The Work Of Orienting Oneself Towards The Future

David Plunkert, The Mouth’s Guard
David Plunkert, The Mouth’s Guard

More from my notes / rough draft for my paper on Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go” (for more info check out previous blog entries):

And yet precisely because of the text’s relentless problematization of the narrative and the time in which it is couched, what comes next is never explicitly a sequential event – it’s never a surprise; it’s never something that the children are waiting for.  This is important because the anchoring reality of their lives is the fact that they have been bred for a single purpose, and are always moving ineluctably towards that impending purpose: to donate their vital organs to some faceless, unmentioned, non-cloned human being.  And even this event is ruthlessly devoid of a sense of finality: the children are expected to donate as many organs as they can, and so have anywhere from a first, to a second, and maybe even – if they’re “lucky” – a third donation to look forward to.  This reticence to approach what is for them inevitable resounds with the subject who reads the book, and who wonders if she operates similarly.  It is here, also, that the term that the children and their guardians use to designate the end of their life is “completion,” comes into play.

Once a student has made his or her final donation – whichever that might be – and their life ends, the are said to have “completed,” a term that connotes a sort of sterile utility, and suggests that they have completed their task, or the function for which they were created – they have, literally, finished.  But the term also seems to want to fill its other, traditionally opposed, meaning: that the act of giving one’s life in this manner is one that causes a wholeness, that makes one complete, the analogue for the reader being the sentimental idea that once one achieves one’s special purposes, one becomes complete.  The text, however, never suggests this, but in and through the brutal nonchalance (and lack of explanation) with which the term is used, openly defies this meaning, leaving instead a vacuum against this possible definition.

If remembering is a method of knowing oneself, and knowledge of oneself is closely connected with – as Foucault asserted – the imperative to take care of oneself, how then – in what way – we might ask, must one remember? This question is bound up, in the text, with what one must remember.  It is obvious here that for Kathy H., what must be remembered over and above all else is not her impending completion; it is not even the question (that the reader is more-than-probably asking) of why, when looking back, the children never stood up against their politico-biological reality, never truly challenged the brutal determinations which so acutely controlled their lives.  As a memoir of a character in her own narrative, “Kathy” discloses “herself” the how that we have been discussing in this reading, a claim that we can make when we remember that the subject that articulates it – and for whom the question of articulation is of the highest value – is the one that exists at the end, or after the end, of the narrative altogether – Kathy H. herself.  The what-for, the question of to what end – if not to liberation or the isolation of some “complete” truth of their souls – becomes that which the author/ character provides through remembering herself and her story in this memorial mode of narrativizing, where it becomes clear that the question of how to remember – for Kathy as narrator as well as Kathy as character –  is always immediately bound up with the question of and answer to why one should remember: so that one might attempt the work of orienting oneself towards the future.


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