Namwali Serpell

David Getman died in a traffic accident on August 25, 2014. A month earlier David, my student at UC Berkeley, submitted his undergraduate senior thesis, a beautiful work that drew together his ideas about Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, a Jorie Graham Poem, “The Geese,” and the art installations of Felix Gonzalez-Torres. I have attempted to collect the words about Never Let Me Go that David sent to me in draft form between January and July, and then in the final thesis. I hope to publish this mosaic of his thoughts on the novel as a stand-alone piece; his second reader, Stephen Best, and I will do the same for his readings of Gonzalez-Torres.

We have rearranged David’s prose and only occasionally modified it. Given the depth and accord of our intellectual relationships with him over the last year of his life, I believe David would have approved these changes, as well as the effort to release into the world a potentially inaccurate, and necessarily incomplete account of his thoughts. Of the comments that we sent to him on his thesis, David wrote “they thrillingly perform its ethos of collective (mis)recognition as art in and of itself,” concluding that “for me the key to making art is realizing that ‘a finished thing’ can only be sensed collectively, and so how are we to know when our work is done?”

Our effort to publish David’s work is a testament to our faith in his brilliance. It is also an act of mourning, a last offer to him as his teachers, as his guardians. To apply some words from his thesis to his own works of art: “In Never Let Me Go, the teachers of Hailsham are called ‘guardians.’ The euphemism is a productive misrecognition of acculturation as guardianship. The etymology of ‘guarding’ is in ‘caring’ and the roots of ‘care’ are in grief and sorrow. So we can appreciate ‘culture’ as a process of caring and a grieving. The aura of this art object is heavenly. Here we can grieve safely, knowing that our deficiencies will be restored.”