[Marxism] Mieville

Sandra K. Rankin srankin at uark.edu
Fri Nov 17 20:03:31 MST 2006


DCQ,

Just a note to let you know that I appreciate
your thoughtful, perceptive response about
Mieville and PSS. This afternoon and evening 
has been crazy/busy for me. I have the beginning of 
a response to your response saved as a draft,
but I won't have time to finish and send it
until tomorrow. 

Sandy

----- Original Message -----
From: DCQ <deeseekyou at comcast.net>
Date: Thursday, November 16, 2006 8:22 pm
Subject: [Marxism] Mieville
To: Activists and scholars in Marxist tradition <marxism at lists.econ.utah.edu>

> 
> On Nov 16, 2006, at 9:32 AM, Sandra K. Rankin wrote:
> 
> > DCQ:
> >
> > I'm trying to write an essay (for
> > a univ. grad course in Marxist
> > Lit Theory) about China M.'s PERDIDO
> > STREET STATION. I've got serious
> > writer's block. I wonder what you found
> > disappointing about PERDIDO. I've read
> > everything of CM's--except his dissertation,
> > which I'll soon read. I plan to write
> > my dissertation about CM's "weird
> > fiction." I'm yet to read Tolkien, but
> > I will. You've piqued my interest by
> > emphasizing Tolkien's "utopian"-hopeful
> > elements. (Ernst Bloch is one of
> > my favorite writers.)
> >
> > Sandy
> >
> >
> 
> On the subject of Perdido Street Station, there’s a lot to say. 
> Most of 
> it is praiseworthy. I agree with most of the positive things that 
> various critics and commentators have said about his imaginative 
> breadth. I can say a lot of pretentious things if pressed, but it 
> was 
> simply very fun to read about the wild and fantastic stuff he set 
> down 
> on paper. I just find that enjoyable (if it’s done well…and China 
> did 
> it well). So any criticism I have should be taken with that in mind 
> first.
>  
> As for why I was disappointed, there are a few reasons. First, I 
> thought the moths were a cheap invention. Conceptually, they were 
> very 
> promising, but the execution was too simplistic for my tastes. One 
> of 
> the things Mieville criticizes Tolkien for is creating orcs as a 
> race 
> of pure evil, something that can easily be killed without 
> compunction 
> or moral quandary. (If it were true, he might have a point, but 
> Tolkien 
> is quite explicit that the orcs have simply been corrupted by their 
> masters, and that they fear Sauron and the ringwraiths as much as 
> Frodo 
> and Sam. In LOTR, Tolkien includes a scene in which Frodo and Sam 
> overhear two war-weary orcs talking about how they’d like to just 
> get 
> away from all the "big bosses.") And yet, here we have Mieville 
> creating exactly that—a race of creatures who are so evil they need 
> to 
> be annihilated, period. The kingpin is seen as beyond the pale 
> precisely because he wants to keep them alive (as slaves), if at 
> all 
> possible. They are so evil in fact that when Isaac sacrifices an 
> innocent man to kill them, you feel it was justified, even if in a 
> perverse way. I can accept creations like that for what they are 
> and 
> even enjoy them on occasion (Alien was a good example); but when 
> Mieville criticizes Tolkien (wrongly) for doing that, and then does 
> it 
> himself to the nth degree…well, that bothers me.
>  
> Furthermore, I felt there was a tension in Perdido around the 
> metaphors. Sometimes Mieville indulged in it ham-fistedly, as when 
> Isaac overtly compares himself to Perdido Street Station (the 
> building). I had picked up on that metaphorical relationship and 
> was 
> intrigued…and then disappointed by the “post-modern wink” at the 
> reader. It felt patronizing. Then at other times, he seems to want 
> to 
> resist the metaphorical significance of his inventions—and then a 
> plot 
> device comes along and smashes the often carefully constructed 
> metaphor 
> to bits (as with the Construct being evil). Mieville comes 
> tantalizingly close in the Metamorphoses section, and then seems to 
> chuck it all. I just felt that so much more could have been done, 
> or 
> could have been explored. Philosophical questions were brought up, 
> and 
> just as quickly dismissed for the sake of plot, that I began 
> rejecting 
> any close association with any of the characters.
>  
> At the deepest level, I came away believing that Mieville must have 
> something of an “anti-aesthetic.” Perdido so often seems to refuse 
> to 
> allow the reader any kind of aesthetic satisfaction, that I felt 
> that 
> Mieville was consciously trying to avoid it, to the detriment of 
> his 
> narrative. There is a philosophical point to this: that real life 
> is 
> not logical and coherent, so why should art be so. (And so we get a 
> mind-boggling plethora of characters, quickly introduced and as 
> quickly 
> forgotten. Fair enough. But when they enter the plot just long 
> enough 
> to sacrifice themselves, they appear as little more than Mr. and 
> Mrs. 
> Plot Device, or the ensign with the red shirt in Star Trek who 
> follows 
> Kirk, Spock, and McCoy down to the strange planet. Kirk may be 
> upset at 
> his death, but we smirk. I told a friend of mine that it seemed he 
> was 
> plotting the novel out by gaming a la Dungeons and Dragons, and 
> every 
> once in a while needed some NPCs and mercs. At another time, I just 
> threw my hands up and told my wife that he needed an editor.) The 
> question about the relationship of life and art is a valid one, and 
> not 
> less so for having been asked repeatedly for millennia. But I 
> believe 
> the quasi-(post-)modernist response that says art should try to 
> imitate 
> the randomness and chaos of life misses the point—and it’s my guess 
> that Mieville would say it misses the point too. Art is not life. 
> Otherwise, why read a novel? Why not just stare at people in train 
> station or shopping mall?
> 
> Of course, what the purpose of writing is (or art in general) is 
> not a 
> simple question. But we can always ask ourselves a basic question, 
> one 
> which my students do constantly: what is the purpose of telling 
> this 
> particular story? After reading Perdido, I couldn't exactly say 
> what 
> that was. In fact, I couldn't even vaguely say what that was. The 
> nature of evil? (no) The nature of consciousness? (no) A comment on 
> heroism? (not really) Again and again, I found myself more 
> interested 
> in, if not outright fascinated by, the world of Bas-Lag and New 
> Crobuzon, and annoyed by the characters and plot. The characters 
> are so 
> incredibly static that I ended up liking the fecalphiliac bat the 
> best; 
> he was still static, but at least he was funny. (Actually, the 
> revolutionary art critic was probably the best, but her role was so 
> small...) More to the point, the world is the hero of the novel, 
> while 
> the characters were--to borrow a phrase--mere wens on its arse.
>  
> I have not read Mieville’s other works (yet). I had The Iron 
> Council 
> and The Scar on my library list this summer, but moved on to 
> Butler’s 
> Parable of the Sower (and was even more disappointed by 
> that--disappointed by two lefty authors in one summer...sheesh!) 
> instead after I finished Perdido. I plan on reading the other two 
> some 
> time. And I hope that Mieville resolves his aesthetic angst--what 
> seems 
> to be a gut-level reaction against the weight of tradition—so that 
> he 
> can get beyond writing merely interesting books, and become a great 
> writer.
> 
> Of course, I only read one of his books and have not reread it. If 
> you 
> have a different take, or feel I've missed something important, 
> please 
> let me know what you think.
> 
> soli,
> DCQ
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