This is the first review, in possibly ever, where I won’t be quoting directly from the source material to convey thoughts evoked by parts of a novel. Here, it seems more fitting to discuss the overarching themes themselves. Themes like ‘art as a revelation of soul’ or ‘when culture creates a complacency amongst the mistreated’ and even ‘the ethics of rising technologies’. Specifically in that last? Some Orphan Blackesque predicaments. Warning readers: massive spoilers ahoy.
While reading through this book, I found my attention wavering; Kazuo Ishiguro weaves complicatedly delicious themes throughout the novel, but I’ll be frank, his writing style itself can get a bit boring in its transitioning from one ‘daily life’ anecdote to the next. Moving past the technical details of the piece and on to philosophical queries:
Art As A Revelation Of Soul
In Hailsham, the private school of main protagonist Kathy’s youth, all students are expected and encouraged to create art. It’s not until much later in the novel that we find out exactly why this is: their creations serve as a way for the school to show that the students’ have souls. The implication here of course is that a soul is what enables us humans to create, regardless of how we were brought into this world. And that possession of a soul is a superior good to sayyyy not having a soul.
The adults in charge of the school only seek to prove this because the students are all clones. And apparently, mainstream society in this fictional world thinks that it’s perfectly acceptable to harvest organs out of thinking, breathing creatures and that those creatures only should be treated humanely if they’ve got an intangible ‘soul’. People are self serving jerks in this world, which, really, is no surprise. Morally, this whole set up is pretty terrible, and there’s no way to get around the reality of their raising children for slaughter.
Thematically, however, this is quite fascinating. Can you imagine a world where quality of life deserved was determined by ability to create art? Ostensibly these clones are identical to natural born humanity, and a ‘soul’ is never clearly or cleanly defined. The only true evidence of it or of value is the art itself.
Think how this also applies to Artificial Intelligence, now and in the future. Will the standards by which we treat AI one day also be determined by their ability to create, outside of the realm of replication? After all, art is unique. Unique to an individual, and, for this moment in time, unique to those we grant humanity.
Seriously, consider that: in this Ishiguro’s world, reasoning and intelligence are not enough to deserve respect, but creativity at least earns compassion. What do we value as a society and why?
When Culture Creates a Complacency Amongst The Mistreated
Subtitle: Why didn’t they try to run away??
But seriously, they didn’t even try. And she had a car! And money!
How deep must the conditioning run to accept a fate of undergoing multiple surgeries for anonymous others until an inevitable death, without even considering fleeing to live a full life? It’s literally life or death, and they are choosing death without ever fighting for life. As I was reading this, I couldn’t help but draw obvious parallels to slavery. For the children of Hailsham are slaves, not chosen because of where they were born, but how.
Nowadays in good ole America, we don’t possess this aggressively blatant proof of such inequality and atrocity. (There’s still inequality and atrocity, it’s just not so in your face anymore. We all know people who willfully ignore things like economic inequality and they’ve only able to do so because the evidence isn’t as concrete as literal human bondage or sacrificial organ donors). The chains are no longer physical, but surely there are shackles taken for granted; surely there are conditioned acceptances so ingrained we no longer fight them. Casual evils taught unnoticed because of complacency and their small nature. Something came to mind with that last sentence. Maybe it was ‘boys will be boys’ and seemingly harmless misogyny or ‘oh it’s ok, you know it was a different generation…’ and brushed aside racism heard by children.
Our chosen path may not be as dire, so perhaps, that is why we can’t see the need to step off it, but if we never even consider the alternatives, how will we live to the fullest and not just be lead to the end?
The Ethics Of Rising Technologies
Never Let Me Go is told from the perspective of a clone and, if it was not told to the reader, there would be no distinguishable way to discern the nature of her birth otherwise. She was a child, she grew incrementally as we do, she fell in love, she created art, she laughed, she cared. This false elitism based on birth is a carryover of a lesser time in humanity’s history and I fear, given our collective nature, that it will continue as long as we do. We are always searching for someone to be superior to. In groups and out groups. Tribalism.
Are those to come, from cloning or artificial intelligence, to be the next victims of this fear of the other? Probably. They’ll suffer under the thumb of the self righteous and the judgmental, while the self righteous and judgmental will suffer over the internalized whispers of inadequacies and terror of being overthrown.
Some values and some morals and some principles of conduct should be universal. To my mind, compassion, regardless of recipient, should be chief amongst them.
– End of Brooding –
That’s all, folks. All I’ve got for you for day at least. This book wasn’t a five star, glowing recommendation-to-be for me, but it sure did give this reader a lot to muse over. I hope you enjoyed where my mind wondered, and if not, well, I promise I shall mosey back to my ‘quote and comment’ style of book reviewing in the future. Until then!
PS: You know how I mentioned Orphan Black above? In case you didn’t know, it’s a BBC TV series about women and family and strength and courage. There may also be some clones. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT. =)