disappoint our children….” (47)
In other word, Žižek uses the words of Kurt Vonnegut in his Mother Night that “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be” (Žižek, Enjoy Your Symptom X). These all show that based on a Žižekian perspective, Michael is a great believer in the contemporary apocalyptic beliefs. After his initial doubtful comments, in the middle of the novel he feels that “he had a mission…and he was running out of time” (McEwan, Solar 109). Like Briony, who propagated the social doctrine, Michael not only falls in the trap of believing in an apocalyptic doctrine, but also starts propagating the belief and persuading people that the current trait will eventually destroy them (ibid 116). While believing in his free-thinking as his duty, the social belief structure functions in a way that the initial skeptical physicist appears at the press in this way: “Noble Prof: End is Nigh” (ibid 127).
The point one should ponder about the two characters is that Michael is almost living at a time when Briony is in her seventies. A quick look at the status of both characters’ minds shows that they are entrapped by the same kind of belief system. They are both pretending to believe in the issues that they believe they do not believe in. Their inner belief is not revealed and consequently they are believed to believe in what they appear to believe and the result is in a Žižekian term ‘they are what they pretend to be’ (Žižek, Enjoy Your Symptom X).
Moreover, Michael believes in an apocalyptic world, although initially he did not believe that he believes. “One can believe (have faith in) X without believing in X” (Žižek, On Belief 110). “It is never me who, in the first person singular, is ready to assume belief, there is always the need for the fiction of a ‘subject supposed to belief’” (ibid) and the need is satisfied with the modern sources. Michael has his fictional subject supposed to believe. He has the media, the politicians, his fellow scientists and Tom Aldous as the subjects supposed to believe.
III. Briony and Michael in the Process of Subjectivity
A. The Processual Subjects
To elaborate on the issue of subject and its inherent status, Žižek states that “the subject has no substantial actuality, it comes second, it emerges only through the process of separation, of overcoming its presuppositions” (Žižek, Living in the End Times 232). Briony and Michael also go through the very same process to gain a kind of subjectivity.
Briony is a talented teen-aged girl, who “had no secrets” at all, but her desire to know more and her “imagination itself was a source of secrets” (McEwan, Atonement 5-6). She has ‘no secrets’ reiterates the fact that she has no ‘substantial actuality.’ Briony is almost lost in the world of taken-for-granted childish ideas, family traditions, the bipolar world of the good and evil and the world of adulthood with all its conventions, many of which are unconventional for her.
Briony emerges through the process of separation. This separation might be categorized to three crucial times in the novel. The first is the separation from her childhood and stepping in the world of adulthood with no one around close enough to help her better understand the realm of adults. At a critical age passing her childhood and stepping in the realm of adulthood, Briony is neglected the acquaintance of her father, mother, brother and sister. Her father; Jack is away at work. Mother Betty is almost always either taking care of the intense pressure of migraine or busy with doing the housework. Leon, Briony’s brother, is having fun with classmates and ladies at university. Sister Cecilia is also busy with fantasizing the future plans, books, Robbie and her contemplations about the household and her future plans. Briony is almost an outcast. Her cousins, Lola, Jack and Pierrot, are also some kids unable to answer her questions. Lola being a little older that Briony, not only can help Briony, but also can help flourish her childish thoughts.
The second separation happens when Cecilia and Robbie leave home due to a horrible night’s incident. At the night when Jack and Pierrot, missing their parents, flee from the Tallis house, Lola and the other people in the house go to find them. Lola is found by Briony while getting raped by an unknown man. Briony, being witnessed to the rape scene and having seen yet another sexual encounter between Cecilia and Robbie some hours ago, accuses Robbie of the rape attempt. Later on, the judge also charges Robbie for rape attempt, due to the Briony’s account and the love letter with a sensual tone she presents to the police which he had sent to Cecilia.
Because of Robbie’s imprisonment, Cecilia left home and never turned back. The very separation from the two loved ones, her sister and her protective friend Robbie, caused Briony go through the very process of separation and also that of “overcoming its presuppositions” (Žižek, Living in the End Times 232). This process of atonement caused Briony overcome its presuppositions and as Žižek explicates, the very “presuppositions are also only a retroactive effect of the same process of their overcoming” (ibid). The horrible consequence of what she had done made her leave home, enter the nursing school and consequently serve at war.
The third separation is a detachment from the brutal reality she witnesses which is exactly a “retroactive effect of the same process of their overcoming” (ibid). After a separation from family and going to the nursing school and serving at war as a nurse, Briony’s detachment from the old childish presuppositions led her to confront life’s harsh face. When Cecilia and Robbie, never having the love life they were seeking, both die at war, as a ‘retroactive effect,’ Briony is obliged to overcome the reality and build a new fictional reality for herself to appease the atonal suffering.
Briony; the writer, fails again to maintain the fictional reality she had created and by expressing the reality behind her novel at the last segment of the novel, she does what Žižek inscribes as:
The result is thus that there is in both extremes of the process a failure or negativity inscribed into the very heart of the entity we are dealing with. If the status of the subject is thoroughly “processual,” it means that it emerges through the very failure to fully actualize itself. This brings us once again to one possible formal definition of the subject: a subject tries to articulate (“express”) itself in a signifying chain, this articulation fails, and by means of and through this failure, the subject emerges: the subject is the failure of its signifying representation. (Žižek, Living in the End Times 232)
A similar scheme can also be applied to Solar’s Michael Beard. Michael, a middle-aged man of science, is in a desperate situation “immune to fresh experience” (McEwan 4). On the contrary of Briony, who childishly craves for some new experiences, Michael is tired of new experiences and probably, in Žižekian terms, he is immune to the new failures resulting from the new experiences. “Misery was not simple for him” (McEwan, Solar 4) anymore. Four times he failed in ‘tidal’ marriage and the fifth is also “disintegrating” (ibid 3).
The story of Michael begins at such miserable point, when he is experiencing a hard failure. He is losing his object of desire, Beatrice, his young love who resembles Marilyn Monroe in the eyes of his friends. And the loss is too grave to bear, for she has affairs with their builder; a humble young and of course physically strong man. And the affair even gets more unbearably humiliating for him when it is happening at his own house; in front of Michael. At nights, Michael in his “delusional state” is experiencing her Laughter in the Dark. He, lying on his bed, feels castrated and all the Noble-Prize stuff of honor in physics cannot return her to his bed. “What impressed him was his ability to think of nothing else” (8).
Due to the frustrations caused by the previous failures in his love affairs, his age and his intense desire for his current wife while she is having affairs with another man, it takes time and energy from Michael to step out of the messy situation. As a subject, his status as a professor of physics and the fame he gained from the Noble Prize could not bring him any ‘substantial actuality.’ Michael also “emerges only through the process of separation” (Žižek, Living in the End Times 232). His separation from Beatrice and desiring her, count as new beginnings for him to try a new life. Idealizing Beatrice had been a presupposition resulting from Michael’s previous unsuccessful love affairs and overcoming this presupposition is ‘only a retroactive effect of the same process of the overcoming’ (ibid).
Like Briony who abandoned home and all the mess she had caused for the nursing school, Michael also separates from the mess at home and goes for his ideas and something he probably thinks has been successful, and that is physics. The subject, Michael, “tries to articulate (“express”) itself in a signifying chain, this articulation fails, and by means of and through this failure, the subject emerges: the subject is the failure of its signifying representation” (ibid).
Michael, then in his miserable situation being lost as the result of the failure in his love affair, and also financially broke, goes through this process of signification. Being unable to “fully actualize” himself by forming a family, he finds a new cause: climate change and the global warming, something almost strange to him.
“Beard was not wholly skeptical about climate change. It was in a list of issues, of looming sorrows, that comprised the background to the news, and he read about it, vaguely deplored it and expected governments to meet and take