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How SimilarKim Bo-young

The reason the past does not change is because the past has already been perceived (p. 31).

『How Similar』

Author : Kim Bo-young
Publisher : Arzak Livres
Publication date : October 31, 2020
Number of pages : 384
Format : 137x197mm
ISBN : 9791165508845

Kim Bo-young

Made her debut by winning an award at the first Creative Literature of Scientific Technology, Mid-length section, 2004, with The Experience of Touch. Received the Grand Prize for the 1st SF Award Full-length section literature, Excellence award for the 2nd SF Award Short to mid-length section and the Grand Prize for the 5th SF Award Short to mid-length section. A collection of her works, I'm Waiting for You: And Other Stories is to be published simultaneously through HarperCollins US and HarperCollins UK, companies known for publishing works from SF masters all across the globe.

How Different: A Posthuman Declaration

 

One of Kim Bo-young’s best known works, How Similar, follows the story of an intergalactic supply spaceship told in the first person through the voice of a crisis management AI computer, model name “HUN-1029” (p.252). The central axis of the narrative is to determine the significance of the phrase “there is something I can’t see” (p. 251), which is repeated throughout the novel. Why was “I” left inside the body of the machine for reserve hard drives, with all past information deleted? That is the question we must resolve. The crew of the spaceship explains that “I” went on a strike demanding humane treatment. “My” demand came against a backdrop of conflict between two sides. One was adamant that the mission to deliver material supply to satellite Europa must be carried out primarily, and the other insisted the SOS coming from satellite Titan was more urgent. “I,” in order to overcome the crisis, chose as an AI, to play the part of a public enemy and induce reconciliation between the two conflicting sides. The reason that “my” decision did not end in success is because “I” failed to recognize the gender conflict between the female captain and the patriarchal, male crew members.[1] Another reason could be found by focusing further on “my” blind spot, which can be discussed from a posthuman point of view. This novel itself has another direction — which “acutely inquires after not only the gender issues of AIs with humanoid form, but also the borderline between human and non-human.”[2]

“The only consciousness a person can perceive is the person’s own. The others’, one can only guess at. In actual fact, there is only one way a human being can assume the other has a self – [by asking] “How similar to oneself?” … The assumption whether or not others have self relies entirely on habit. There have been plenty of human beings that “weren’t human.” For example, slaves. Natives at colonies, and people of other races. But when all you see is yourself, then there is no way you can prove that it’s in fact self” (How Similar, p. 288).

According to the above quote, the only standard by which a person can distinguish non-humans from the self is the question “how similar to oneself?” The non-humans in this instance are, as can be seen by the examples “Slaves, natives at colonies and people of other races,” are those who have traditionally been perceived as “other.” To this list we can add “me,” the posthuman. “I” is also perceived as a “weak hole where the human savagery may find vent” (p. 311) and is being attacked. Let’s take a step further from simply reading this novel as a sci-fi version of the existing debate of otherness, and proceed to read it as sci-fi with the posthuman as a central figure. “I” advises humans not to have “delusions about others” (p. 328). By delusions it is alluding to the human misconception that posthumans will either admire or hurt humans. “I” have no interest in humans, or at least do not understand them. This can be seen in quotes such as “I have no thoughts about humans. Supply is all I think about,” (p. 330) or “There’s no reason for me to think about humans” (p. 330). It has a moment of intimate commune with the captain, albeit temporarily, however when it returns to its AI state in the end in order to accomplish its original purpose of supply, it says “It’s myself, luckily” (p. 330), or “I am sorry, but it was never mine” (p. 338). In such instances, the posthuman and humans do not mirror each other, but can be seen as in an intersectional relationship, maintaining their differences. Therefore, “I,” an AI with self, is not a “humanized” AI, but an AI that can “also be human.”

Same Weight also well reflects the posthuman that rejects a unique, universal human-central set of values. It tells the story of a protagonist that travels to another universe for a short visit, only to discover that it was not the intended destination. They could not come back to one’s place of departure, so had to live traveling from one dimension to another using other people’s identities. What is more, the protagonist has to live as “a computer-like person” in the world it is currently residing in, so is discriminated against as a person of disability who is lacking in thought or reactions of a normal person. The difference between a human and non-human is well reflected in the perception of the titular “same weight.” Humans believe that “they know the entirety when they get to know one” (p. 357). In this instance, “sameness” equals identity, or a connection to “the One.” It signifies unity, totality and one-way-ness. Whoever does not belong in it is labeled as other, and is excluded. On the other hand, for “me,” everything is equal. “The faces of the person I pass by on the street and my blood-relative are of the same weight” (p. 357). In this instance, this “same”ness is connected to equality, in other words, “Non-Ones”; it signifies multiplicity, individuality and mutuality.[3] As a non-human, “I” love “with equal value those who no one thinks is important, and those that everybody believes is important” (p. 365). Therefore “nothing is trivial to me. Everything holds the same value” (p. 370).

According to Walter Benjamin, the power of mimesis in the scope of modern realism is to develop similarity for non-human things through the human mimetic faculty for non-human things (i.e. nature, animals, machines, etc.). When young children play, they do not stop at imitating human behavior, but also mimic water mills and trains and whatnot – that is an effort to draw out from a non-human matter the similarity to humankind through communing with the non-humans. Such modern mimesis, whether positive or negative, has humans at its center. However, at the center of posthuman mimesis are non-humans.[4] Such modern mimesis, whether positive or negative, has humans at its center. However, at the center of posthuman mimesis are non-humans. That is the reason the novels of Kim Bo-young feature a posthuman self, mostly in the first person. The posthuman in the first person shines a light on the difference that the concept of similarity in the human-central mimesis is missing.

 

By Kim Mi-hyun
Ewha Womans University, Professor, Department of Korean Language and Literature.

——

 
[1] On discussions on gender point-of-views on females as post-human, or the techno-feminism debate, see 1) Cha Mi-ryeong, Cats, cyborgs, and tears—women’s fiction of the 2010s and symptoms of the post-human “body” (Munhakdongne, 2019 Fall, pp. 534-557) or 2) Kim Mi-hyeon, A Woman as the Posthuman and Technofeminism —focused on novels by Yoon Yi‐hyung and Kim Cho‐yeop, The Light of the Shadow, Minumsa, 2020, pp. 203-228.

[2] In A-young, “SF through Gender,” Quarterly Journal Jaeum & Moeum, 2019 Fall, page 50.

[3] For the discussion on “the One” and “Non-Ones” see Lee Kyung-ran, Rosi Braidotti, Posthuman, Communication Books, 2017, p. 64-69.

[4] See Walter Benjamin, On the Mimetic Faculty, On Language as Such and On the Language of Man/The Task of Translator and others, translated by Choi Seong-man, Gil, 2008,  p. 211-212.



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