties, McEwan spent the money he earned from his first published short stories to buy a hippie bus and make a psychedelic overland pilgrimage to Afghanistan. His first two short story collections, First Love, Last Rites (1975) and In Between the Sheets (1978) (the latter title is a quote from a Rolling Stones song) combined a counter-culture ethos of soft drugs and sexual A Report on the Afterlife of Culture 53 freedom with gothic perversity – pickled penises bought at auctions, two women acting out the ritual castration of a philanderer – of a sort that both revelled in sexuality and brandished it as a weapon against the patriarchal underpinnings of British society.
Like his later Enduring Love (1997), The Child in Time proceeds from a dazzling opening to an uncertain development and a forced, over-explained resolution. The scientific and political themes are imperfectly integrated into a personal story about a faltering marriage. The novel portrays the public domain as hateful yet inescapable; in the “public” portion of the novel’s action a Margaret Thatcher-like figure appears as a character in an asexual guise, counterpointed against the feminist wish-fulfillment figure of a beautiful, grey-haired middle-aged woman physicist.