Monday, August 21, 2017

The Undemanding Emptiness of Her Words: Dune Club, Session 6

Let's dive right in.
When my father, the Padishah Emperor, heard of Duke Leto's death and the manner of it, he went into such a rage as we had never before seen. 
  • Toward the beginning of this chapter, which finds Paul and Jessica (pardon the pun) still inside the tent, Paul flies into a quiet sort of rage while pondering "the very substance of this planet which had helped kill his father."  Jessica makes a bland comment about having heard the storm that raged outside between chapters.  Paul's calm is partially restored by the "undemanding emptiness of her words."  I was struck by this phrase and could not immediately identify why.  I think it has to do with the notion that Paul's mind has become so incredibly active, so freighted with import, that a simple and unambiguous observation brings him back -- if only for a moment -- down to a level of base humanity.  (I don't necessarily mean "humanity" in the Bene Gesserit sense, of course.)  Paul is losing his ability to live merely within a single moment, and Jessica's statement keeps him there, if only briefly.
  • Jessica has had a dream about Leto: "She had held dreaming hands beneath sandflow where a name had been written: Duke Leto Atreides.  The name had blurred with the sand and she had moved to restore it, but the first letter filled before the last was begun.  The sand would not stop."  This is a fairly obvious bit of symbolism, and in my experience, dreams rarely work on so obvious a level.  Do I care about this?  Nope, not really.  It's a compelling thing to imagine Jessica dreaming. 
  • The dream culminates in Jessica hearing the wailing of a "woman not quite visible to memory" as she departs in some way.  Part of her mind realizes that this is "her own voice as a tiny child, little more than a baby."  I wonder if instead this is the first stirrings of consciousness from Alia, who may be already affected by the omnipresence of the spice just as Paul is.
  • "For now is my grief heavier than the sands of the seas," Jessica thinks.  "This world has emptied me of all but the oldest purpose: tomorrow's life."  Jessica seems almost to be channeling Gurney Halleck here in her florid thoughts.  I don't necessarily think this is an accident on Herbert's part; the connection implies to me that Gurney's entire existence in this novel is the result of his having been emptied in similar fashion earlier in life.  He has devoted his existence to fighting the Harkonnens, and his method of doing so is by assisting tomorrow's Atreides lives.  And today's, of course, but always with an eye on tomorrow's.
  • Herbert gives us some lovely descriptions of seeing enemy ornithopters in the distance, carving up the desert floor with lasguns in an attempt to find and kill the needles-in-haystacks that are Jessica and Paul.  There is a great deal of lovely writing in this chapter; far too much to list.

The Illustrated Dune p. 208 (illustration by John Schoenherr)
My father once told me that respect for the truth comes close to being the basis for all morality
Huh.  Well, there's a thought whose currency has devalued in the last little while.  Or maybe it's just as strong as always, just less likely to get spent.  The rest of this epigraph is worth checking out, too, but let's not dwell on it; that way lies madness these days.
This chapter reaffirms my belief that it's essential to reappraise beloved works every so often.  Sometimes, they turn out to be even better than you'd previously considered.  Such is the case with Dune, and specifically with this chapter, in which Hawat and a small band of surviving Atreides soldiers hole up temporarily with a Fremen man.  Hawat is astonished by the competence of the Fremen, and Herbert communicates that astonishment quite capably.  It doesn't end well for them, though.
Great chapter, and one that I'd never really taken much notice of.  
For example, I'd totally forgotten this:
The Fremen stroked the bat, soothing it, crooning to it.  He bent over the animal's head, allowed a drop of saliva to fall from his tongue into the bat's upturned mouth.  The bat stretched its wings, but remained on the Fremen's opened hand.  The man took a tiny tube, held it beside the bat's head and chattered into the tube; then, lifting the creature high, he threw it upward.
This is utterly fascinating to me, and while it might seem as though training a bat to be able to carry messages via chittering is ridiculous, I'd point out that the demands of an ecology drive the outcomes of evolution.  (I think.  That sounds logical.  I'm no scientist, Doc!  Don't hold it against me if I got it wrong!)  So would it be possible for humans to adopt as servant pets tiny bats who rely on them for moisture?  Yeah, absolutely, given enough time and the proper environment.  I've got two miniature lions sleeping on an armchair behind me right now, so why not spit-loving bats?
The Illustrated Dune p. 218 (illustrated by John Schoenherr)
Muad'Dib could indeed see the Future, but you must understand the limits of this power. 
Best known in my memory as the chapter in which Duncan Idaho dies.
Say, remember a moment ago when I mentioned "two miniature lions" sleeping behind me?  One of those cats is named Duncan Idaho.  I was rereading the novel in 2001 when I took in a stray cat.  I felt bad on account of him having had his front claws removed, so I took him in and, based on the incompetent ferocity with which he fought my roommate's would-be butt-sniffer of a dog, named him Duncan Idaho.
Here he is, stirred from a satisfying slumber to pose for a photo for you good folks just now:
He loves to sleep on a damn plastic Walmart bag, I'll say that much for him.  The sleeper has awoken!
This chapter is initially focused on Paul negotiating an alliance with Kynes.  He's got a good plan: using Kynes to help him get in a position from which he can more or less assume the mantle of Emperor.  The other great houses of the Landsraad would unite behind him in outrage over what has happened to Leto Atreides, and from there, Paul would negotiate a marriage with one of Shaddam's daughters.  If we've been paying attention, we might at this point remember that most of the epigraphs have been written by Irulan, one of those daughters . . . who seems to know Paul quite well.
Expectations are quickly subverted, however, when a Sardaukar attack interrupts Paul's negotiations with Kynes.  Paul and Jessica have to flee again, and as they do, the following passage occurs:
Paul nodded, fighting an abrupt reluctance to move.  He knew its cause, but found no help in the knowledge.  Somewhere this night he had passed a decision-nexus into the deep unknown.  He knew the time-area surrounding them, but the here-and-now existed as a place of mystery.  It was as though he had seen himself from a distance go out of sight down into a valley.  Of the countless paths up out of that valley, some might carry a Paul Atreides back into sight, but many would not.
The powerful implications of prescience have never struck me as forcefully as they are striking me on this read.  I'm not sure I ever really understood the fact that it is a limited and imperfect prescience; that element certainly adds a lot to the narrative.
I'd intended to pick up where we left off with National Lampoon's Doon, but the sections I read this week were uninspiring.  The best bit involved Pall and Jazzica in the orthodontothopter using this novel's version of the Voice to get themselves free.  It's essentially a variant on commanding people with words like "Get out of the kitchen!" and being so annoying about it that people want to do whatever you say just to shut you up.
Not great.
Better luck next week, maybe!


  1. Duncan Idaho is a fine name for a cat. (And a handsome little fella to boot.)

    "He loves to sleep on a damn plastic Walmart bag, I'll say that much for him. The sleeper has awoken!"

    That cracked me up.

    Some great excerpts here for sure. Looking forward to the next chapter.

  2. The bits with the 'give the pretzels them' and 'he would be killed, and the killer would be killed until no one was left in the universe. 'that would be terrible!!' thought Jazzica' are funny.

    Loving the blog!

    1. Thanks!

      CBG19 is doing "Dune Messiah" this summer, so I'll probably get Dune Club cranked up again. No National Lampoon's sequel to go along with it, sadly (?).