Paulliver (paulliver) wrote in bookish,

"Cloud Atlas" by David Mitchell

“Cloud Atlas” is a puzzling book, in part because I can’t tell if it is optimistic or pessimistic. After all, the backstory is always one of human progress chewing up human individuals for more fuel for the flames, be they planation slaves, broke artists, or cloned waitresses, yet at the same time the plot is one of the triumph of the human spirit. Each story is of noble resistance to that machine, but each following story implies the ultimate victory of that machine, right up to environmental destruction and the self-destruction of capitalism after it runs out of resources and starts feeding upon itself. In this sense, it is one of the most visionary novels I’ve ever read.

The connecting devices, however, seem contradictory to me. One of them is the transmigration of the soul from character to character, yet many of the stories imply that they are fictional stories in each others’ worlds. How can a character be a reincarnation of another character if that first character is also a fictional character in the world of the second? Either device would have been interesting, but combined I’m a little muddled. Perhaps I missed something, and given the strengths of the novel I don’t mind too much.

He has an admirable writing style, describing things the way the characters would see them instead of the way he would. This skill comes through most through the clone, who sees everything as something very new, and the composer, who often relates thing by music.

Thanks to my enjoyment of Nietzsche’s style and audacity, I caught several references to the German philosopher in this book. One of the ironies of these characters is that while the villains would espouse “will to power” as justification for their actions, it is the heroes and heroines who buck society and its soul crippling status quo who actually live the concept, defying social power with will power.

His last line, “Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?” is a possible resolution to a philosophical quandary that’s been bothering me for a long time, mostly that of my own unimportance. I don’t recall exactly when I realized my own unimportance, but I’ve never adjusted to it. I sometimes tell myself that it is a negative source of freedom; I can do as I like with my life because of my own unimportance. Mitchell believes while individuals are unimportant, they come together into something important. In the context of the ending of his novel, it might be a moral imperative to transcend one’s unimportance by joining something that is important, like the fight for human rights and dignity, even if you are just licking envelopes.

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