Last set of Cloud Atlas Notes

These are even more scattered than previous ones. They are the leftovers, notes I took as the reading progressed with an eye towards future lectures. We never did get to these lectures, for one reason or another. I missed a class and had a colleague sub for me, so there’s that. Then we spent the last class having a discussion of whether the novel is pessimistic or optimistic. Hard to say, as one ending (the chronological one) reads to me as very pessimistic and the other ending (the novelistic one) is much more positive. Of course, Ewing doe snot know what is in store for the human race. One student pointed out that, of course, there are more than just two endings, so it’s hard to say this split is real. Oh well, at least I got to trot out my pet theory about how people generally like happy endings (especially those that are earned), but they tend to believe sad endings. Of course, the question at the end of the novel is belief, something I am intrigued with lately after reviewing Stiegler’s Uncontrollable Societies of Disaffected Individuals, but I can’t get past my irrational feeling that the whole question is hokey, not unlike some of Cloud Atlas.


connection between human passing and the desire for immortality

  • major point: these two issues are connected
    • one seems to drive the other
    • they each seem to drive each other

  • 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


past: close and far

  • 123: 1968 is far from 1975
    • also: narcolepsy and remembrance
  • 137: daughters might live in a liberated world
    • they will, but only certain ones
    • at the expense of others who are slaves


evolving notions of money

  • 155: credit and limits
  • 156: bankers laughing in your face
  • crimes committed by executives with pens: 162
  • note that Souls, what money is associated with (classist) for Somnia, related to the issue of the transmigration of souls
    • also related to the evolving notion of what it means to be human
    • to be human is to possess a soul
    • but in the future (or our present, as Somni implies when she watches the film of TC’s life), we are human to the extent that we are able to consume
    • see 209
  • on souls, see 304 and 302
    • souls here have currency, but more in the sense of karma rather than dollars
    • what’s the difference?


evolution of language and different voices

  • we have seen the difficulty of language and voice in the Ewing section
  • but also note certain terms, most obviously “amanuensis” in RF section
    • bespeaks education, something that Somni initially lacks it would seem
    • RF knows a word for a very particular kind of thing, something so particular and so specific to a certain period and way of life that she cannot know this thing
    • after all, there is no more need of an amanuensis in her time
    • the archivist uses a machine to do his recording for him
    • technology replaces human labor
  • Words in Somni section
  • some words are proper nouns that have become common, replacing older generic words
    • other words are formerly common but have now become proper
      • Soul, for example
      • 196: Media as well, which seems to now refer to a single entity and not simply “things” or the various media
  • other examples
    • seer (185): related to issue of slavery
    • orison (189): first use, beyond title of section
    • sony (192): a computer or other viewing device
    • nikon (196): a verb meaning to take a photo
    • judasing (196): betraying
      • related to the religious theme of corpocracy
      • a word that still has some meaning in Sloosh’as: 258
    • nike (212): sneakers
    • kodak (213): photo
    • starbuck (227): coffee or other caffeinated drink
    • disney (mentioned earlier, but see 235): movies
  • 188: to our ears, Yoona’s sentences filled with words that meant nothing


evolution of what it means to be human

  • 188: ascension of the fabricants
  • 192: existential questions from Somni
    • signify ascension and are a quality of what it means to be human, according to at least one definition
    • contrast ascension with orientation
    • we might connect this issue with how Kant defines Enlightenment
  • Somni discusses coming to sentience: 198
    • compare with the unascended: 199
    • we might compare them to the Crakers
    • 207: Wing tells her to make Catechisms of her own
  • Somni is like a time traveller
    • she is learning as we are
    • 207: Somni with her sony
      • cannot let purebloods see her learn
      • related to issue of slave literacy
  • 220: Somni gains a soul
  • 227: consumers have a quota to fill each month
    • humanity has hard criteria
  • 228: the distinction is lost between farbicant (structure/human made meaning) and pureblood (where pure means innocent of human intervention) in a world of consumerism and hyper-evolving fashions
    • this is exactly what TC hates
    • cf his reference to “prostitute Barbie”
      • where Barbie is not only “fake” but also ideal
      • where a Barbie can be whatever she wants through changing clothes
  • 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
    • see 232: there is no key
      • working through existential crises is what it means to be human
      • to be human is to evolve
      • perhaps being a slave means to be arrested in ascension
      • it is to be immature, whether through force or through one’s lack of imagination
  • 258: people painting their faces black to be more human


power and resistance to slavery and oppression

  • clear, especially from Somni section, that there is a dialectic of slavery at work
    • the slave and the master share a relationship
    • neither is isolated
    • the two forms produce one another and also produce the possibility of reversal of the two positions
      • see 225: the winners are losers and the losers winners
      • this becomes important considering the end of the second Somni section
  • 180: Solzhenitsyn
  • 181: TC thinking on prison literature
    • of course, his imprisonment is somewhat comical, and nowhere nearly as egregious in our mind as that which has befallen Autua and Somni
    • but it is real nonetheless
  • 187: justifications for slavery reflect older, 19th century ones
    • 222: the deconstruction of “natural” slavery
  • Grimaldi’s fantasy of power: 129
    • “an imaginary audience”
  • TC on Solzhenitsyn: 180
  • 185: corporate power in the future appropriates the language of religion
    • as with “Catechism”, “Vespers,” “Soul,”
  • 188: prisons are not hermetic
    • the prison itself conveys meanings that can be used against those who imprison others
  • 189: corpocracy built on slavery
  • Jung on slavery:

Every Roman was surrounded by slaves. The slave and his psychology flooded ancient Italy, and every Roman became inwardly, and of course unwittingly, a slave. Because living constantly in the atmosphere of slaves, he became infected through the unconscious with their psychology. No one can shield himself from such an influence

    • CF: “He has lived with fabricants for so long he is very nearly one of us”
      • 191
    • question here, as in Blade Runner, of whether humans live their lives as fully as machines
      • or, whether machines or slaves can be more fully human because they can experience the world with greater clarity
      • cf Somni’s experience of leaving Papa Song’s
      • cf 202: where green seems a precious substance
  • 210: “fury forges will”
    • note the term “Declarations”
    • two Enlightenment documents
    • again: Kant
    • also: “declaration” means the revelation of what is not the establishment of what is not-yet



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