Bas-Lag Reading Project Part 8: Perdido Street Station Finale
This is it. The final installment of my Bas-Lag Reading Project’s look at Perdido Street Station. The main conflict is finished. The Slake Moths have been destroyed. Isaac’s group is on the run. So, what is “Judgment” about? Well, there is one huge issue that has not been answered. What the hell did Yagharek do that called for the amputation of his wings? That question is answered along with some interesting points about Yag.
Karu’chai, another Garuda, has come to find Isaac. She implores him to uphold the band’s justice on Yag. Isaac is reluctant, but is in the end swayed in a way that is inherently problematic. Karu’chai was “raped.” I put rape in quotation marks because that is the closest translation to what happened. She was raped, but for her it is more of a deprivation of choices rather that the sexualization that our consensus defines rape as. Of course, Isaac cannot help but interpret Yag’s crime as rape even though Karu’chai constantly tells Isaac to not interpret the crime that way.
So, in the end, Isaac and Derkhan take Lin and flee New Crobuzon and abandon Yag. This is without question the hardest scene of the narrative to get over. The comradeship and friendship that formed between these three characters in the moment of crisis is suddenly ripped asunder. I think that part of Mieville’s scheme here is to highlight the harsh reality of the city. Cities are places of great friendships and community, but also of isolation and disconnection. These three characters have come together and are now torn asunder.
With this moment achieved, Isaac’s abandonment of Yag complete, a new and interesting question is raised. Is Isaac the true protagonist of Perdido Street Station? While he does seem to be the protagonist since he leads the fight against the Slake Moths, every part of the novel is led in by Yagharek’s story. And it is Yagharek who has come to the greatest change in his character. He is the one who has changed the most fully.
Yag goes from being a selfish Garuda who wishes above all else for flight to be returned to him to being a human. Now, this is inherently racist even if the Garuda is a different species. What I mean by this is that Yag tries to remove all of the remaining elements of his Garudaness. He rips out his feathers, he tries to shatter his beak, he forever covers his claws, etc. In this physical transformation, Yagharek becomes human.
I have a problem with this. The implication here is that being or becoming human is better than being Garuda. Yes, this is fiction. But just because there is no reality to the Garuda does not mean that the Garuda, the Khepri, the Vodyanoi, the Cactacae, etc. are not qualified to be viewed as fully themselves. Bas-Lag is, then, a anthropocentric world. But does this reflect Mieville or the world itself? Certainly this is an issue with Bas-Lag where classism and xenian racisim is endemic. And don’t forget that Yag himself is mentally unstable. His identity shifts radically throughout the novel.
To sum things up as this is the final part of my reading of Perdido Street Station, I am going to discuss the novel as a whole. Perdido Street Station is one of my favorite novels of all time. Despite its flaws, I am always amazed by Mieville’s artistry, imagination, and skill.