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Book and Film Discussions > N. K. Jemisin

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message 1: by Kris (new)

Kris Haliday (krishaliday) | 127 comments I've just started reading N.K. Jemisin's Inheritance trilogy. I'm finding it oddly disquieting--not a "fun" read but an compelling one: I'm trying to figure out what she gets to say--that doesn't get talked about much--when she turns gods--who still have "god" powers--into slaves. Power is not absolute? Nobody's power is?

The story is oddly creepy because it seems to be all about the cruelty that is necessary to maintain power. Not exactly an "uplifiting" or "jolly" read, to be sure, but, as I said, it's still compelling.

I'm a third into the first volume. Maybe it shifts in a bit?


message 2: by Scout (new)

Scout (goodreadscomscout) | 5206 comments Do you agree or disagree that cruelty is necessary to maintain power?


message 3: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan | 7091 comments If we are talking coercive authority, I.e. "Do what I tell you, or I will harm/torture/kill you or someone you care about." than it's a relationship that requires the acquiescence of the subject to persist.

Disobedience breaks power down.

Hence - not absolute.


message 4: by Scout (new)

Scout (goodreadscomscout) | 5206 comments I'm wondering about your idea and the Holocaust.


message 5: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 9235 comments Scout, I believe cruelty, in the line of Graeme's coercive authority, is the last refuge of the otherwise failed leadership. The Holocaust was not something carried out to keep Hitler in power - it was a particular piece of madness that Hitler had been stewing for so long. As it happened, his rage against Jews was extremely counterproductive because it was largely the export of Jews to the US that led to the US building the atom bomb. Also, whether Hitler stayed in power was irrespective of whether German Jews lived or died, while if they died it was more likely to rile up the US. So even if you take away the illegality and the morality, that [policy was hopelessly counterproductive.


message 6: by Kris (new)

Kris Haliday (krishaliday) | 127 comments Scout wrote: "Do you agree or disagree that cruelty is necessary to maintain power?"

I think the novel shows that cruelty is about enjoyment not discipline or political necessity. Indeed, cruelty requires institutional and/or cultural props and instruments, since it denies, as it compensates for, a weakness that follows from hollow fragility. The magnitude of the denial is manifest in the magnitude of the enjoyable harm cruelty must do to feel other than impotent. The dramatic reversal in the fortunes of Scimina best illustrate what the novel has to say on this point.

The ritual sacrifice of Yeine is described as a cruelty necessary for continuity and stability of political power: it is the main plot device driving the story. But that necessity is an illusion in many respects, created by the absence of a proper sacrificial object. Yeine is therefore a contradiction: she is the person of incomparable value (the only proper sacrifice) and a person of no value at all, dressed in the ugly gray of a non-entity of no account so that everyone in the polity will know that her humiliation is complete. That contradiction makes her sacrifice a cheat [spoiler alert].

In fact, it is the sacrifice that confers value rather than her value that warrants the sacrifice. As a result she acquires what Marx might call "surplus value". She becomes a kind of currency or commodity, like dollars or pesos: something that can be exchanged for something else, as slaves could be exchanged for currency, or cattle, or wagon wheels.

At the point of her ritual murder, however, the stone seed of a dead goddess, a supernova, slips into the wound piercing her heart and is incorporated, there, as the pulse of a living stone. With the power that this pulsing stone confers, Yeine consigns Scimina to a life of servitude (in truth Scimina had always been a slave to her own impotence); she turns the Sun God into a mortal who will remain so until he learns to love the frail creatures he despised (he had presented himself as the god of order and justice; not so, Yeine would seem to say, because he is callous and arrogant); and she heals the opposition between heaven and earth with a World Tree that joins the two.

In this reading of the novel, then, it is the power to heal and not the power of cruelty that has what it takes to rule.

Cheers!
Kris


message 7: by Kris (new)

Kris Haliday (krishaliday) | 127 comments Graeme wrote: "If we are talking coercive authority, I.e. "Do what I tell you, or I will harm/torture/kill you or someone you care about." than it's a relationship that requires the acquiescence of the subject to..."

I agree in principle, Graeme, but I also think resisting coercive authority is easier said than done. I remain in awe of people who continue to resist for years and years and years, under the most coercive conditions, as that which they are resisting persists and persists and persists. (I am a member of Amnesty International, the source of the many inspiring examples known to me of the astonishing human spirit).


message 8: by Kris (new)

Kris Haliday (krishaliday) | 127 comments Ian wrote: "Scout, I believe cruelty, in the line of Graeme's coercive authority, is the last refuge of the otherwise failed leadership. The Holocaust was not something carried out to keep Hitler in power - it..."

I agree with Ian, here. The Holocaust would seem to be a case showing, as does Jemisin's novel, that cruelty does not arise from the necessities of leadership or the authority needed to rule. But the Holocaust is also an extremely complex historical event because it was bureaucratized, not simple personal; it was a matter of policy and program, not merely occasional or accidental; it was genocidal, not simply cruel. I think that all those factors make "resistance" in the camps equally complex. For example, Vicktor Frankle tells about a woman in a line of prisoners headed for the gas chambers. She was recognized by one the officers of the guards as a former prima ballerina. He pointed a gun at her and commanded her to dance, thinking, perhaps, that her emaciated, shorn, grimey person dressed in raga would make a mockery of the great artistry she once had. Frankle says that that command created an opportunity for her to reclaim her humanity by returning to the sources of her artistry. She danced. And because she was still beautiful, still the great artist she had been, he shot her. That is resistance of a high order I think. And I tell the story every chance I get to pass on what she achieved for all of us in that moment.


message 9: by Scout (new)

Scout (goodreadscomscout) | 5206 comments People who resist, knowing that the result will be death, are amazing and to be admired. I would hope I'd do the same, but I'm not sure I'd be that strong.


message 10: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan | 7091 comments Kris wrote: " I remain in awe of people who continue to resist for years and years and years, under the most coercive conditions, as that which they are resisting persists and persists and persists...."

Same here. Awesome in the true sense of the word.


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