Peter Sloane
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Empathy and the ethics of posthuman reading in Never Let Me Go
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In a reading of Ishiguro’s most affecting novel, Never Let Me Go, Peter Sloane situates the work in a longer context of clone and posthuman fictions, beginning with Frankenstein, Brave New World and Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang. Informed by and developing from Suzanne Keen, Martha Nussbaum, and Anne Whitehead’s important and influential insights into the complicated causal relationship between novel reading and the capacity for empathy, Sloane proposes that literary fiction has a peculiar power to provoke empathy, but that empathy is predicated on finding in its subject something which resembles the ‘human’, an uncovering of shared values, shared traits, shared hopes. However, he argues, Never Let Me Go very deliberately resists readings of the clones as human, and rather fosters an empathetic environment in which compassion is founded not on our shared humanity but on our shared posthumanity. The novel very pointedly highlights the various ways in which the clones, Kathy H. and her small, tragic band of friends, not simply lack fundamental human attributes but are in fact defined by these apparent absences (futurity, fertility, self-actuation). Yet as Sloane argues, in the posthuman age and in the contemporary novel, ‘both text and reader need to be epistemologically and even ontologically resituated in relation to the refiguration of the humanities to the posthumanities’.

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