note from Ray | Short story and new book by my daughter, graphic novelist Amy Kurzweil, exploring human identity
September 27, 2016
Here for your enjoyment is the short story “The Greatest Story Ever Written,” written by my daughter, Amy Kurzweil. Her fiction here is influenced by Eugene Ionesco’s play Rhinoceros, although less ominous.
Amy starts her story with this quote from the play from Ionesco: “After all, perhaps it is we who need saving. Perhaps we are the abnormal ones.”
My daughter is a graphic novelist, cartoonist, teacher and fiction author. Her short story is linked below.
Amy is passionate about helping young adults to thrive through education and is committed to youth enrichment in the arts and sciences. She’s taught in public school for many years, and mentors young adults to explore new talents.
Amy is interested in the future of expression — how do people cope with emotion, memory and perception? How do unreal environments, like virtual reality, become visceral, where story crafts reality? She is currently lecturing on writing and the art of the modern graphic novel at The New School, Parsons School of Design and the State University of New York, Fashion Institute of Technology.
The website Dr. Doctor is a reading series featuring literary fiction, nonfiction, poetry and art. Amy has a regular cartoon column on the site called Gutter Face. She was interviewed by website hosts Sam Farahmand and Luke Wiget on their weekly podcast.
Amy’s first graphic novel is being published by Catapult Books / Black Balloon Publishing in October 2016 and is now available for pre-order on Amazon.
about the book | Flying Couch, Amy Kurzweil’s debut, tells the stories of 3 unforgettable women. Amy weaves her own coming-of-age as a young Jewish artist into the narrative of her mother, a psychologist — and Bubbe, her grandmother, a World War II survivor who escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto by disguising herself as a gentile.
Captivated by Bubbe’s story, Amy turns to her sketchbooks, teaching herself to draw as a way to cope with what she discovers.
Entwining the voices and histories of these 3 wise, hilarious, and very different women, Amy creates a portrait not only of what it means to be part of a family, but also of how each generation bears the imprint of the past.
A re-telling of the inherited Holocaust narrative now two generations removed, Flying Couch uses Bubbe’s real testimony to investigate the legacy of trauma, the magic of family stories, and the meaning of home.
With her playful, idiosyncratic sensibility, Amy traces the way our memories shape who we become. The result is this bold illustrated memoir.
book tour | calendar
Also, 3 of her cartoons — all on themes of science & tech — were recently published in The New Yorker magazine.
Amy Kurzweil | my 1st cartoon in The New Yorker : “3 Google cars — self-driving, self-conscious, self-actualized”
Amy Kurzweil | my 2nd cartoon in The New Yorker : “Kind of makes you feel large and significant, doesn’t it?”
Amy Kurzweil | my 3rd cartoon in The New Yorker : “Robot cat passes the Turing test”
The Toast | The Greatest Story Ever Written: short story by Amy Kurzweil
Dr. Doctor | main
Dr. Doctor | Gutter Face: cartoon column by Amy Kurzweil
Dr. Doctor | podcast: Luke Wiget talks with resident cartoonist, author Amy Kurzweil
On the podcast Amy explained, “The gutter in comics is the white space between the illustrations, in the margins of the paper. Scott McCloud, who’s a very well known comics theorist talks about the gutter as the space between the panels in comics.
“It’s the place where your imagination takes hold as a reader, because it’s where you’re linking things together. In comics, the gutter is where you read between the lines and make connections. I guess I don’t use a lot of panels in my comics. I like to have all my drawings in the gutter. And every once in a while a panel is used strategically.
“So I like this idea of something to do with gutters. Something I had to learn painfully as an artist is how many ideas I can have, and how few of them actually turn into something worth reading or writing. My father, Ray Kurzweil, is an inventor, and my brother works in business also. And my grandfather was a business owner.
“I grew up with this mantra that, first of all, all you need is one good idea. Even though you might have a million, all you need is one. And also, the idea is not so much what’s important but how you execute it. Because there are so many people who have ideas. How you make it work is what counts.
“I write short comics, and then I wrote a long book, like a graphic memoir, I also write fiction. A lot of times, things come to me late at night on the subway, something is really inspiring but you don’t really know why. I get that feeling for a project and it will crystallize into a vague end product in my mind, like a dream. You know the feeling when you wake up from a dream, when you can’t quite articulate it but it leaves this impression on you.”
In her interview with Hobart Amy Kurzweil said, “Memory doesn’t function like a film reel. It functions like a comic strip — a series of snapshots. I grew up in Boston, my personal history includes the inherited experiences of multiple generations. In my short story, the narrator journeys to the Holy Land with a 34 frame, disposable camera.
“In the era of comprehensive digital documentation, it’s a significant decision. The concept of memory is working in this story, through the snapshot symbolism.
“The protagonist is struggling with many things: her own identity, the concept of meaning, connection to others. I think memory is, in many ways, what makes us who we are. Overlapping personal memory and cultural memory is part of what makes us feel close to others.
“So if we take these snapshots as a metaphor for memory, and we take memory to be something that shapes our identities, the protagonist documenting her trip is making her heritage a part of her identity.
“Photographs as curated memory is interesting. It’s like when you don’t know whether or not you remember experiencing something or if you just remember seeing the photograph of it. Memory is often replaced by our documentation of it,” Amy Kurzweil concluded.
My own work in artificial intelligence has examined issues like identity, consciousness, memory and what it means to be human. So much of our human experience is sensory, and sensory information is data. Could humans transfer their experiences to each other like data? Or to a virtual person? Could an AI develop personal identity and cultural memory naturally? If humans started living mostly in virtual environments, immersed in experiences that are digital or synthetic, will those memories feel the same as real reality?
I hope you enjoy Amy’s creations as much as I have!
— Ray Kurzweil
Virginia Commonwealth University: Blackbird | This Is a Love Story: short story by Amy Kurzweil
Washington + Lee University: Shenandoah | A List of Names for Our First Born Child: short story by Amy Kurzweil
Hobart | What We Take with Us: short story by Amy Kurzweil
Washington Square Review | Quantum Theory and the Entanglement of Oolong: short story by Amy Kurzweil
about | Amy Kurzweil
Amy Kurzweil is an emerging cartoonist, graphic novelist and fiction writer. She graduated with a Masters in writing from The New School.
She was Norman Mailer Fellow for fiction writing. Her graphic memoir Flying Couch was her graduate thesis. Her short fiction has been published in Shenandoah, Hobart, Blackbird, The Toast and Washington Square.
Her comics have appeared in Hot Street and Short, Fast & Deadly, and weekly with Dr. Doctor. Her graphic memoir Flying Couch will be published in October 2016 by Black Balloon Publishing, an imprint of Catapult Books.
Amy Kurzweil teaches writing and comics at The New School, Parsons School of Design and the Fashion Institute of Technology.
Her studies reflect on integrative approaches to life that relate to human awareness, memory, perception in virtual environments, and personal experiences through the lens of shifting identity and situations.
Her concepts interact with future studies. She touches on new ways of sensing reality — including through virtual or augmented reality — and she considers difficult questions. What is human identity and where does it come from? How are memories created and why? How is experience interpreted?
The New School, Parsons School of Design — Integrative Seminar | taught by Amy Kurzweil, lecturer
This is a class taught by Amy Kurzweil. She explores the goals and texture of new media in modern times. Here is an outline of the lecture series:
Avatar — Avatar has two distinct meanings. In Hinduism and Buddhism, it means the physical appearance of a god. Online, it means a picture of a person or an animal that represents a particular user. How do both definitions describe an identity that is distinct from the original and yet intensely connected to it at the same time?
Memory — Memory is an action or process of commemorating, recollecting, or remembering a person, object or event. How do these actions and processes shape identity and our understanding of the world?
Fake — Fake describes something that is not what it appears to be. Counterfeit bags, forged money, stage names, mockumentaries, pranking, the list goes on. But how do we define what is real and what is fake? Could something fake actually be more powerful, more authentic, than truth?
Shift — To shift means to move from one place, or one thing, to another. Many of you have firsthand experience with this kind of movement — from one place to another, from one set of ideas to another, from one story to another. What are your stories of shifting? How do these shifts come to pass? How do we talk about them through our work?
Original courses on comics and memory | created and taught by Amy Kurzweil, lecturer
The following are her original courses:
State University of New York, Fashion Institute of Technology — The Graphic Novel
Students read works of the comics medium with an eye to their literary qualities, their complexity, their creative use of this age old form. How has form and content in these works evolved over time? How is the form of a given book working? How can we borrow techniques from these authors for our own artistic practice?
The New School, Parsons School of Design — Comics and Memory
Students explore the unique way comics map memory in order to tell stories about the past. Students will learn and borrow the graphic storytelling techniques of non-fiction comic masters. Students read, analyze and imitate writers. They look at the impact, intended or otherwise, of the comics — what effect does the relaying of memory have on the writers’ own lives and on the world around them?
Beginning with individual memory, moving to familial memory, through cultural memory, and finally to global memory. How, why, and to what effect is memory documented by these graphic masters, and how can we use their techniques for our own remembered stories?
Gutter Face and Philosopher’s Diet | by Amy Kurzweil, cartoonist
Amy Kurzweil’s savvy comics laugh at modern and historical theories in her series Philosopher’s Diet, published on her website. Her cartoon column Gutter Face is published on the popular literary website Dr. Doctor. She was also featured in The Huffington Post. She was also recently had her comics published in The New Yorker magazine.
Notes on the comics below. Readers who love physics will appreciate the witticism in her comic “The Adventures of Schrodinger’s Cat,” which pokes fun at the thought experiment devised by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935. His experiment illustrates what he saw as a classic problem of quantum mechanics applied to everyday objects.
Her comic below, “Darwin’s Diet” is a modern day survival of the fittest. To understand “Zeno’s Diet” look up this famous Greek philosopher known for his paradoxes that have puzzled, challenged, influenced, inspired, infuriated, and amused philosophers, mathematicians, and physicists for over two millennia!
For “Turing’s Diet” look up computer scientist Alan Turing, and his Turing test, designed to probe whether a synthetic, artificial intelligence can act as human as a real person. These complex scientific mysteries are hot topics of debate in the mainstream right now.
— Ray Kurzweil
about | Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco
Wikipedia | Rhinoceros is a play by Eugene Ionesco, written in 1959. The play belongs to the school of drama known as Theater of the Absurd. Over three acts, the inhabitants of a small, provincial French town turn into rhinoceroses.
The only human who doesn’t succumb to mass metamorphosis is Berenger, a flustered character who is criticized for his drinking.
The play is a criticism of the sudden upsurge of Communism, Fascism and Nazism during the events preceding World War II. It explores conformity, culture, mass movements, philosophy and morality.
The Theatre of the Absurd were plays of absurdist fiction written by many playwrights in the late 1950s, and the style of theater that evolved from their work.
Their stories showed what happens when human existence has no purpose and all communication breaks down. Logic gives way to irrational speech and finally to silence.
Ask Ray | Future artificial intelligence acceptance or fear: with Amy Kurzweil
Ask Ray | Supporting women in the sciences and technology: with Amy Kurzweil
Women at the Frontier | Ray Kurzweil interviewed by daughter Amy Kurzweil
Dr. Doctor | An interview with doctor Amy Kurzweil, as conducted by doctor Sam Farahmand, in which they talk all things: Gutter Face, her weekly comic featured on Dr. Doctor, ambience and the pronunciation of ambience, comics in general, meta-fiction in meta-general, the comic writer’s life, Sam’s encounter with Dame Claire Dames, and Amy’s forthcoming graphic memoir Flying Couch.