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Title: Buddhist Perspectives on the Notion of the Self in the Writing of Charles Johnson and Ruth Ozeki
Authors: Wongchinsri, Pimalaporn
Supervisors: Morley, Catherine
Award date: 8-Mar-2019
Presented at: University of Leicester
Abstract: This thesis explores a selection of novels by Charles Johnson and Ruth Ozeki. It aims to examine how Johnson and Ozeki as ethnic American writers employ the Buddhist philosophies of non-Self, interdependence and interconnectedness to explore the meaning of self and identity in various aspects in their novels. By situating Johnson’s and Ozeki’s novels as part of Buddhist American writings that deal with the search for American self and identity, I contend that the explanation of the interdependent self proposed by Johnson and Ozeki is different from such concepts put forward by their predecessors. Instead of encouraging the attachment to some absolute discourse of self and identity, the concept of the interdependent self stresses the characteristic of being non-self. They suggest the understanding of a composite self is borne out of an individual’s ability to detach themselves from suffering or dukkha. Based upon Buddhist ideas of the non-Self, interdependence, and interconnectedness, this thesis divides the analyses of the selected novels into two major parts. The first part explores Johnson’s Faith and the Good Thing (1974), Oxherding Tale (1982), Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being (2013), and The Face: A Time Code (2016). These novels show that individuals’ new understanding of their selves and identities lead to new perspectives on life and possibly liberates their imprisoned self from their past. In the second part, I investigate through Johnson’s Middle Passage (1990), Dreamer (1998), Ozeki’s My Year of Meats (1998), and All Over Creation (2002) to look into the interplay between individuals’ understanding of the non-self nature of beings and their potential to do good for others in wider society. Through this research, I have found that Johnson’s novels present their protagonists as questers for selfhood and the meaning of life. They also negotiate their traumatic experience of American slavery, racism, and marginalization. Johnson’s protagonists philosophically go through the process of self-investigation before discerning that self and life are alike. They are transformative, unfixed, and dependent. This discovery destabilizes the concept of race and enables the protagonists to transcend dualistic views on race (the belief that one race is superior to another). Compared with Johnson’s novels, Ozeki’s novels present various experimental styles of narration to emphasize the protagonists’ self-examination in order to gain self-realization that their selves interrelate to the selves of others and interconnect with their environment. In analyzing both writers’ works, I argue that Johnson and Ozeki believe the Buddhist philosophy of the Self and the idea of interdependence offer an understanding of how living at the present moment instead of living in the past is meaningful to life, how a common humanity should be cherished over human differences, and how human beings should live in harmony with the environment.
Type: Thesis
Level: Doctoral
Qualification: PhD
Rights: Copyright © the author. All rights reserved.
Appears in Collections:Leicester Theses
Theses, Dept. of English

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