The Dream Archipelago - Week 2: The Negation (conclusion)


The Negation - Conclusion


  • Dik returns to Moylita Kaine, and passes Burgher Tradayn along the way, an unpleasant and authoritative man.
  • Upon arrival, Kaine herself seems to have been upset by the man.
  • Dik gives Kaine a carving of a hand with pen as a gift, and she in turn gifts him a short story that she worked on through the night. However, she asks him not to read it until she has left the island. She says it is written just for him, and suggests it's a story about Dik.
  • Kaine explains that he might get in trouble if he is caught with it. It reveals facts about the war that might be sensitive to those in charge - that the military is using gases, and that the war is being perpetuated for the economic benefit of a few. And that there seems to be underground opposition.
  • The southern continent has not yet been adopted as the theatre of battle, but this is in the works.
  • They are interrupted by the return of Burgher Tradayn, who takes the manuscript and sends Dik back to the barracks. Kaine is escorted to a council chamber for questioning.
  • Dik in unable to remain still, and tries to find Kaine. He ends up spying on her discussion with the burghers for a few minutes, before he's caught by his superiors and beaten. He once again returns to his chamber, and eventually returns to duty with no further word on Kaine or his encounters with her.
  • As Dik patrols the wall, he contemplates the meaning of walls in Kaine's texts. He concludes that in Kaine's novel, The Affirmation, the characters build walls and find themselves trapped by them. The short story she gives him, titled The Negation, must therefor have been about overcoming walls, and particularly about Dik overcoming the walls that hem him in. Dik concludes this is unrealistic - that it's one thing for an author to suggest such a thing can be done, but it's quite another reality for the person who walks the wall.
  • Just then, an enemy combatant appears and surrenders himself to Dik. Dik escorts him to a guard room in admiration and envy.


  • Here we meet an old SF trope in the form of perpetual warfare inflicted on society to the benefit of a few. Is this a convincing explanation for the war? Where else have you read this idea? Do you buy it?
  • Here we have an Author in conflict with a Figure of Authorty. Is there a difference between them in how they treat Dik? Dik seems to choose the latter over the former at the end, but admires his alter-ego from the other side for siding with the other.
  • Do you draw any conclusions about walls and authors from the text?


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    I looked up, and this story was originally published in 1978. That makes sense, as the notion of two large powers glowering at each other over a wall is very reminiscent of the border in East Germany and East Berlin.

    I think we're meant to assume that the story "written for" Dik is a pre-existing piece of propaganda, and is an attempt to get Dik to agitate against the war. It seems it's an approach that fails.

    Regarding walls, Dik is desperate to cross the wall and escape his repressed life, just as was the soldier to crossed at the end of the story. The narration at that point is mirroring the two lost, young men. I think it reinforces the idea that the poor soldiers are the victims, pawns of the various powerful men who regulate their lives for the benefit of the rulers. Both sides of the wall are, fundamentally, the same.

    The hallucinogenic gas may be a call back to Barefoot in the Head the Aldiss novel about a Europe devastated by hallucinogenic gas bombs.

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    Interesting that you read it as "Just then, an enemy combatant appears and surrenders himself to Dik. Dik escorts him to a guard room in admiration and envy". I did something of a double take when I read it because to my eyes, CP is entirely ambiguous as to who surrendered to whom. The two men (or the one man, or the twins) steadily converge - both are patrolling, both rattle the bolts of their rifle, both are cold.

    Dik's first description is that the other man's clothing has been ripped by the wire, but then realises that his own clothing has gashes, and that he himself is bleeding.

    The other man says "I surrender" and has his rifle above his head, but then Dik says "I'm surrendering". They exchange rifles, and it's really not clear to me which guard post they head off towards.

    To emphasise the duality, CP repeats the sentence "they were near one of the cisterns and the hissing of gas was loud above the wind" before and after the paragraph where the identification between the two is most explicit.

    (In passing, the mention of gas here reminds one of the "sense gases" Moylita denounces, which presumably distort or confuse the senses).

    In the end I felt that _The Negation_ was not so much the opposite of _The Affirmation_ - though that opposite is certainly there to a degree. Rather, it's the annihilation of a particle with its own anti-particle, here enacted by Dik and his mirror counterpart.

    So it gave me a lot to think about, though seemingly in a different direction (judging by your summary points) than you went.
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    Priest does like to play with physics, so the idea of two particles colliding rings true. There was definitely a coming together of the characters. I tend to write the summaries hours after I finish the section, so they might sometimes reflect my memory what I read more than the actual text? But that was my distinct impression - that Dik rejected Kaine’s manipulation of him to transcend the wall, but later admired that his opposite (shall we call him Kid?) had done done just that. So somehow Dik didn’t get the end he really wanted, because he objected to the means, and then admired Kid, who said ‘fuck it, I’m going for it anyway.’
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    I do like Kid vs Dik, a very nice touch :)

    I also meant to say that I am enjoying The Dream Archipelago rather more than I did Islanders - I think the more overt fictional presentation helps a lot (yes, I am aware that Islanders was also fiction, but as has been said already, the writing style chosen for that book sometimes got in the way). It feels as though I am getting much more directly in touch with CP's abilities as a writer.

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    I'm struggling to read much more into this story than a Cold War allegory. Two indistinguishable side, separated by a wall, the soldiers young men manipulated by the distant rich. The notion of walls in people's minds as well as the physical aspects. Propaganda from all everyone, distortion of reality, and no idea of the truth.

    I agree with Richard: it's a better read than The Islanders.

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    And it's a literal Cold War...

    And I read it as @RichardAbbott did - that both surrendered to each other, though I am fairly sure the other soldier was an illusion from the gas.

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