Even more notes on Cloud Atlas

So these are the day three notes, but SHHH: day three is actually tomorrow.

discussion points

  • more on textuality: the issue of cohesion
  • evolving subjects of reading and writing
    • this will lead us to a discussion of the time traveler and our discussion for next time
  • next time
    • unstuck in time and history
    • human passing and immortality
  • after break
    • evolving ideas (humanity, power, money, etc) across the novel’s parts

more on textuality: cohesion and reading

  • start with page 234, where Somni describes how the past and future are like and not like one another
    • see also 235: “time is the speed at which the past decays”
  • as we discussed, the does not follow a consistent plot nor does it concern itself with consistent characters
    • Sixsmith is the only character to “appear” in more than one time period, although he does not actually appear in the RF sections
    • he does make himself felt by loaning RF money though
  • it achieves its consistency in other ways
    • this goes beyond the fact that each section is “read” by the subsequent sections, whether as fiction or non fiction
    • it also goes beyond the many thematic connections we discussed last week, including those of
      • the strong and the weak
      • slavery
      • violence
      • the cycle of history
      • knowledge (empirical vs. intuitive or mystical/spiritual/magical)
      • the human and its passing (decline and decadence)
      • chance
      • textuality
  • beyond any of this, we see many small connections amongst the many sections
  • these connections are not really on the level of plot (with one or two exceptions, perhaps), as they are rarely part of any real concern for the characters who mention them (who seem oblivious to how these moments connect us to other parts of the novel)
  • for example
    • we have the Cloud Atlas Sextet and frequent references to “Sextet Break” in the Somni section (although what the connection is remains unclear, and that is part of the point)
      • jazz sextet on 147
    • we see a reference to a newer, safer nuclear reactor in the Somni section (
    • references to the birthmark
      • RF: 85
      • Luisa: 122
      • Somni: 198
    • 96: Sixsmith knows Luisa for years
    • 120: Luisa’s “memories”
    • 147: reference to Gibbon
      • again on page 218
    • 163: criss-crossing our tracks
    • 168: Koreans and cloning (in the TC section)
      • this one seems to have most to do with the plot, although this is not exactly true
      • TC only mentions it
      • more, we still don’t know whether any of this is real, so it could be made up here and in the Somni section, or real in one OR the other, or real in both
    • 177: the reference to Soylent Green is relevant
  • also note the ways we do NOT get connectivity
    • Ayrs dreams of Papa Song’s (and note the name “song”)
      • but we do not “hear” this music there, as Somni could not be aware of the provenance of the music
      • it’s therefore not clear whether the music IS there or not
      • sense would say that it would be impossible
      • the way that novel’s function, however, would demand that it does happen
    • the archivist mentions that “coincidences happen”
      • page 198
      • the question is whether we have “mere coincidence” or something else
    • for example, Somni mentioning the nuclear reactor seems entirely unaware that a nuclear reactor is a major part of the Luisa Rey story
      • see 231
  • more importantly, we never get EXPLANATION for how we become what we are or how the world becomes as it is
    • 229: Somni returns to Papa Song’s
    • she is looking for a key to what she is
    • she is looking for origin
    • but she discovers that you cannot go home again, and the past does not explain what you have become
      • or at least no single moment in the past does
    • this is related to the issue in the novel of how the world becomes the way that it does
      • there is no simple explanation and the novel does not suggest in one section how the world becomes like it is in the next
      • it only suggests that there are relationships
    • see 230
  • we have here a sort of tension between design or structure on the one hand and chance or chaos on the other
    • this tension is between MEANING (which is what humans create) and MEANINGLESSNESS
    • on one side, we would say that meaning can only come from intention, which is designed and structured
    • but, we would also say that too much structure leads to contrivance
      • and too much contrivance is not “natural”
    • what the novel explores here is the question of whether any novel is intentionally meaningful or whether its meaning is a product (at least in part) of our practices of READING it, of looking for the connections amongst various parts that have only conventional and accidental relationships with one another rather than natural relationships
      • we say that meaning is not natural
      • nature has no meaning
      • but at the same time, we can’t admit that meaning is entirely constructed, because that would undermine authority whose power is based on that construction
    • see page 206 where Wing suggests that fabricants are perhaps more capable of learning than humans, because they can be designed that way
      • what is natural is not necessarily “better”
      • although, of course, the fact that humans are “natural” here is what allows them to enslave the fabricants

evolving subjects of reading and writing

  • each section of the text involves not only our interpretation, but also calls into question the act of interpretation itself
    • we must address the question of whether what we are getting is MEANINGFUL or mere coincidence
    • recognizing, of course, that this question has a very different meaning when we recognize that the text is wholly fiction
  • each section of the text involves someone who is reading and writing the world, and in each case we get a different sort of figure of reading and writing
  • see page 19
    • here we have a moment when we are forced to ask whether the connections we are seeing are real
    • this is the problem of reading
    • and here we have a novel that thematizes textuality
    • and by that I mean that this is a novel that challenges the idea that novels are cohesive
      • why do we assume that other novels are cohesive?
      • because they follow characters who have the same names over the course of the novel?
      • does not Oryx and Crake demonstrate that characters change?
      • don’t we change?
      • are we the same people?
      • what is it that gives us cohesion?
      • this novel taunts us with things that suggest cohesion, but ultimately may be mere red herrings
  • see page 59: detective work
    • the detective is one of the great figures of readership in modern literature
    • will be even more important when we come to Mieville
    • difference between modern and postmodern
      • modern detective was never unsure of WHAT THE TEXT IS
      • that is, always knew that he must read, and always sure of what must be read
      • here, we are sure we must read and therefore interpret, but not clear what text we are reading
      • see 64 again: question of authenticity
  • 99: here the detective becomes the journalist
    • what is true is no longer modern, no longer a question of an authoritative or definitive truth
    • rather, now it’s a question of whether enough people believe in truth
    • note the connection here with Unanimity and Media in the far future, where access to the past is denied making it impossible for people to refute the official version of things
      • note connection to Hitler and the big lie
      • also note the reference to Orwell in Somni section
      • see 211
    • also see: 133: panning for gold; Truth is the gold
    • 137: distinguishing traps from opportunities
  • 145: now the detective IS a reader and TC is an editor
    • reminiscent of Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler… which is a literary detective story the main character of which is YOU, the reader
    • of course, we are well aware here the TC is the writer (or so we think)
    • and this connection amongst reader, writer, and text is important
    • TC let’s us know on the first pages of his text that he is given to exaggeration,
      • see 146
    • we thus must question what we are getting from him
    • he is also an editor
      • see 150; note his hatred of the sort of text we are reading
      • also note that what he hates in others he tolerates in himself, again calling into question whether we can trust him
      • also points to why, at least at this point, the rest of the novel does not ring true (as in RF’s statement)
      • he may be the editor of the whole thing, from a position in time roughly contemporaneous with Mitchell publishing the novel
    • 152: he is also a publisher, one who runs what is more or less a vanity press
      • he has little scruple about publishing crap, so long as he gets paid for it
  • Somni section
    • 202: replacing the memoirist is the archivist
      • and we will see that the archivist is not the one whose immortality is assured by the act of archiving,
      • just as Ayrs fails to live for 45 more years, the archivist will not be remembered for what he has recorded
      • the problem of authorship and attribution is deep
      • WE would recognize Somni as being part author, but the archivist cannot of course because she is less than human
      • she has no soul and can possess nothing
    • but perhaps more important here is that we have, replacing the reader, the notion of the time traveler
    • see 211: how difficult to think like these thinkers
      • and is the Washington text here a red herring?
      • or is it a corruption of some other text?
      • mis-attributed?
    • 219: “Creeds of other worlds”
      • the difference between knowledges is what produces knowledge, perhaps
    • see 234: the problem of historical discourse for power
      • this is the necessity of being a time traveler
      • understand the past and imagine the future
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