Languages of Pao Q6 Finsterle

  1. Finsterle is an enigmatic figure. Our perception of him seems to evolve over the book. Does he change, or is it only our perception that changes?


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    Finsterle is Palafox before Palafox became "emeritus," the epitome of the geist of Breakness. He acts or declines to act out of cold calculation about what can benefit him and no one else.

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    I think he's interesting because he's a dark horse. As @WildCard points out, his motives are cold, but they are also obscure to us. As a reader, we know he's in the book for a reason, but his presence keeps us guessing as to the final outcome.

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    I'm going to post this year because I can't see anywhere else to put it... and it is vaguely relevant to the discussion starter @clash_bowley set...

    As I read it, pretty much all normal novel criteria are set aside in order to pursue the main thing of interest to Vance here, which is fairly transparently the relationship between language and culture. This is, in itself, a worthy thing to explore, and I don't have a problem with that. Nor, given that goal, do I have a problem with focusing on group collectives and large-scale culture rather than the development of individuals. That's all fine. However, the cost, especially given the short length of the book, is that lots of ordinary conventions and niceties are discarded.

    For example, we open the book with somebody who we think is going to be the main character - Aiello, the current Panarch. But it doesn't take long for him to be killed off, and the death is presented as big mystery. Then Aiello's brother Bustamonte seems set to be a main character, but he's not. Then there's Beran, who spends a great deal of the book being manipulated by others. The real character here is, I think, the office of Panarch, not the individuals who happen to be placed in that office, together with its changing fortunes partly driven by external pressures (the actions of other planetary groups) and partly by language.

    Equally, I don't recall that we ever learned who killed Aiello? Generally speaking, if the person we are set up to think of as protagonist dies by foul play in chapter 2 (with chapter 1 merely being some astronomical and cultural scene-setting) then you'd sort of think that it would be important to know who dunnit and why... but we really never get to focus on this. We kind of assume it was Palafox, but was this ever affirmed? If so I don't remember it.

    So I feel that Vance lost sight of writing a story in the usual sense of that word and was instead caught up in the idea of language shaping culture. For me, this was a negative point of the book, seeing as I like structure and language to be well-crafted and lyrical - even poetic, in a prose kind of way (as Piranesi is proving to be). Vance is, I think, so focused on the intellectual development of his idea that he lost (or maybe consciously discarded) other considerations,

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