In The Diamond Age contradictions are treated in a very favorable light. Instead of encountering simple binaries or oppositions between phyles, we are introduced to a fictional universe that functions as a complex human network. Within this network, there are individuals who not fit perfectly into their phyles (and many who do not belong to any particular phyle). I do not necessarily mean to imply that these individuals are somehow outside of all technological and cultural systems, but perhaps this topic offers an appropriate starting point for a discussion of the human/machine divide with which Nell (in the world of the Primer) and the novel struggles.
In addition to the diversity of cultures (and the excess individuals who do not belong to any of these cultural groups), the idea of 'contradiction' as a way out of a system, or at least as a preferable way of imagining systems, is repeated throughout. For instance, in a conversation between Constable Moore and Nell, the Constable inquires whether Nell intends to take the path of "conformity or rebellion?" (323). Nell replies that she chooses neither path because "both ways are simple-minded - they are only for people who cannot cope with contradiction and ambiguity" (323). What does Nell mean by this answer in light of her later decisions and particularly her command of the Mouse army? Is the ability to cope with and immerse oneself in contradiction something that the Turing machines are incapable of (at least without the interaction of human minds)?
If the above example is unhelpful, here is another context in which contradiction is mentioned. Later, in writing Colonel Napier's fantasy, Nell notes that the "contradiction" which Victorian men embody is "fascinating" (364). She explains further that "They lived a life of nearly perfect emotional denial - a form of asceticism as extreme as that of a medieval stylite. Yet they did have emotions, the same as anyone else, and only vented them in carefully selected circumstances" (364). This type of contradiction is certainly interesting (and it is this type of contradiction or tension that we often look for in analyzing a literary text). But what does this tell us about Nell? Does this form of contradiction collapse into the amoral, postmodern condition that is prevalent throughout the 20th century? Or rather, does Nell have a more individual vision of contradiction in mind? Or on the contrary, does she realize the importance of community in the end? If so, how does this community compare to what we see at the start of the novel and in quite different world of the Drummers?
The most interesting characters in the book are those who see - as the woman tells Hackworth during the odd, interactive theatrical performance - that "belief isn't a binary state" (386). But how do we see characters move beyond such binaries in a practical sense?
If you all are interested in an intertextual discussion, how does the portrayal of contradiction (perhaps as a saving force) in this novel compare to the discussion of opposition that we see in both Player Piano (power vs. the revolution at the end of the book) and If on a winter's night a traveler (the confusing, and often humorous, overlaps between power and counterpower in the final chapters)? I have thrown a number of different questions out partly because I have not yet had time to process this novel and organize the questions in a more deliberate (or if you prefer, leading) manner? I would be interested to see what you all made of this aspect of the book.
- PatrickPosted by pjagoda at October 9, 2003 06:06 PM