Sunday, September 3, 2017

She Was Like A Touch of Destiny: Dune Club, Session 8

  
  
Prophecy and prescience -- How can they be put to the test in the face of the unanswered question? 
  
This is the chapter in which Stilgar and the Fremen attempt to take Paul with them while abandoning Jessica.  It's good stuff.  The entirety of the sections covered today are quite memorable, in fact; this joining-with-the-Fremen aspect of the novel was probably always my favorite.
  

  • " 'Well, now, to answer your question, my young wali, I am the one who does not pay the fai, the water tribute, to the Harkonnens,' " says Stilgar to Paul.  This is one of many, many times in this section where Herbert gives us some piece of invented language ("fai") and then immediately has the character who speaks it translate it for us ("the water tribute")  via whomever it is being spoken to.  I enjoy made-up languages in some situations, but I think Herbert leans on it much too heavily here.  Simpler to just tell us what is meant; cleaner that way.  Purer to just tell us the word and not bother with what it means; more honest that way.  It's a difficult position for an author to be in, and while I think Herbert makes a few miscalculations, I certainly don't think it hurts the novel much, if at all.
  • " 'If you can do this to the strongest of us, you're worth ten times your weight of water!'," Stilgar says to Jessica after she bests him.  There are interesting implications in this.  We've learned that the Sardaukar, the fearsome Imperial commandos that are used to keep the Great Houses in line, feel that the Fremen are a dangerous threat that needs to be exterminated.  Stilgar, as leader of what we assume is probably one of the largest sietches of Fremen, must surely be among the most dangerous single Fremen.  Jessica takes him down almost effortlessly.  Consider that; and consider also that we have no reason to believe she is anything more than an average Bene Gesserit.  In other words, what we've learned here is that if they wished to do so, the Bene Gesserit could and would be the most capable band of fighters in the entire Imperium.  This makes Jessica's terse conversation with Hawat all the more impactful in retrospect.
  • " 'Out here, woman, we carry no paper for contracts.  We make no evening promises to be broken at dawn.  When a man says a thing, that's the contract.' "  I love these words Stilgar has for Jessica's doubting his promise.  There are plenty of examples of noble "savages" in science fiction and fantasy who are revealed to hold truth very dear to the heart.  The Klingons and the Dothraki come immediately to mind.  The Fremen are perhaps the cream of the crop in this regard.
  • Chani enters the story here, stalking Paul so as to potentially subdue him.  As Paul sees her face, he is struck with the memory of his prescient glimpses of her: "The familiarity of that face, the features out of numberless visions in his earliest prescience, shocked Paul to stillness."  "She moved like a gazelle, dancing over the rocks.  Paul felt hot blood in his face, was thankful for the darkness.  That girl!  She was like a touch of destiny.  He felt caught up on a wave, in tine with a motion that lifted all his spirits."  Yeah, it's like that some times, I guess.  Love at first sight has a new resonance when you've got prescient abilities, though.


The Illustrated Dune, p. 287 (illustration by John Schoenherr)


*****

The Fremen were supreme in that quality the ancients called "spannungsbogen" -- which is the self-imposed delay between desire for a thing and the act of reaching out to grasp that thing.
  
"Spannungsbogen" is quite possibly gibberish, but it sounds legit enough to me.  It's an interesting concept, at very least.  The implication of the Fremen mastery of this supposed skill is that they would, as a people, likely pass the Bene Gesserit test of humanity; they are not purely beholden to their animal impulses, but are able -- as are the Bene Gesserit in their eons-long genetic quest -- to defer gratification to the next generation, or the next, or the hundredth after that.
  
  • "She thought at first it must be a patrol vehicle, then realized it was a mirage -- another landscape hovering over the desert-sand and a distant wavering of greenery and in the middle distance a long worm traveling the surface with what looked like Fremen robes fluttering on its back."  Jessica soon realizes this was no mirage, and is shocked by the implications.  We'll get plenty more worm-riding later on.
  • Stilgar says, " 'A leader, you see, is one of the things that distinguishes a mob from a people.  He maintains the level of individuals.  Too few individuals, and a people reverts to a mob.' "  It's interesting to consider this idea in light of how the rest of the novel (and series) plays out.
  • This chapter ends with Paul entering an intense prescient experience, triggered by a spice-laden bit of food Chani has given him.  He experiences "the one-eyed vision of the past, the one-eyed vision of the present and the one-eyed vision of the future -- all combined in a trinocular vision that permitted him to see time-become-space."  Herbert gives us a satisfying cliffhanger to go out on: he glimpses the "countless consequences" of the choices he will make within this cave as lines fanning out from the point he is currently at.  Along most of them he sees "his own dead body with blood flowing from a gaping knife wound."

*****

My father, the Padishah Emperor, was 72 yet looked no more than 35 the year he encompassed the death of Duke Leto and gave Arrakis back to the Harkonnens
  
Herbert does not leave us hanging on that cliff for long; this is the chapter in which Paul meets Jamis in combat.  It's a highlight of the novel, in my opinion.
  
  • "Anything could tip the future now, he realized.  Someone coughing in the troop of watchers, a distraction.  A variation in a glowglobe's brilliance, a deceptive shadow.  I'm afraid, Paul told himself."
  • "Variable piled on variable -- that was why this cave lay as a blurred nexus in his path.  It was like a gigantic rock in the flood, creating maelstroms in the current around it."
  • After besting Jamis, Paul picks up not one but two new names: Usul and Muad'Dib.
  • " 'I invoke the rite . . . at sunset when the dark shall cover him.'  Paul, hearing these words, realized that he had plunged once more into the abyss . . . blind time.  There was no past occupying the future in his mind . . . except . . . except . . . he could still sense the green and black Atreides banner waving . . . somewhere ahead . . . still see the jihad's bloody swords and fanatic legions.  It will not be, he told himself.  I cannot let it be."  But, of course, it WILL be.  I remember that, obviously.  What I do not remember is the decision-making process that causes Paul to be unable (unwilling?) to stop it ultimately.  This is because this particular aspect of the novel has never made upon my the impression it's making this time.  It's nice to have a bit of suspense on a reread like this!

*****

God created Arrakis to train the faithful.  
  
That is the entirety of this chapter's epigraph; it is cited from "The Wisdom of Muad'Dib" by the Princess Irulan, and it indicates that at some point, Paul decides to adopt Kynes' prescribed method for Dune: to train its people to treat the ecology and religion as one and the same.
  
In this chapter, we witness the funeral for Jamis, and discover the immense underground reservoirs of water that are being kept for future use.  Though not by any means action-packed, this is another humdinger of a chapter, one that has stuck with me for many years now.
  
  • As Jamis's funeral begins, Jessica directs Paul: " 'Follow their lead; do as they do.  It will be a simple ceremony to placate the shade of Jamis.'  It will be more than that, Paul thought.  And he felt a wrenching sensation within his awareness as though he were trying to grasp some thing in motion and render it motionless."  I am quite struck by the extent to which the perpetually-in-flux nature of Paul's powerful but imperfect prescience hangs over this novel.  Had I simply not paid sufficient attention to this aspect of Herbert's story during my many previous reads?  Had I noticed but simply forgotten?  Or was the concept so powerful that it took me aging into it to begin contending with it?  My money is on a mix of the former and the latter, weighted toward the latter.
  • Much of the funeral involves the "friends of Jamis" claiming various of his personal effects, which makes sense given the waste-not-want-not nature of these people.  It's a sad little collection of artifacts, though: "the pale glistening gray of a stillsuit, a battered literjon, a kerchief with a small book in its center, the bladeless handle of a crysknife," [the blade having been "killed" in a separate part of the ritual, apparently] "an empty sheath, a folded pack," and so forth.
  • Paul knows he must take part in the ritual and pledge himself to have been a "friend of Jamis."  He does so, but with a wrinkle none of the Fremen have ever witnessed: he sheds tears.  "Usul gives moisture to the dead!"  This causes literal awe among the mourners, and they touch his cheek so as to be part of the moment.  "Presently, the hands withdrew.  The funeral ceremony resumed.  But now there was a subtle space around Paul, a drawing back as the troop honored him by a respectful isolation."  This has been a calculated gesture on Paul's part, and the implication is that it is likely a turning point in his legend.  But the way Herbert writes the scene, you can easily read Paul's actions as being not entirely genuine; he is moved to tears possibly more by the thought of Gurney Halleck being dead than by the thought of Jamis's death.  I don't know that I actually read the scene that way; but it is a possibility, and it being a mixture of both is also possible.  Herbert's novel continues to fascinate me in new and unexpected ways.

The Illustrated Dune p. 317 (illustration by John Schoenherr)


  • There is some goofy gibberish in this chapter: " 'Ekkeri-akairi, this is the water, fillissin-follasy of Paul Muad'Dib!  Kivi a-kavi, never the more, nakalas!  Nakelas! to be measured and counted, ukair-an! by the heartbeats jan-jan-jan of our friend . . . Jamis.' "  Uh, okay.
  • I love the moment when Paul asks Chani to hold his water rings for him, and she is startled because this is a courting ritual.  Paul does know this, but has the presence -- or, should I say, the prescience -- of mind to figure it out based on everyone's reaction.
  • "Paul felt Chani's hand on his arm, heard a faint dripping sound in the chill air, felt an utter stillness come over the Fremen in the cathedral presence of water.  I have seen this place in a dream, he thought.  The thought was both reassuring and frustrating.  Somewhere ahead of him on this path, the fanatic hordes cut their gory path across the universe in his name.  The green and black Atreides banner would become a symbol of terror.  Wild legions would charge into battle screaming their war cry: 'Muad'Dib!'  It must not be, he thought.  I cannot let it happen.  But he could feel the demanding race consciousness within him, his own terrible purpose, and he knew that no small thing could deflect the juggernaut.  It was gathering weight and momentum.  If he died this instant, the thing would go on through his mother and his unborn sister.  Nothing less than the deaths of all the troop gathered here and now -- himself and his mother included -- could stop the thing."  Shit.  My mind balks at even attempting to consider what it would be like to live within a moment like that one.
  • The chapter concludes with a sequence of events that struck me forcibly.  After Jamis's water is emptied into the basin, there is a religious-tinged ceremony, complete with chanting ritual.  "Jessica felt the religious ritual in the words," and thinks, "They're in league with the future," clearly as the result of Kynes's training.  "This was a dream to capture men's souls, and she could sense the hand of the ecologist in it."  She thinks that this is what her son needs; they "could be wielded like a sword to win back Paul's place for him."  A few sentences later, "Paul, walking behind Chani, felt that a vital moment had passed him, that he had missed an essential decision and was now caught up in his own myth."  And "the wild jihad still loomed ahead of him."  He uses the baliset he, as a friend of Jamis, now owns, and sings a love song to Chani.  Jessica wonders why he would do this.  Meanwhile, "Paul sat silently in the darkness, a single stark thought dominating his awareness: My mother is my enemy.  She does not know it, but she is.  She is bringing the jihad.  She bore me; she trained me.  She is my enemy."

That is where Herbert ends this chapter, and it is that chapter we end this session on.

Well, except for this:


 

Ellis Weiner was clearly struck, as I was, by the ramped-up use of gobbledygook in Herbert's writing during the Fremen sections.  He steers into this, and I will spare you the results.  This is not to say that I didn't get some laughs out of it; I did.
  
  • There's some pretty good stuff involving Pall drinking beer -- this novel's analogue for spice, as you may recall -- for the first time and getting buzzed.  Weiner has a lot of fun turning tying a buzz on into Herbert-esque flighty language.  It's not quite good enough for me to want to transcribe it here, given the amount of time the passage would take.  So you'll just have to take my word for it, or not, as the case may be.  It all culminates in Pall having a "vision" of himself stripping off his clothes while singing and then passing out after vomiting.
  • Jamis Janis accuses Pall of being a "documentarist" from the "Pahdedbrah Broadcasting System," and challenges him to a duel.  An insult duel, to be specific.  Janis loses, and wanders out into the wastes to "give his meat to Schmai-gunug."  
  • Pall is given two Fremen names: Assol and Mauve'Bib, the former of which is inifinitely more delightful to me than the latter.

My prescienct memory tells me that the majority of nexus-points lead to us doing this again in seven days.  If they turn out to be wrong, see you when I see you.

4 comments:

  1. (1) That one sequence you quoted where Paul sees the infinite paths before him but principally the space-jihad under his own banner has stuck with me, too, since reading this. This whole squences, actually. I can even remember the specific train ride, weirdly, where I read this. Few "wrestling with his destiny chosen one" sequences come off as powerfully as this one, I think.

    (2) I'm not sure I get "Mauve'Bib." What am I mising?

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    1. (2) Not a thing. I think Weiner just tried to find something that sounded like "Muad'Dib," and that's what he came up with. Pretty lame, really.

      (1) It's something else, especially given where the sequels go.

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  2. I'm a bit late to this review (apologies) but the Jamis chapters contain one of my biggest WTF moments of the book.

    When fighting Jamis, repeated mention is made of the fact that Paul's shield-training means that he is quick on defence, slow on offence. This is spelled out in Paul's internal monologue, and the observations of Stilgar and Jessica.

    After Paul's victory, Stilgar scornfully mentions that Paul 'toyed' with Jamis by not killing him. Rather than mentioning the reasonable and practical point about the shield-training, both Paul and Jessica instantly (and without any foreshadowing) shift into a justification about Paul being reluctant to kill a man. This is particularly jarring when just a few chapters ago, Paul had been suitably ruthless about killing one of the Harkonnen guards in facilitating their escape.

    Sorry for the rant, but it always bugged me.

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    1. Yeah, I can see that. I think the idea is that killing in self-defense (like with the guard) is a different matter than hand-to-hand combat. My argument would be that once you're in that position, that, too, is merely self-defense.

      I can live with it, but I agree: it doesn't work as well as it might have.

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