Reading: Perdido Street Station

Sunday, July 3, 2011 § 0

After everyone else in the world already has ... I finally started reading China Miéville's Perdido Street Station. I am really enjoying the fantastic worldbuilding.

“Ged,” Isaac asked. “What can you tell me about the garuda?”

Ged shrugged, and he grinned with pleasure at imparting what he knew.

“Not very much. Bird-people. Live in the Cymek, and the north of Shotek, and the west of Mordiga, reputedly. Maybe also on some of the other continents. Hollow bones.” Ged’s eyes were fixed, focused on the remembered pages of whatever xenthropological work he was quoting. “Cymek garuda are egalitarian…completely egalitarian, and completely individualistic. Hunters and gatherers, no sexual division of labour. No money, no rank, although they do have sort of uninstitutional ranks. Just means you’re worthy of more respect, that sort of thing. [...]”

[...] “Well, seeing as you know so arsing little about them, I might as well just stop talking to you,” said Isaac.

To Isaac’s astonishment, Ged’s face fell.

“Joke, Ged! Irony! Sarcasm! You know fucking loads about them. At least compared to me. I’ve been browsing Shacrestialchit, and you’ve just exceeded the sum of my knowledge. Do you know anything about…uh…their criminal code?”

Ged stared at him. His huge eyes narrowed.

“What you up to, Isaac? They’re so egalitarian…well…Their society’s all based on maximizing choice for the individual, which is why they’re communistic. Grants the most uninhibited choice to everyone. And as far as I remember the only crime they have is depriving another garuda of choice. And then it’s exacerbated or mollified depending on whether they do it with or without respect, which they absolutely love…”

“How do you steal someone’s choice?”

“No idea. I suppose if you nick someone’s spear, they don’t have the choice of using it…What about if you lie about where some tasty lichen is, so you deprive others of the choice of going for it…?”

“Maybe some choice-thefts are analogies of stuff we’d consider crimes and some have absolutely no equivalent,” said Isaac.

“I’d imagine so.”

“What’s an abstract individual and a concrete individual?”

Ged was gazing at Isaac in wonder.

“My good arse, Isaac…you’ve made friends with some garuda, haven’t you?”

Isaac raised one eyebrow, and nodded quickly.

“Damn!” Ged shouted. People at the surrounding tables turned to him with brief surprise. “And a Cymek garuda…! Isaac, you have to make him--him? her?--come and talk to me about the Cymek!”

“I don’t know, Ged. He’s a bit…taciturn…”

“Oh please oh please…”

“All right, all right, I’ll ask him. But don’t get your hopes up. Now tell me what the difference is between a fucking abstract and concrete individual.”

“Oh, this is fascinating. I suppose you aren’t allowed to tell me what the job is…? No, didn’t think so. Well, put simply, and as far as I understand it, they’re egalitarian because they respect the individual so much, right? And you can’t respect other people’s individuality if you focus on your own individuality in a kind of abstract, isolated way. The point is that you are an individual inasmuch as you exist in a social matrix of others who respect your individuality and your right to make choices. That’s concrete individuality: an individuality that recognizes that it owes its existence to a kind of communal respect on the part of all the other individualities, and that it had better therefore respect them similarly.

“So an abstract individual is a garuda who forgot, for some time, that he or she is part of a larger unit, and owes respect to all the other choosing individuals.”

There was a long pause.

“Are you any wiser, Isaac?” asked Ged gently, and broke off into giggles.

Isaac wasn’t sure if he was or not.

“So look, Ged, if I said to you ‘second-degree choice-theft with disrespect,’ would you know what a garuda had done?”

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