At the mercy of society : Kazuo Ishiguro and Catholic social teaching.


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Catholic social teaching is the Church’s theology of social life. In the documents comprising the field, the Church has offered wisdom and guidance on a number of issues, including the family, vocation, and technology. This teaching is not meant for Christians alone, but for all people of goodwill; it is given as a light for shared life in the world. The Church has encouraged the laity to spread the message of this social teaching and to put it into practice in whatever sphere of life they live and work. This dissertation, accordingly, is intended to pursue the Church’s social mission in the realm of literary criticism. Toward that end, this dissertation develops a new methodology — called ecclesial reading — for using Catholic social teaching to analyze literature. After establishing this methodology, the majority of the dissertation is concerned with ecclesial readings of four novels by Kazuo Ishiguro. A Pale View of Hills (1982) is examined with particular attention paid to its portrayal of the family, revealing that Sachiko’s failure to live a life of virtue leads to a lack of self-giving and sacrificial love for her daughter. The ecclesial reading of An Artist of the Floating World (1986) focuses on vocation and shows how Ono’s misguided desire for works of worldly renown ends in the tragedy of a wasted life. The ecclesial reading of Never Let Me Go (2005) centers on the Hailsham children and their project of imaginative solidarity, which the children use to protect themselves from the knowledge of the adult world. Klara and the Sun (2021) is examined alongside the principles of the Rome Call for AI Ethics, showing the prescient nature of Ishiguro’s concerns about the ethics of technology, especially artificial intelligence. The final chapter argues that Ishiguro’s works ultimately reveal, however unintentionally, a need for a reliable and trustworthy guide in ethical matters, a guide with a steadfast and timeless moral vision. That is precisely what the Church offers in her social teaching. The Church proclaims to the world a teaching that is not limited by the natural perspective of purely earthly societies, but which flows from the privileged and special view of humanity granted by God to his Church.