In the sprint semester 2009, our photo department had a collaborative project with the creative writers. The project followed two routines. One is “photos -> writing -> photos”: at first the photographer gave the writer some works and the writer would reflect on those photos, and then the photographer would reply to the text got back from the writer. The other one is “writing -> photos -> writing”, which went in the opposite way.
“Saying Goodbye to Yang” is a story after my “Kinderscenen (Scenes from Childhood)” series written by Alexander Weinstein. The original idea of “Kinderscenen” project is to show the evolution of China society though a personal growing-up experience and history by the current and old family pictures. The old pictures show the childhood daily life in a crashing communism era and the current images reflect the westernized modern China with little remaining of the traditional culture. Alexander created his own story inspired by this pictures but not directly transform the visual elements into the written language. Actually he went much beyond by setting the story in the future America when the human cloning and super artificial intelligence robots become part of the daily life and bring lots of ethical and technical problems.
Alexander Weinstein, the writer was reading “Saying Goodbye to Yang”
in the show of the collaborative project on May 8th
while the projector was showing “Kinderscenen” projects.
Personally, I highly recommend this story. It’s not only a scientific fiction but brings lots of concern of current social issue. It reminds me much thinking of the living status of immigrants (or international students): they are smart and knowledgeable, skilled and professional, but don’t really know how to adapt a new culture. Like the ice cream example in the story, it’s quite typical for a newcomer to a different culture that at first they can only talk about the knowledge but nothing about the real life. In this aspect, I agree that the robot setting in the story is a amazing imagination from the photos (communism past and westernized present) and expand it to a bigger world, and it shows the real difficulty in cultural transformation and reintegration.
In the story the robot finally died but the voice box remained. It really happens when someone is trying to be involved in a different culture. Just like “Yang” in the story, even if it would be rebuilt, the body might look the same but only the voice box is the original. You can’t tell the remanufactured one is the renascence of the old one or it’s only a likeness. Can we adopt a new culture without losing many personality? After being involved in the new one, are we still ourselves?
Of course, as a foreigner, my understanding might be different from the writer, who is original American. Anyway, I think this story is profound and interesting, and also full of fun. It’s attached in the following link and hope you enjoy the story as well as the photos.