The Islanders Week 10: Declare to Hissing Waters

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SUMMARY

RAWTHERSAY 1: Declare/Sing

  • Rawthersay is a developed island of temperate climate.
  • It's one of 5000 islands located in Quietude Bay near the south continent.
  • It's main economic interests are sheep farming, coal mining, and the arts.
  • It's home to a minor university; its most famous alumnus is the social activist ELSA WANN CAURER, who was a native of the island.
  • During her time as student, Caurer founded a literary magazine called Free!
  • She famously wrote a review, published in Free!, of CHASTER KAMMESTON's third novel, called Stationed. She was one of the first to recognize Kammeston as a noteworthy author.
  • She went on two write three important plays which inspired social reform in the archipelago: Woman Gone, The Autumn of Recognition, and The Reconstruction.
  • After this she turned to writing non-fiction books that tackled difficult societal issues, including feudalism, the law, and the plight of deserters.
  • Later in life, she established Caurer Special Schools to teach social studies. She also began to use a double for public appearances (whom we know to be DANT WILLER from a previous entry).
  • She was last seen in public travelling to attend Chaster Kammeston's funeral on Piquay. She was hounded by the press along the way.
  • She died shortly after her return to Rawthersay, though this happened to quietly that some think it may have been faked.
  • The entry concludes with a list of the Caurer memorabilia that can be found on display in various places.

RAWTHERSAY 2: Spoor

  • This entry is as a piece of fiction (as opposed to a 'factual' entry, I suppose) called TRACE.
  • If you recall from last week, Trace, or Spoor, was the name Kammeston gave to his concept of the trail of a person's life and it's connection to place.
  • This piece of writing called TRACE appears to be a very personal account of Caurer's visit to Kammeston's funeral.

REEVER: Hissing Waters

  • Reever is one of a group is islands near the equator.
  • It is mainly known for fishing and as a good place to witness the temporal vortex phenomenon.
  • DEDELER AGLETT is credited with being the first to observe and study the vortices.
  • The concept of vortices are somewhat expanded upon in this entry, especially with respect to their effect on plane travel.
  • Perhaps not surprisingly, Reever also has an artist colony. It was here that RASCAR ACIZZONE founded the 'Tactilist School' (which somehow involves 'ultrasound microcircuitry'.
  • Acizzone was arrested for something - we don't learn what - and as a result, many of the people that he inspired have attempted to distance themselves from him.

QUESTIONS/DISCUSSION

  • How do the two Rawthersay entries compare or contrast to the two Piquay entries we read last week. On the surface, their formats are similar (an island description followed by a personal account), but are they similar in substance? Opposites?
  • How does the account of Caurer's visit to Piquay illustrate the idea of a Trace?
  • About her play, The Autumn of Recognition, Caurers once said that if one reversed the order of the acts, removed certain scenes, omitted the music, and reversed the genders of the actors, then the play's real meaning would be revealed. Do you think Priest is playing a similar game with The Islanders?
  • We learn a little more about Vortices and their effect on the flight of planes. On Reever, one can look up and see a 'stack of aircraft passing overhead, all of them pointing in different directions, the spiraling condensation trails spreading out across the blue sky.' Is this a metaphor for people? A novel? An author's body of work? For this book in particular?

Comments

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    I liked the Caurer entry and felt it dovetailed fairly neatly with earlier accounts. Except that she doesn't (to my reading) come over as at all manipulative or self-seeking in the relationship, whereas what Kammeston took away from it was that she had only approached him in order to get information for a narrative. Once again, two widely divergent takes from the same underlying events.

    @Apocryphal said:

    • About her play, The Autumn of Recognition, Caurers once said that if one reversed the order of the acts, removed certain scenes, omitted the music, and reversed the genders of the actors, then the play's real meaning would be revealed. Do you think Priest is playing a similar game with The Islanders?

    Frankly there are so many changes here that you might as well say that if you jumbled up all the letters of all the words and reassembled them, then you'd get "the real meaning". I think he is just playing mind games here rather than revealing a clue.

    About vortices. This particular account posits that the same island never appears the same twice, especially if you swap from north-south to east-west traverses. So what does this make of the attempts to map places via drones? Or indeed the careful descriptions of each island that the gazetteer compiler makes? Presumably if you actually went to any of the islands where we have been told "there is a large bay to the east, with virgin forest inland" you might find something rather different? So why have a gazetteer of a constantly-shifting world?

    Of course lots of authors, and lots of people in general, have explored the idea that you cannot really ever go back anywhere - Ursula LeGuin, for one, in The Dispossessed especially, but also TS Eliot, who as you know I see as a significant influence on ULG. So the idea is not original, but the particular dressing up as islands and temporal vortices may well be,

    The quantum mechanic in me was curious as to whether the geographic shifts were "really there" or simply "in the eye of the observer", but I don't think we're going to find out.

    I can't see the aircraft pointing every which way as a metaphor for a novel - part of the point is that there is unity within diversity, and novels (in the normal sense of that word) have a structure, not just haphazard direction. It could be a metaphor for people in general, or as you suggest for a body of work that may well have a central core of concept but tends to spread out in different directions.

    Finally, we are getting some sort of sense of extent here - suddenly we are tossed 5000 islands in a group, in contrast to the careful, almost pedantic description of single places which has gone before. Why the change? Is CP trying to escalate the pace? Or say something about all those places we have not yet heard of?

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    edited April 7

    I liked the juxtaposition of the two Rawthesay chapters. We've seen Caurer built up as a mythical figure, and it was a good contrast to see the human feet-of-clay side of her. I find it somewhat hard to believe that both Caurer and Kammeston had such strong feelings for each other after that brief encounter and long separation.

    Did people think the apparition of Kammeston in the dust was something real, or wishful thinking on Caurer's part?

    The image of criss-crossing contrails is a good image. I could believe that the image came to Priest first, before the justification of it as a vortex dream warping geography.

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    I thought 'wistful' at the time, and meant to be suggestive of 'the trace' of him. But maybe it's literal, and a possible effect of a vortex. Harkening back to an earlier chapter, a pair children also claimed to see an apparition of Caurer.

    This has me wondering about traces of people - do famous people like Winston Churchill, Hemmingway, or Marylin Munroe leave more distinctive traces? Or does it only seem that we because those people are somehow familiar to us, even though we've never met them - and our own family members leave traces just as distinctive.
    For my part, I sense the traces of my grandmother (who I knew very well) a lot, but nothing of my grandfather (who I barely knew at all, and only remember meeting once in my life). But nobody else can see those traces of of my grandmother, whereas a great many people can sense the presence of Churchill in parts of London.

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    Here at the guest house we occasionally get guests who believe that they can sense something of previous occupants. Now, we don't know enough of the history of the building to confirm or deny the truth of this (the house was originally built in the middle of the 19th century and has had a very diverse history of changes since then).

    I vividly remember one lady who talked about experiencing a young boy on his own in one of the rooms, deeply bored and rolling a pencil to and fro. "Did that happen?" she said. Well, I had no idea, but it seemed plausible in any house, and it wasn't the usual kind of headless horseman type of story. Maybe it's real? A skeptic might well say that she was simply hearing one of the many birds that nest in crannies in the stone walls, or some other wildlife explanation, but maybe not? I personally have never experienced anything like that here, but I wouldn't rate myself as especially sensitive in that area.
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    @Apocryphal said:

    RAWTHERSAY 2: Spoor

    • This entry is as a piece of fiction (as opposed to a 'factual' entry, I suppose) called TRACE.

    Why do you characterize it in this way? What is different about this entry from the other narrative entries we had? Do you mean that it is intended to be taken as fiction within the fictional world?

    • If you recall from last week, Trace, or Spoor, was the name Kammeston gave to his concept of the trail of a person's life and it's connection to place.
      .
      .
      .

    • This piece of writing called TRACE appears to be a very personal account of Caurer's visit to Kammeston's funeral.

    • How does the account of Caurer's visit to Piquay illustrate the idea of a Trace?

    I thought about this last week but didn’t have time / energy to write about it. I come to the notion of trace through hermeneutical phenomenology. The literary turn within phenomenology is indebted to both structuralism and deconstruction. I’ll just speak about Derrida here, the father of deconstruction, although there is a lot of ink spilt about the trace by others.

    Derrida’s deconstruction takes binary opposites that conventionally are perceived in a society to be natural constructs and attempts to show that they are artificial. Binary opposites need each other, each depending on the other for meaning. One component of the binary is usually privileged over the other, for example good/evil, light/dark, male/female. Derrida says there is always the trace of one in the other, but even more than that he says there is always the trace of absence in anything present to us.

    It is this move that explodes structuralism and drives his critiques crazy. His entire philosophy is one of absence. The linguistic firm of structuralism, semiotics, has its specific binary opposite, the sign. Every sign is the amalgam of a signifier (which, in the case of language, includes words) and the signified (that to which the signifier refers). Semiotics says the signifier brings the signified into our presence. Derrida says it does the opposite. He says there is no signified and every signifier contains the trace of its absence. Language, he says, can never brings objects into our presence, that all they do is continually refer to another signifier and another and another. This chain of signifiers is a sleight of hand that make us think that words brings objects into our presence, but it’s smoke and mirrors.

    This makes me think of our observations about things in this book on opposite sides of the world, connected, mirror objects to each other. And identical(ish) persons. And illusions performed with the help of mirrors, fallen mirrors that cut binary opposites in two.

    The islands don’t represent (make present again) anything but just refer to the next island and the next and the next until we realize we’ve circumnavigated the novel and found that meaning is absent.

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    @WildCard said:

    @Apocryphal said:

    RAWTHERSAY 2: Spoor

    • This entry is as a piece of fiction (as opposed to a 'factual' entry, I suppose) called TRACE.

    Why do you characterize it in this way? What is different about this entry from the other narrative entries we had? Do you mean that it is intended to be taken as fiction within the fictional world?

    What I mean is simply that most of the entries are designed to present 'factual' information - a description of an island, mostly, or sometimes an excerpt from a report, or a copy of Wolter Kammeston's testament.

    A few of the entries make no factual pretense, and are framed as short stories which are given names in all caps. One example is the Rawthersay 2: Spoor chapter, which leads with the title THE TRACE.

    Next week we will read the chapter titled Seevl: Dead Tower - which contains the piece of fiction called THE GLASS.

    Up until now, I've been calling these 'short stories' but changed that to 'fiction' in the text you quoted, mainly because it was a little more open-ended a term than 'short story'.

    I'm not sure if these chapters are presented this way just for variety, or if they are meant to reflect the writings of one or more characters in the novel. You suggested the latter and it seems plausible to me.

    If you look at the gazetteer of islands on page 19, all entries are listed by their Patois name - listed multiple times if they have multiple names. But the 'fiction' entries are also listed in the gazetteer under their story name. So the Seevl chapter appears in the gazetteer as 'Dead Tower....254' (it's patois name) and 'The Glass...254' is listed underneath it, as if it's a different entry.

    This is why I argued early on that the book wasn't scientifically organized. The islands do appear in alphabetical order by their name in the book, but the gazetteer of islands (which serves as a table of contents) has a totally different organization. I've often wondered at the reason for this.

    Thanks for the intro to deconstruction. Will we get to the end and find that meaning is absent? Maybe, but hopefully most of us at least enjoyed the ride.

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    If The Islanders is a deconstruction, what is it deconstructing? The novel? The idea of consistent worldbuiding?

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    @WildCard said:
    I thought about this last week but didn’t have time / energy to write about it. I come to the notion of trace through hermeneutical phenomenology. The literary turn within phenomenology is indebted to both structuralism and deconstruction. I’ll just speak about Derrida here, the father of deconstruction, although there is a lot of ink spilt about the trace by others.

    Derrida’s deconstruction takes binary opposites that conventionally are perceived in a society to be natural constructs and attempts to show that they are artificial. Binary opposites need each other, each depending on the other for meaning. One component of the binary is usually privileged over the other, for example good/evil, light/dark, male/female. Derrida says there is always the trace of one in the other, but even more than that he says there is always the trace of absence in anything present to us.

    It is this move that explodes structuralism and drives his critiques crazy. His entire philosophy is one of absence. The linguistic firm of structuralism, semiotics, has its specific binary opposite, the sign. Every sign is the amalgam of a signifier (which, in the case of language, includes words) and the signified (that to which the signifier refers). Semiotics says the signifier brings the signified into our presence. Derrida says it does the opposite. He says there is no signified and every signifier contains the trace of its absence. Language, he says, can never brings objects into our presence, that all they do is continually refer to another signifier and another and another. This chain of signifiers is a sleight of hand that make us think that words brings objects into our presence, but it’s smoke and mirrors.

    I don't know much about Derrida except the name, so please excuse naivety here, but this sounds like a linguistic version of yin/yang symbolism in Taoism, where each contains the seed of the other, and the key issue is the continual transformation from one to the other - meaning is found in change rather than rest. Is that a fair analogy?

    This makes me think of our observations about things in this book on opposite sides of the world, connected, mirror objects to each other. And identical(ish) persons. And illusions performed with the help of mirrors, fallen mirrors that cut binary opposites in two.

    The islands don’t represent (make present again) anything but just refer to the next island and the next and the next until we realize we’ve circumnavigated the novel and found that meaning is absent.

    Another duality here is the insistence that each island has two names - and apparently only two, such as RAWTHERSAY vs Declare/Sing, rather than a whole multitude of different names in different dialects. Clearly an artifice of CP's since any real world would surely have many alternate names?

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    @Apocryphal said:
    This is why I argued early on that the book wasn't scientifically organized. The islands do appear in alphabetical order by their name in the book, but the gazetteer of islands (which serves as a table of contents) has a totally different organization. I've often wondered at the reason for this.

    Which brings me back to another point we discussed many weeks ago - the whole set of islands, wherever they are in the world, exhibit essentially one culture (I think @NeilNjae characterised it as liberal western). There is no real diversity between east and west, north and south - only different levels of industrialisation, and greater or lesser proximity to the feuding nations of the north (and battleground to the south). This would make sense for a small cluster of islands such as the Greek islands, the San Juans, the Scillies etc, but surely is a very long stretch for islands spanning an entire globe? Again, it's an artificial construct, not a real attempt at world building. It increasingly reminds me in certain ways of the building in Piranesi - that was much more contained and far more exquisitely charming, but they share this sense of not being a real world, but rather an arena within which stylised events are shown to us... "all the world's a stage", perhaps?

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    > @RichardAbbott said:
    > (Quote)
    > Another duality here is the insistence that each island has two names - and apparently only two, such as RAWTHERSAY vs Declare/Sing, rather than a whole multitude of different names in different dialects. Clearly an artifice of CP's since any real world would surely have many alternate names?

    That’s not how I read it. With Rawthersay, we learn it’s name in whatever the lingua Franca is (‘Rawthersay) and we’re told that two different patois are spoken on the island. The norther patois name translates to ‘declare’ and the souther to ‘sing’. So we have at least 3 different names for this island. For Muriseay, we were given 5 names.

    Note that we aren’t given the actual patois names, just the translations of them, but their existence is implied.

    But yes, there definitely seems to be a pan global culture, with only small differences. This is frankly pretty consistent with most sci-fi planetary settings, whether they were colonized or not. It’s even true is such derp settings as Middle Earth. This is, I suppose, because all settings are metaphors for something, and that message would get lost if the place was a diverse and jumbled as earth.
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    @Apocryphal said:
    That’s not how I read it. With Rawthersay, we learn it’s name in whatever the lingua Franca is (‘Rawthersay) and we’re told that two different patois are spoken on the island. The norther patois name translates to ‘declare’ and the souther to ‘sing’. So we have at least 3 different names for this island. For Muriseay, we were given 5 names.

    Ah ok fair enough, point taken.

    But yes, there definitely seems to be a pan global culture, with only small differences. This is frankly pretty consistent with most sci-fi planetary settings, whether they were colonized or not. It’s even true is such derp settings as Middle Earth. This is, I suppose, because all settings are metaphors for something, and that message would get lost if the place was a diverse and jumbled as earth.

    In City of Illusions, Ursula LeGuin says something like "planets are very large on any scale except for the gaps between them", and tries to establish this size as Falk travels across the plains and Rockies parts of the US (at least, that is how I interpret his journey). But he is only going across part of one land mass, not around the whole world! While your point about setting as metaphor is undoubtedly true, an ambitious goal like a whole world surely calls for something big? Even Middle Earth has the Easterlings and Southrons with different appearance and culture

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    edited April 9
    I think the culture of Faiandland and Glaund on the northern continent seem as different from the artsy detachment of the islanders as the Easterlings seem from Gondor. We only imagine the Easterlings are different because we’re applying age old stereotypes. You might as easily say ‘Priest Manages to avoid orientalism in his book by not drawing on Asian stereotypes’

    We don’t really know very much about either Faiandland or Far Harad if we rely solely on the text. What do we really know about Gondor, for that matter? Cuisine? Fashion? Hospitality? Coming of age? Marriage rites? Art scene? Burial vs cremation? Economy? Industry? How do these differ from the Easterlings?

    An author can only provide so much, regardless of how big the world is. Tolkien gives a few bits of culture, mostly based on language, and mostly pertaining to the shire, in 1000 pages of the lord of the rings.

    Priest gives us very different things that Tolkien doesn’t, like glimpses of the legal system, military organization, international politics, the arts and letters scene, currency, transport, industry, and so on. In 350 pages. Presumably we would learn more by reading other books in the setting.

    I’m not disagreeing that the islands seem monocultural, but it’s just not testing my incredulity like it is yours. It feels like it covers enough ground to me, and they are sufficiently different from the northern continent. I don’t really miss the fact there are no Asian stereotypes in The Archipelago, just like I don’t miss knowing who prosecuted crimes in Gondor or whether the elves of Lothlorien preferred rutabagas or turnips, or did they just eat Mallorn nuts. Do The dwarves on the iron mountains differ from those of the Blue mountains? Are there Easterling dwarves who wear turbans, have curled moustaches, and plait their beards? Maybe it’s better to leave some things to the imagination.
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