Arti­fi­cial: A Love Story

  • Review
By – October 16, 2023

From Amy Kurzweil comes anoth­er thought-pro­vok­ing graph­ic mem­oir — this one star­ring her rela­tion­ship with her father, Ray, and her long-time part­ner, Jacob. While Kurzweil’s first graph­ic mem­oir, Fly­ing Couch, explored the inter­gen­er­a­tional trans­mis­sion of Holo­caust trau­ma through the women in her fam­i­ly, Arti­fi­cial focus­es on how Ray’s famil­ial con­nec­tion to the Holo­caust has dri­ven his life’s work — work that involves tran­scend­ing death. Through­out the mem­oir, Kurzweil takes on numer­ous exis­ten­tial ques­tions: What does it mean to be human? How do we face the fact that our loved ones will die? What is the pur­pose of art? And, as Ray asks her at the begin­ning of the mem­oir, what is the mean­ing of life? In her char­ac­ter­is­tic style of play­ing with dif­fer­ent page lay­outs, often for­go­ing tra­di­tion­al comics pan­els and includ­ing full-page bleeds, Kurzweil com­pli­cates these ques­tions and exam­ines the line between sci­ence and art. 

Through­out the mem­oir, Ray seeks to recre­ate his own father’s like­ness through arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence. His attempts to rean­i­mate” his father take on added sig­nif­i­cance when Kurzweil reveals that her pater­nal grand­par­ents, Fred and Han­nah Kurzweil, nar­row­ly escaped the Holo­caust. Ray loads Fred’s archived doc­u­ments into AI soft­ware to cre­ate an immor­tal, robot ver­sion of him. 

Across a two-page spread, Kurzweil illus­trates the icon­ic open­ing scene from the series West­world, includ­ing the play­er piano and the robot Vetru­vian man. The bot­tom of the accom­pa­ny­ing page fea­tures illus­tra­tions of oth­er famous movies — like Blade Run­ner, The Ter­mi­na­tor, and iRo­bot—all of which tack­le the com­pli­cat­ed ques­tion of when a robot becomes human. Kurzweil grap­ples with how AI can repli­cate parts of a per­son but can­not quite cap­ture their essence. For her, art and sto­ry­telling con­tain that ele­ment of soul that eludes AI rean­i­ma­tions.”

Arti­fi­cial also explores Kurzweil’s rela­tion­ship with her part­ner Jacob, who has Mar­fan Syn­drome. While her father search­es for a way to tran­scend death, Kurzweil anx­ious­ly con­fronts the real­i­ty that Jacob’s con­di­tion puts his own longevi­ty at risk. In order to demon­strate the inter­con­nect­ed­ness of her father’s anx­i­eties and her own, she weaves togeth­er four strips of pan­els — two hor­i­zon­tal­ly depict­ing Kurzweil her­self and two ver­ti­cal­ly depict­ing her father. It becomes clear that art and sci­ence both serve as attempts to live beyond the body. 

Faced with her family’s his­to­ry of loss, her father’s desire to bring back the dead, and her own fears about Jacob’s health, Kurzweil con­tin­u­al­ly exam­ines what exact­ly it means to love and be human. Love, she says, is about lis­ten­ing. And in the end, I’m still listening.”

Dr. Megan Reynolds is the Devel­op­ment Man­ag­er for the Nation­al Book Foun­da­tion. Before join­ing the Nation­al Book Foun­da­tion, Megan Reynolds served as the Devel­op­ment Coor­di­na­tor at Jew­ish Book Coun­cil. Megan holds a Ph.D. in Eng­lish from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ore­gon and BA in Eng­lish with minors in Cre­ative Writ­ing and Span­ish from Trin­i­ty Uni­ver­si­ty. She is orig­i­nal­ly from New Mex­i­co and now lives in New York City.

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