Sara Santos

English PhD Student and Writing Instructor, Stony Brook University

Looking in the Gutter: Clones, Mobility and Infrastructure in Never Let Me Go and Orphan Black

Note: All of these ideas are still under development. Throughout the next year, I will be using this website to think through and articulate my thoughts as I continue to write my dissertation, as well as work through theoretical concepts and frameworks.

Toward the end of Never Let Me Go, Kathy and Tommy find themselves driving along a dark, country road, with nothing but the occasional headlights signaling the presence of those who, like Kathy, are designed for an intermittent life in between but permanently separated from the rest of society. Driving back to Tommy’s care facility in pitch black dark, Kathy perceives what Johnston calls “a two-tiered network” in Britain’s landscape that works to separate donor from “normal,” human from nonhuman: in Kathy’s mind, the “big glittering motorways with their huge signs and super cafés” belong to the “normals” while the “dark byways of the country exist just for the likes of us,” i.e. the clones reproduced in the controlled environment of labs, raised in the heavily disciplined space of schools like Hailsham, to serve as organ donors for the humans their biology was founded on. Having discovered from Madame Marie-Claude that deferrals – the chance to delay the donation process if a couple proves that they are in love – is just a myth, Kathy stops the car against a fence to let Tommy out. Crossing the fence, Tommy walks into the darkness, where he proceeds to scream and kick the ground, “raging, shouting, flinging his fists and kicking out,” the novel’s most ardent expression of rebellion.

This scene is fundamental to understanding the economic and biotechnological mechanisms that govern Ishiguro’s alternative Britain, and consequently its subject formations because it introduces two key elements. First, the roads through which Kathy H. moves provides an entry point to conceptualizing the biomedical system of governance and control that organizes the clones’ existence in the novel, the roads – the clones’ movement within those roads – reproducing alternative Britain’s technological, economic and political structures of governance. Second, Tommy’s angry response to finding out that he must resign to the harvesting of his organs and impending death opens up a space for reconfiguring predominantly humanistic notions of affect and empathy. As the only true moment of resistance against the neoliberal medical complex, Tommy’s kicking and screaming starts to articulate, I think, a non- or posthuman expression of empathy that allows us to question and evade the exclusionary discourse of liberal humanism perpetuated by current neoliberal rhetoric and politics.

I’ve chosen Never Let Me Go and Orphan Black for my primary texts for how similarly they treat the clone as an allegorical image of current sociopolitical minority groups in their depiction of the clone as an “other-than” or “post” human body that emerges at the intersection of capital and science, and whose non- or posthuman nature reflects a set of historical and political shifts observed in western developed nations from the 1970s onward, namely the implementation of postindustrial neoliberal economic practices related to modes of production, outsourcing and risk relocation, in a vast number of services and, specifically to this analysis, within the biomedical complex. 1 Both texts conceive of the clone as a nomadic body – a body that is constantly on move, circulating the medical and corporate structures that produced them, but always at the margin of normative society, that is, excluded from the “human” population – with a fragmented, decentered subjectivity dependent on an “original” completion.

But the second part of my analysis also deals with how vastly distinct these clones’ attitudes towards their biopolitical identity are: whereas Ishiguro’s clones remain mostly complacent with the system that made them – no overt attempts to escape donations is made beyond Kathy and Tommy’s inquiry to Madame and Tommy’s outburst in the dark, muddy fields, the Leda clones, led by Sarah Manning, are fueled by a sense of rebellion and a desire to be free from the heavily securitized biocorporate network of the DYAD.

So, I want to think about the different ways in which the novel and the television series work to produce an empathetic affect between reader/viewer and the clone through the de/humanizanization of the clone. In my reading, I argue that, in attempting to depict the clone as “human” or “human-like” through an empahsis on art and education as humanizing factors, Never Let Me Go actually further highlights how inhuman the clone truly is, as it produces spaces of containment like Hailsham and the Cottages that seek to further remove the clone from the sphere of normative society. The institutionalized neoliberal call to continuously invest in one’s “human capital” – to produce good art, to ensure one’s body healthy – deepens the gap between those perceived as “human” and the clone, and produces a paradoxical healthcare system that at once demands constant care for the clone’s body and denies him/her life. Orphan Black, on the other hand, continuously asserts the clones’ non-traditional origin as a marker of their unique subjectivity and empowerment. Through a comparative analysis of these texts, I hope to articulate what Shameem Black calls an “inhuman aesthetics” 2 and politics of affect. This is a reading of the clone that not negative or closed off, but that opens up a space in literary criticism to think subjectivities and forms of empathy beyond the discourse of the neoliberal market.

You can find an extensive bibliography to Chapter One here. I will be linking each entry to the respective posts as I write them.

  1. For a comprehensive analysis of the emergence of neoliberalism in western politics, see Harvey, David. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford University Press, 2007.
  2. Black, Shameem. “Ishiguro’s Inhuman Aesthetics.” Modern Fiction Studies,vol. 55, n.º4, 2009, pp.785-807.

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