Monthly Archives: August 2021

Rachel Cusk – Second Place

We all need a Jeffers in our lives, a person for whom we can write our stories. We all desperately want to be heard by someone. To be heard gives our story legitimacy, a palpable reality. The reader of Cusk’s novel may be more intrigued by Jeffers than any of the six characters who populate the novel. The chosen rhetorical convention suggests Robinson Jeffers, the faithful correspondent in Mabel Dodge Luhan’s epistolary treatment of D. H. Lawrence, but Cusk is doing more than simply celebrating Luhan’s life and writing. .

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Cusk is using a slice of the 30’s modernist literary scene to filter her study of the Covid-laced world of 2021. The voice in her novel writes to a nonjudgmental listener who gives her perfect isolation. The anonymous reader is utter plasticity. It shapes and reshapes the experience lurking under a life laboring with the perceived judgment of a pandemic. None of this is spelled out as the novel works as extended metaphor. Jeffers is one clue, and the title is another.

Probing the Artificial

Ishiguro’s novel probes the ethical issues inherent in artificial intelligence. There is a certain audacity that is unleashed when man presumes the god-like power of creating the mental facility for thought and feeling. The brain, the heart, the soul–these inner resources have always been thought to be the sacred ground at the core of humanity, but that threshold has been breached. Is it possible to engineer love?

Klara, in contrast to the human characters in the novel she narrates, demonstrates the capacity to respond to the Sun on a level that differs markedly. She alone has the capacity for both ontological and theological perception. She alone understands that the Sun is the ground of all being for her. He is the source of her power, and she sees in him the power to arbitrate the distance between life and death.

Her growth in devotion is one of the charming parts of the novel. From personal perception of life source, she moves to the conclusion that he restores life to the Beggar Man and his dog. This understanding, then, becomes the basis for her eventual appeal to the Sun to restore health to Josie. Like the classic devotees of antiquity, she makes her pilgrimage to the Sun’s holy place, Mr. McBain’s barn. Her own spiritual enlightenment is characterized by self-renunciation and a clarified sense of love. She willingly gives up a part of her own P-E-G Nine solution to disable the Cootings Machine in what she believes to be the will of the Sun. Despite the near-death struggle of Josie, her complete faith in the Sun engenders hope in the certainty of healing.

Ishiguro suggests that the ideal can be programed even though it cannot be lived by a faltering human community. In fact, that community does not recognize the worth of the artificial, cannot value its understanding of humility. It cannot live in perfection or understand perfection.