‘I believe I have many feelings. The more I observe, the more feelings become available to me.’ She laughed unexpectedly, making me start. ‘In that case,’ she said, ‘maybe you shouldn’t be so keen to observe.’
—Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun
Like Klara, I have forever stood at a window, waiting and observing. Like Klara, I am a little outdated. Like Klara, I have hope. Like her, I have feelings.
You don’t know about Klara. In your living room that is almost bare because you said you like empty walls, there’s that red book on top of the other books. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro. My last memory of you has the book, the one with the red cover, the one you said you don’t know how it even got there. It is a book you probably won’t read. But if you read it, you will find bits of our story. A story about feelings. Capitalism, socialism and this and that. We were not real to each other then. Just digital entities, projections, futurists.
We talked about becoming human once. We dreaded the act of becoming human, of having feelings.
After all, the metaverse has emerged as an alternative 3D connected space. A place where a house costs $2.6 million. A place for the rich to escape into avatars, to give themselves fictional lives. A dystopian future that will further reduce face-to-face human interaction is in the making. Were we rehearsing for the future? Were we mimicking the replaceability of humans, of ourselves?
One only needs a sign. I am going to take this as one.
The book contains story of a robot and the human heart, of faith in observation and of longing. Klara is a robot and yet, she can feel. Isn’t that what gives hope?
It begins with Klara in a store window looking out at the world and waiting for someone to pick her up so she could be an Artificial Friend. Josie, a human, picks her up. Josie is ‘lifted’, which means she is among the chosen ones who will be fit to live in the world. She is ‘privileged’ and mysteriously ill and Klara is to help her cut some of the loneliness that Josie must endure. That’s her brief. But Josie recovers and Klara is not needed anymore.
In the end, Klara ends up in a scrapyard where she spends her time organising her memories before she fades out. She sacrifices some of herself in order for Josie to become well.
Do I miss you? Yes, like how a window misses the view of a concrete city.
Are we to have such endings? Are we to end up in scrapyards with memories that pulsate with feelings? Do feelings tell us about power and its limitations? Are we lesser beings if we are emotional?
Our personal, social and political lives are dictated by how we feel or unfeel. Memories are informed by feelings, actions are a result of sentiment-infused discourses and we have witnessed how feelings have become important in politics in the modern world. We are caught between feelings and the possibility of a dystopian alternative world where apps dictate lifestyles. Feelings can sometimes lead to historical revisionism and there’s that danger. Politics of hatred is one example of that in our society. Politics of alienation is another. There is also politics of memory that has been used to consolidate utopian recollections of the past. Then, there is politics of hope and love.
The question before us is: what does it mean to be a political animal in the 21st century of ‘emo-cratic’ politics, of alternative facts and social media? We are already living in a post-truth world. Are we racing towards a post-feeling world? What do feelings do and what are we to do with our feelings?
Over the last few decades, we have been participants in, and witnesses of, the mass politics of passion.
In deciding to do this issue, we looked at Granta 146, ‘The Politics of Feelings’, edited by Devorah Baum and Josh Appignanesi, who say in their introduction to the issue, that “For however fanatically certain or dizzyingly uncertain they may make us, our feelings needn’t only be a problem for politics—they can equally be a resource, and maybe even a solution.”
From a Kashmiri photographer who writes about the feeling of longing for a summer that is informed by memories of his dead father and a harsh childhood in a conflict zone to a woman who has written about her tryst with apps that make it possible to have anonymous sexual encounters, taking the reins of her desire in a gendered world to another who has written about the loneliness of women, we have tried to reimagine feelings from the points of view of those who have felt them and understood them. We mirror each other’s feelings. We share, reflect and respond to them.
For us, 2022 began with the ending of the wave of a pandemic that made us limited beings. The first issue of Outlook for 2022 was called ‘Love.’ The first issue of Outlook in 2023 is dedicated to ‘Politics of Feelings’ and the hope that they provide us with solutions in our personal and social and political lives, for they are all intertwined.
In the hope that we retain some of our humanness, in the end, if one has to become something and dystopia becomes unavoidable, may we become like Klara, the Artificial Friend, whose brief is to make Josie, a lifted human, less lonely. That’s what the red book is about. About a human and a non-human. About role reversals. Like a René Magritte painting. It is a book about love, about class and about loneliness.
There is a touch-loneliness connection. What will we become without touch? We have been through the pandemic that took away touch for a while. We came close to having our bodies disintegrated.
I remember the feeling of your touch. Light. Like foam. The body has memory. They call it haptic memory. Is memory a feeling? A recall of anything is dictated by emotional texture. Is letting go a feeling and, in turn, a solution? Yes. Like nostalgia. I remember you with feelings. Like Klara.
May we all feel more, observe more and in understanding our feelings, resist the barren dystopia of unfeeling selves.
(This appeared in the print edition as "Observations Of The Rain Within Us")