Cloud Atlas notes part the fourth

Okay, here are my day four teaching notes for Cloud Atlas. They cover up to and including the “Sloosha’s Crossin'” section. Again, very idiosyncratic. Would really love to know if they mean anything to anyone else.


discussion points

  • finishing last time and adding reading and writing “Sloosha’s Crossin’”
  • coming unstuck in time and history
  • connection between human passing and the desire for immortality

finishing last time and adding reading and writing “Sloosha’s Crossin’”

  • 202: Somni understands herself to be a time traveler
    • she is in the same position we are in
    • she is learning, and we need to learn how to read what she is “writing”
    • most significantly, when WE first “travel” to the future we also get this figure
    • this is the first section in which we see the future imagined and we are here given a figure that allows us to imagine that future
    • we will come in a moment to the idea of being unstuck in time, and we need to keep this figure in mind as we get to that point
    • the time traveler is of singular importance, I think, because it is the first of our figures who, if we are to adopt this role, allows us to do more than read the past, but also to imagine the world to come
    • but we will come back to this point


  • Sloosha’s crossin’
  • this is the first section in which it’s not clear whether we have a text at all
  • there is reading and writing in this world, but the people are only semi-literate (with the exceptions of the Prescients)
  • we seem here to have reached the end of history, where there can be no more recording of what has happened nor can there be any rational explanation for how the world has come to be as it is
    • all past knowledge is confused and corrupted(as with Z’s belief that Sonmi was born of a god named Darwin)
      • and the story itself seems to involve, or at least thematize for us, the revision inherent in the oral form
      • see 242 and the many forms Z might take in the story depending on how he tells it and to whom and when
    • as with what Snowman teachers the Crakers, the past no longer exists as it was, but only as the present imagines it
    • even that which is recorded, such as the orison, does not help for two reasons
      • first, because Zachry et al can’t understand the language most of it comes to them in
      • second, because we know that Sonmi herself had at best an imperfect understanding of history because of the censorship that took place
      • we need only consider the idea that “Ghastly Ordeal” is considered a great film; it almost certainly is not, but how would they know when they have so little to compare it to?
  • so, there is SOME chance that we are reading some form of recorded text, but more like (or at last very plausibly) we are HEARING the story
    • this is, after all, an oral culture
    • in some way, therefore, we have not only gone into the far future, but into the far past
    • this is a culture similar to that which precedes Adam Ewing’s story by both centuries and decades
      • “decades” because it so closely resembles the story of the Maori and the Moriori told in part one (with the Prescients playing the role of the Europeans, albeit a role that is significantly different than that in the first part)
  • we seem to clearly be hearing the story by the time we get to the end of this section, where we are addressed by Zachry’s son
    • although this fact raises as many questions as it answers
    • it never seemed that we were hearing anything but Zachry to this point, meaning that perhaps his story is coming to us via orison
      • addresses a “you” on 240
      • although the way he addresses children on 250 suggests otherwise
      • somewhere else he addresses someone by name
    • and note that, like in the first section we are getting this story second hand perhaps
      • Ewing’s story, as Frobisher notes, might have been edited by his son (or written by his son even)
      • here we meet Z’s son
  • so, again, there is not only a sort of end, but also a sort of beginning
    • in several senses
      • first, this story is about “everythin’ after”
      • we return to a primitive past and then proceed from there
      • we start with a story of Adam, only Adam is lost
      • and note the connection of the name to the first section
      • see 256, where Z sees a turtle with eyes so ancient that the have seen the future
  • in any case, there is some chance that this is not recorded, except in our memories
    • there is no chance of a future reader, only a future listener
    • in some sense, there is no future any more than there is a past
  • so in this section we have a new figure of reading, like the detective and the journalist and the publisher and the time traveler
    • this figure is similar to Adam Ewing
    • we should not call Ewing a shaman
    • rather, he is an educated and enlightened human who demands explanation from the world, who demands that things mean things
    • he sees the boar and the Maori warrior as a hallucination, yes
    • but that is what he expects to see, because he already “knows” about this world
    • what he sees reflects who he is and his frame of reference is determined by his time
  • in this section we have something similar
    • Zachry hallucinates or imagines Old Georgie, for example, in a manner similar to Adam Ewing
    • we would call Zachry savage and Ewing civilized (and note how those two terms become so confused in this section)
    • but when each reads the world they arrive at similar results, even if they start from different places
    • we would scoff at Zachry’s encounters with OG and sympathize with Ewing’s seeing the board and the warrior
      • the latter is an aberration we would say, and the former constitutive
      • but both are the mind seeing in the world some truth that arises according to a way of knowing
      • Ewing “knows” that the danger he faces is from savages
      • Zachry “knows” that he is in the midst of a moral dilemma
  • so we might refer to Zachry as the superstitious person, the superstitious reader, but we should not do so with any pejorative connotation
    • see 244 for example or rotted seed
    • of course, he is correct, but not for the reason he might think
    • it’s not his soul that is rotted, but his body, because the clean nuclear energy promised in the past was either not clean or was put to other uses than those claimed for it
  • and, at least in the context of the novel, these superstitions turn out to be right sometimes
    • see prophecy on page 247
  • also see 258 for Z’s paranoia and bias in his reading


coming unstuck in time and history

  • relates back to our discussion of the time traveler from last time
  • also note connection to Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five
    • a novel that has a certain thematic connection with this
      • mention novel against glaciers
      • Cloud Atlas does not seem to advocate a politics but rather seeks to describe the world
      • or perhaps to describe a way of apprehending the world rather than a course of action for what to do about it
    • this method of apprehension is related to the way that Billy Pilgrim sees the world in SF
  • the importance of this method of seeing the world, of seeing time, cannot be overstated as it is this method that we are dealing with in the novel
    • and it is important to note that we cannot travel through time continuously, seeing all of it
    • we jump between moments
    • we never learn how one world becomes another
    • we are left to “read” the novel and discover connections, connections we cannot know as being simply true or merely coincidence
  • 53: RF comes “unstuck while playing for Ayrs during his audition
  • 76: man is ruined when times change and he does not”
    • connected here to collapse of empires
    • also clearly connected to TC section
  • 79: Ayrs’ dream
    • also cyclical
  • 90: “outa sync”
    • here the idea is made hokey, as part of the New Age-ism of the 1970s
    • does this challenge the rest of the novel?
    • undermine it?
    • demonstrate the way in which some ideas come in and out of fashion, or are treated with more or less respect?
    • is this idea, which is somewhat similar to Nietzsche, made stupid because of who discusses it?
    • is there a difference between Nietzsche and this guru?
    • also see 115: pass over but not gone
  • 168: TC cannot comprehend the world of which he is a part
    • it has passed him by
    • we need not time travel in any literal sense to experience being out of our own time
    • 180: makes this point more literally for us
      • speaks to his younger self
      • refers back to 168 and the many I’s he imagines within himself
      • on literal level, for him, this is a reference to his many years of life
      • for us, it is a reference to the many souls he has been
      • also here a connection to the issue of how language evolves, which is clear from the several sections of the text
  • 219: “Creeds of other worlds”
    • the difference between knowledges is what produces knowledge, perhaps
  • by the end we see that coming unstuck allows us to see, spread out before us, not the precise connections that novels and causality demand, but rather broad patterns of movement, like those of the ocean or the clouds in the sky
    • nothing repeats precisely, but they move
    • the only way to map them is with an atlas, but such a thing is impossible because what it would map is in constant motion
    • see 242 and 168 for connection between Z seeing himself as many and TC seeing same
    • also, both characters seek to speak to the other versions of themselves
    • see also 287
      • connect to TC smoking pot on 170
      • both examples of drug use lead to bad ends (or contribute to them)


connection between human passing and the desire for immortality

  • collapse of society
    • 21: Moriori “over extinction’s brink” and cannot be betrayed
    • 91: the power outage foreshadows the end of society
    • 147: reference to Gibbon
      • 167: Gibbon again, this time on history
      • 218: another reference
    • 206: “disasterman” and “deadland”
    • 271: discussion of the Fall
    • ALSO 272, for reasons why it happened
      • the desire for more is a desire for immortality
      • and note that it’s discussed in the context of hunger, relating us back to the issue of power and the strong eating the weak
    • 303: the relation between savage and civilization
  • desire for immortality
    • always through textuality
    • 43: RF dreams of being greatest composer
      • 65: compromised by being an amanuensis
      • 60: “Quite sobering. People in the future will be studying this music”
    • 81: hankering after immortality
    • 186: the belief of the archivist that there will be historian of the future
      • also note that “historians of the future” can refer to someone who writes a history of what has not yet happened, as with the writer of SF
    • see 234: archivist imagines that corpocracy will not end

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