Monday, August 14, 2017

The Loud Silence of Clocks: Dune Club, Session 5

We now join the previously-scheduled program, already in progress...
  
  
  
  
*****
  
There should be a science of discontent.
  
In this chapter, Jessica and Paul are consigned to the desert by the Baron and Piter.
  
Good chapter, but I don't have much to say about it.

*****

Arrakis teaches the attitude of the knife -- chopping off what's incomplete and saying: "Now, it's complete because it's ended here."

One thing I noticed on this reread -- and it was only my second, notetaking exploration only -- is that we potentially get a bit of light shed on the manner of Duncan Idaho's drunkenness.



While he is trying to surreptitiously get to the 'thopter that will transport Paul and Jessica, he has the following thought: "If Idaho suspects me or grows impatient -- if he doesn't wait and go exactly where I told him -- Jessica and Paul will not be saved from the carnage."

Because I am a mediocre reader, I kind of just rolled right past that initially.  But then I found myself wondering under what circumstances Yueh could have arranged for Idaho to be in a position to help Paul and Jessica without Yueh having revealed something of his plan -- and, therefore, his duplicity -- to Idaho.

Herbert doesn't give us a full answer to that matter, but there's enough for me to extrapolate what seems to be a possible scenario: Yueh has somehow drugged Idaho -- or perhaps paid a woman to do it -- so as to make him seem drunk (this assumes we are still on the night of the banquet); he has then somehow ensured that Idaho would be delivered into his care for treatment, which enables him to put Idaho in a secure location to "sleep" it off; and he then arranges for Idaho to awakenat a time Yueh knows will be after the Atreides have fallen.  Then, I guess he's left some sort of note indicating that Idaho can still save Paul and Jessica if he follows the instructions he has been left.

Is it possible this is verified later in the novel, and I just don't remember it?  Maybe!  We'll see, I guess.

*****

There is a legend that the instant the Duke Leto Atreides died a meteor streaked across the skies above his ancestral palace on Caladan.

Let's stick with the epigraph for a bit.

Do you suppose there's anything to that "legend"?  Nah, me either.  That sort of thing might happen in a fantasy novel, but in this one -- a science-fiction/philosophical drama -- I think we can rule it out.

That being the case, it behooves us to ponder the issue of why this legend exists.  Or, more tantalizingly, why Princess Irulan (in her book A Child's History of Muad'Dib) has created a legend about there being a legend.

It's a simple answer: this is propaganda.  These are appealing lies designed to be more interesting than the truth.  And they are aimed directly at children, it seems.

If you've read at least the first two books in this series, you have an understanding of how chilling this is.  I'm writing this on a weekend that was marked by a deadly clash between white-supremacist protestors and the counter-protestors protesting their protestations.  Lies that some people might call legends are swirling like dandelions on a breeze, and some people would have you believe that the best long-term way to fight in a struggle like this one is to get to the children early and shape the "truth" so as to best ensnare them.

The scary thing is that that might actually be true.  The horrifying thing is that this is increasingly proving to be a nation of children.

"The whole universe sat there," we are told in relation to the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen as this chapter develops, "open to the man who could make the right decisions."

Looking at that, I realize that I'm just not going to be able to operate in my preferred manner tonight.  It's just not in me.  Nevertheless, I do want to press on with at least a few scattered and inadequate thoughts, so let's look at a few things that stood out to me:

  • "And Yueh allowed himself to think now, hearing the loud silence of clocks in his mind."  This is a marvelous, and disturbing, image.  To me, it suggests the knowledge of inevitable and nearby death.
  • "And now, the memory of the false tooth stood out in his mind like a steeple in a flat landscape."  This is a barrenly lovely image from Leto's perspective.  There's a lot of that in this chapter.
  • "See him there, this man who believes he cannot be bought," think the Baron of Leto.  "See him detained there by a million shares of himself sold in dribbles every second of his life!  If you took him up now and shook him, he'd rattle inside.  Emptied!  Sold out!"  Vladimir is incapable of seeing the possibility that a man might give of himself without necessarily having an expectation of receiving a return on that investment.  This is why he is ultimately the loser in this conflict, although his defeat certainly does come at a precipitously high cost.
  • Witness the Duke Leto's death, from the inside:  "His mind was a bin without end, catching everything.  Everything that had ever been: every shot, every whisper, every . . . silence.  One thought remain to him.  Leto saw it in formless light on rays of black: The day the flesh shapes and the flesh the day shapes.  The thought struck him with a sense of fullness he knew he could never explain."  Much of this novel is intensely familiar to me thanks to the sheer number of times I read it earlier in life, but there are still new layers to find beneath those layers of familiarity; and this particular passage had never struck me before.  It struck me quite heavily this time, though.  This was due to the grace of the writing, but also due to the implication that as he dies, Leto enters briefly into a higher form of consciousness that is very like the consciousness his son will soon possess while still living.  Deeply moving stuff here.
  • Iakin Nefud as the Baron sees him: "He looked like some water creature misplaced among those who walked the land."  Now, to be clear, I don't really think that Nefud possesses the Innsmouth Look found in the stories of H.P. Lovecraft; but it sure is fun to pretend.

 
  
*****

O Seas of Caladan,
O people of Duke Leto---
Citadel of Leto fallen,
Fallen forever . . .
  
This chapter is so good that I think it has taken over thirty years for me to really figure it out.  If you'd asked me in 1985 or so what this chapter was about, I'd have told you it was the chapter where Paul sits in a tent for about a hundred years and then starts crying.

We'll get to that in a bit, but the more important thing to note about this chapter is that it is where Paul's multitude of talents and abilities first begin to truly coalesce, as a result of the influence of the spice.

By definition, this is an unknowable thing for us, the audience.  We understand a bit of it via what thoughts of Paul's we are privy to, but the experience of it can only be seen from a distance; we can never get close enough to it to truly see it.  Herbert is masterful in the way he imparts this to us, and it seems to me that a knowledge of the later books in the series -- certainly the second, probably the third, maybe even the fourth, and possibly even the last couple -- is required in order for what happens to Paul here to land fully.  Herbert was playing the long game, and he won.

  • "Abruptly, as though he had found a necessary key, Paul's mind climbed another notch in awareness.  He felt himself clinging to this new level, clutching at a precarious hold and peering about.  It was as though he existed within a globe with avenues radiating away in ALL directions . . . yet this only approximated the sensation.  He remembered once seeing a gauze kerchief blowing in the wind and now he sensed the future as though it twisted across some surface as undulant and impermanent as that of the windblown kerchief."  "The thing was a spectrum of possibilities from the most remote past to the most remote future -- from the most probably to the most improbable."  This would seem to me to be a suggestion that human consciousness -- human experience being a subset of that consciousness -- is a measurable and accessible force, like gravity.  That, in turn, would suggest that the human mind does not create consciousness, but merely accesses it; that it is a energy which exists apart from each individual.  We are renting; we never own.  I don't know that I believe that, nor do I know that Frank Herbert believed it; but it seems to me like this must be the case within the confines of these particular stories, and it's a compelling notion.
  • "You won't believe it until you see it," Paul tells Jessica, who has asked him what he is if he is not the Kwisatz Haderach.  Is he -- and I mean both Paul Atreides and Frank Herbert -- thinking here of the God Emperor?  As far as I can tell, Paul's cryptic answer is never clarified, at least not within this particular novel.  And yet, we know that Herbert had already envisioned elements of the first three books (which he initially planned to tell as a single story).
  • Paul sees two "main branchings" of his future, one in which he confronts the Baron, and one in which a "warrior religion" spreads "across the universe with the Atreides green and black banner waving" at its head.  We never find out what the former path holds, but do know that Paul is sickened by the thought of it.  
  • "He found that he no longer could hate the Bene Gesserit or the Emperor or even the Harkonnens.  They were all caught up in the need of their race to renew its scattered inheritance, to cross and mingle and infuse their bloodlines in a great new pooling of genes.  And the race knew only one sure way for this -- the ancient way, the tried and certain way that rolled over everything in its path: jihad.  Surely, I cannot choose that way, he thought.  But he saw again in his mind's eye the shrine of his father's skull and the violence with the green and black banner waving in its midst."  "And he closed his eyes, thinking: Now, my father, I can mourn you.  And he felt the tears coursing down his cheeks."  As for me, I wonder if it is Leto he cries for, or himself; or, perhaps, the universe.


 *****
  
We will call it a night on that note.  I don't feel like dipping into National Lampoon's Doon would be appropriate, at least not for me.  So we'll catch up with that one next time.
  
Do the right thing out there, folks.  Every chance you get.

2 comments:

  1. Another fine entry!

    I flashed back to when I first read this reading these excerpts and remembered how excited I was by this point in the book. It didn't take much.

    How are your fellow read-along-ers doing with it?

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    Replies
    1. To be honest, I have no idea. I've had zero contact with anyone else who's reading along. Which is fine; I was mainly in for the experience of hearing CBG19 talk about it for a couple of hours every week. And that's been fun, although I'm kind of struggling to keep up in terms of blogging along with it.

      But I think if nothing else, I can toss up some bulletpoints on a weekly basis. I'd like to do more, but that might be the only realistic option.

      As always, though, I'm enjoying spending time with the novel. One of my favorites; that status is being reaffirmed.

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