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.

 

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Posted on October 11, 2010, in Books and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. He’s not becoming human to better himself, but as an act of remaking, to reflect how his act changed him AND to reflect his acceptance of it – though I suggest that choosing to be human, an alien monster, rather than live as a flightless garuda, represents a failure to accept that ordinary people do monstrous things, and is twinned with the conflict of the reader trying to absorb that a character they like is guilty not only of a heinous crime, but also of trying to escape the consequences.

    Don’t put “rape” in quotes, because what he did was rape. China is a profoundly pro-feminist writer and philosopher, and is not seeking to separate rape and theft of choice, he’s suggesting that rape IS theft of choice, to us. To humans. He is not diminishing rape, he’s separating the act of rape from the victim-blaming narrative we have as readers, to highlight it as a crime not of sex, but of the criminal entitlement of one human over another, a nonexistent right to use another, a profound violation of personal sovereignty, which it is.

    Rape IS theft of choice and of agency, and the sooner we stop treating it as the fulfilment of a “need” rather than of an undisciplined greed and wanton act of entitlement, the sooner we’ll take it seriously and stop pretending it’s just sex.

    I know this is old, but I saw your blog entry and just had to respond. You can’t read and interpret him writing about sex and gender and leave out his dedication to feminist theory. 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment. I agree with your assessment, but I feel that Mieville could have been clearer. But the postclimax has never been Mieville’s strong suit in his writing.
      I actually haven’t looked at my old Bas-Lag posts in years, so I’m a bit rusty on them. Nor have I revisited the novels. Maybe it’s time.
      To be honest, I don’t remember ever liking Yag. I found him detestable. I liked the three adventurers better than him. Hell, I like Rudgutter more than him. My favorite character, not surprisingly, is the Weaver.

  2. Very interesting thoughts, and I agree with your view of Yagharek as the true protagonist of the piece, however I am not sure that I agree with your comment on the supposed racism of Yagharek’s transformation. I can not see how it somehow implies that being human is better. The whole novel has showed us khepri, cactacae and other characters as separate individuals with personalities that Miéville never lets be defined by their race. He made Isaac’s and Lin’s love-story fully believable, with the sense of them being equals in every way.

    My view of the whole work is that it is anti-racist to the highest degree. I do not read any implication in to the ending, other than as to truly show how Yagharek’s identity has been completely destroyed when he won’t be able to fly again due to Isaac’s betrayal. In a moment of madness, be sees a chance of making a new identity and takes it. Instead of being a broken garuda, he becomes a whole man – however much of a freak he may be.

    I don’t know what to make of that choice, but it is a theme that is to some degree repeated in The Scar with

    (SPOILER)
    Tanner Sacks choice to remake himself in Armada. Through that, he makes himself a new identity, an identity that is whole.
    (END OF SPOILER)

    Even though he is viewed as a freak by the outside world, he gets a sense of belonging. And I think that is Miévilles point -everyone needs to belong somewhere.

  3. Nice analysis! I really liked this eight-parter. I also have many problems with the book and its ending, yet I can’t deny Mielville’s superb imagination and intelligent concepts. A lot of it dips into the academic or scientific, not something you expect from a fantasy novel.

    Seems this last article in incomplete though. You say:

    “I am going to discuss the novel as a whole. Perdido Street Station is one of my favorite novels of all time”

    But the text ends soon afterward. A pity, although of course you have the right to write as you see fit.

    Anyways, thanks for the interesting read. Cheers.

    • M.Miles, thanks for the comment.
      I probably was intending to write up a summation or something in a later post and it just fell off the schedule. Of course, it does open the door for a Bas-Lag revisit at some point.

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