Time Cloned in a Vacuum
Increasingly, as if maturing cell by multiplicate cell, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go reveals the ethical engagement of its narrative: Cloning, the production of genetically virtually identical humans for organ harvesting. But, unusually, this engagement dawns on the reader only gradually, through the fusion of nuclear materials, of hints and harbingers, which are dragged into first soft, then sharper focus by our narrator, clone Kathy K. In transit, these partial openings and closings of the narrative lend the book its page-turning zeal; however, one is remiss to see these moments as instances of plot-announcing foreshadowing. For the novel itself, partly, and the characters particularly, wrestle against “plots” and “plotters” because for them sheltering someone or withholding knowledge from another is the means by which the engineer lays claim to an “enormous authority” over his creation. Instead, Never Let me Go opts to extend its narrator’s epiphanies at a rate similar to the one by which they first, naturally occurred. All the same, the realist, science fiction of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, opens mirrors up on both sides of the cultural present, revealing the entity we call “contemporaneity” to be itself cross-fertilized.
Hereditary Past, Disorganized Present, Forbidden Future(s)
Evolution tells us that the human species cannot live in the future without absorbing centuries of the past. I should think the same holds true for the individual, and by extension, for the cloned individual. However, in Never Let Me Go, clones Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth, among countless others, have been denied a constitutive germ of their narrative past. While remaining obscure, their biological past is at the very least encoded in their heredity and can therefore be articulated, in that the body carries both the logos of its past and the grammar of the future within it. Significantly absent, the clones seem to possess little in the way of historicity, whether social, personal, or other: the deficiency of which prohibits the clones from opening up channels between their inherited potential and their current experience. And thus, out of this lack, the myth of the “possible” arises, being “the person you were modeled from” and who might intimate “what your life had in store” (139-40).
In search of a precedent that would portend the future—possibly past/possibly future—the clones watch while “normals” carry out office chores or domestic errands, only to have their key-hole fantasies shattered by the first of a finite number of letters commencing donor-time. Overtime, the clones lose heart, not for lack of capacity or yearning, but because they have a dwarfed sense of intention—a notion of present tense that is cordoned off from the immediate future, even. (For instance, the clones are not told to whom their organs will go.) For Kathy and Tommy, the hope of a “deferral” that would permit them two to three years of life together on the margins, spared of donor obligations, is modest enough vis-à-vis the utopian future of the “normals” who will gain ten, maybe fifteen years, thanks to organ donations. I say “utopian” in that the “normals” seem to have not yet overcome that adolescent notion of life as something that can be started over, refreshed—its denouement, rain-checked! On the contrary, with the exception of Tommy’s King Lear moment in the field, the clones when properly drugged show a fair amount of pluck in the face of death. But the tragedy is, that while Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth have been told that they have the power to render their souls visible in the art object, they have not been told that their lives might be otherwise, that other possibilities (escape, for one) might be open to them. So instead, the clones practice a kind of willful ignorance that is, over the course of the novel, refined into a question: If one’s fate is indeed ready-made, is it better to remain in Hailsham ignorance, or wiser to brave certainty, knowing full well that the fourth donation is…the heart?
One of two ways for Kathy to delay her “completion” is to become a doulafied “carer,” made to answer to the same “whitecoats” who will someday take the knife to her. The other way is for Kathy to tell her story. But her approach to narrative, more tortoise than hare, begs the question of why not, Kath, write about something other than Hailsham…and, why not plot more sadistically, if only because others have heretofore done so for you. And, so it seems, there is something in [Ishiguro’s] Kathy that at times deliberately refuses plot in favor of anecdote ad tedium, believing, as it were, that cloned plots move deathward, toward the recompletion of predetermined outcomes. In other words, to plot is to abstract time out of the living body, and to more importantly, deny the “possible” its parallel construction in the future. However circumscribed the life, Kathy has still managed, triumphantly, to fashion at once an “I” from the materials of the past and at the same time anticipate a “you” in the unforeseeable future. In fact, her story is the very occasion of the “possible,” whereby she might through the recollection forward of her past actually collect a future that can be infinitely and variously ramified. Quite the donation, really.