Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest book Klara and The Sun is a dystopian science fiction novel that will remind his readers of his masterpiece Never Let Me Go. In Never Let Me Go the protagonist and the narrator is a clone, whereas Klara and The Sun is narrated by a solar-battery robot with an artificial intelligence, named Klara.
At the start of the novel, Klara is in a store waiting to be chosen by a customer. In a way, she is like a pet waiting to be adopted. Klara is always in the window display of the store where she is exposed to extra sunlight and watches outside. Klara is very good at observing and she asks the manager of the store questions about the things she sees from the window. Looking from the window, Klara sees two people she calls “the Coffee Cup Lady and her Raincoat Man” bumping into each other. Manager says to Klara that she thinks those two people must have lost each other and now they must have found each other again, hence, people feel a pain alongside their happiness in such times. This is the moment that Klara learns about loss and wonders how she would feel if Rosa and her, a long time from then, long after they had found their different homes, saw each other again by chance on a street. We are impressed with Klara’s observation skills and her curiosity. She reminds us of a child and we start to like her, and even identify with her.
Things change when a girl named Josie walks into the store with her mother and chooses Klara as her AF (Artificial Friend). From that moment on, we start to see the interaction of the two girls: an AF and a human. When Klara leaves the store and starts to “live” with Josie’s family, we start to see the similarities and differences between two girls. We find out that Josie lost her sister. She died when Josie was small. Josie herself is sick as well and her parents are afraid of losing her too. Later, we discover that for Josie’s family, Klara’s mission is not only to company and entertain Josie but to replace her if she dies. After all, Klara is a special robot that is very good at observing and imitating people.
Lacanian psychoanalysis taught us that we fall in love because there is a lack that we want to fill. Moreover, our desires also operate based on a lack that can never be filled. In a sense, love and sexual relation are attempts to be complete. However, love and sexuality also cause complications in our lives . In the novel, we witness complications of love in Josie’s life. Josie has a boyfriend who is her neighbor and we see how this love affects Josie’s life. We witness their disagreements and quarrels. Whereas, as an artificial intelligence, Klara doesn’t feel love or sexual tension for any human or robot.
Along with love and sexuality, mortality is also related with a lack and negativity, namely death. Death is also another source of complication of our lives. Josie has already lost her sister and because of her sickness she is also facing her own mortality. When her health gets worse, we witness Klara saying to her Mom: “Don’t want to die, Mom. I don’t want that.” Whereas, Klara seems to be indifferent to being mortal or immortal. Cadell Last (2020) argues that neuroscience should take into consideration the absence discovered by psychoanalysis. In this context, Last argues that a dialogue is needed in thinking “absential science” where he proposes a theory of the human relationship to sex (libido) and death (mortality). Their relation with these two aspects, sexuality and death, seems to be the most important distinctions between Klara and Josie.
According to Alenka Zupančič (2021), love and sexuality cause complications in our lives but paradoxically without them the social infrastructure would disintegrate. Alenka Zupančič (2021) argues that although love and sexuality is subjective and exclusive as it could be, love is also a social effect and we can’t be without the complications of love and sex. “There are these ideas that to get rid of love or sexuality would get rid of the social complications, but it is doubtful if the social would even exist without these complications called love. I really don’t think so.”
Although Klara believes that there is a fundemental loneliness of human beings –“Perhaps all humans are lonely. At least potentially”– they are also social beings in need of another. As an artificial intelligence, Klara doesn’t need to be in a society. When Manager sees Klara in the yard where she is waiting for her “slow fade”, she offers Klara to change her location and put her together with other robots for company. Klara declines Manager’s offer. She doesn’t need other robots. She is okay with her loneliness.
Although the readers can easily identify with Klara when it comes to her curiosity, willing to learn, and sacrifice herself for her human friend, she lacks something, and this prevents her being a human. What Klara lacks, however, is not something that human beings possess, but rather, something that humans lack which is in the kernel of love and sexuality along with mortality. In other words, Klara fails to be a human because she lacks the lack.
Evren İnançoğlu has a Master’s degree in behavioral sciences. He currently lives in Nicosia, Cyprus. He writes essays and reviews.
Cameraad (2021, February, 15) Alenka Zupančič on the commodification of love and its vicisitudes Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDUAPiCaDlA
Last, C. (2021). The Difference Between Neuroscience and Psychoanalysis: Irreducibility of Absence to Brain States. Neuropsychoanalysis.