Bas-Lag Reading Project Iron Council Parts Nine and Ten: “Sound and Light” and “The Monument”
The reasons why I’m condensing the final two parts of Iron Council are: I want to focus this post on Judah’s relationship to the Iron Council and explore why he does what he does, and to be honest, I’ve rather grown tired of these posts at the moment.
The moment that Judah releases his time golem is the moment that every event in his life depicted in the novel becomes relevant. He learned golemetry from the Siltspear, whose greatest magic is the production of these time golems during the hunt. In a way, I think that Judah is making up for his past failure. He could not save the Siltspear, he did not have the power and knowledge at the time. It only comes later, when he has something he wants to protect.
That something is Iron Council. It is, in part, what he identifies with. As a “leftist,” as a dissident in New Crobuzon, he is automatically sympathetic and willing to aid Iron Council in its initial striving for freedom. Indeed, he is instrumental in defending the perpetual train. He has a stake in it as the great defender. And he has a stake as its prophet in New Crobuzon.
However, I am not so sure that Iron Council is the only reason why Judah returns home. New Crobuzon, despite its horrors, injustices, and monstrosities, has an undeniable stranglehold on her citizens. Why else does New Crobuzon command such loyalty from those who would like to see the government fall? Perhaps it is a dream of creating a new New Crobuzon, one that is going to be like Iron Council writ large for all of Bas-Lag to see. A place of freedom, tolerance, and economic equality.
The dream of Iron Council, the dream of a new New Crobuzon is one fated to disappoint. The Collective has failed in its attempt to create a new New Crobuzon, and Iron Council is late to the battle, to the moment. Iron Council is marching to history, but history has already passed them by. And now, history will forever pass them by. When will the time golem expire? What happens then?
Was Judah right in imprisoning Iron Council in a time golem? Yes in the that he saved them from certain destruction. He knew that Iron Council was doomed. But did he have the right to steal the choice of Iron Council to return home, to fight for a reborn New Crobuzon? That is a harder question. Ann-Hari’s response is a deadly no.
This further raises the question as to whether or not Judah does this for ulterior motives beyond saving the Council. Did he do it for his own benefit (though he knew he was likely to die)? Is he truly even a Councillor?
It is clear that Judah’s intention was for Iron Council to flee elsewhere from New Crobuzon, to be the roving lord train among its environs. That Judah was manipulated by Wrightby through Pennyhaugh is without question. And how much influence did Drogon have on the decision to return to New Crobuzon?
In a way, I suspect that Judah always intended to freeze Iron Council in time if he failed to persuade them to not confront New Crobuzon. Why? Because Iron Council itself, the physical embodiment of the dream, the birth of a third Crobuzon must survive. For Judah, the physical symbol cannot be destroyed because the dream will die. The myth, the dream cannot exist without the physical form, without Iron Council. If Iron Council is destroyed, then so is the dream of liberating New Crobuzon.
And with Iron Council now frozen outside of time (and within the precincts of New Crobuzon), the dream is not dead, it lives on. Even though the Collective has been destroyed and New Crobuzon is undergoing a dizzying level of repression, the dream remains. The physicality of successful resistance is there, a monument. And the survivors of the Collective are grouping, Runagate Rampant is still there, telling the truth of both Iron Council and the Collective.
What Mieville is getting at here, is a symbolism for the endurance of the dream of Marx, of the Commune, of all of the failed movements to supplant industrial capitalism. Though the individual movements falter, the dream itself remains in every protest against economic and political injustice. Iron Council will always be there, no matter what thaumaturgies New Crobuzon throws at it.
As Marxism is at its root an economic theory, indivisible from capitalism, so Iron Council’s fate is tied to that of Wrightby. The whole novel can be seen as a gambit on Wrightby’s part to use Iron Council’s return as a means of finding a way to complete his railroad, his holy dream. Perhaps, he is the one who instigated the Militia sending a force to destroy Iron Council in the hopes that it would return to fight?
It is fitting, then, that Iron Council rests near the TRT station. It is a constant reminder that Capitalism is linked to Marxism, a ying and yang.
And that is why Iron Council must return to New Crobuzon, the two cannot live without the other.
This ends my explorations into the world of Bas-Lag. I will be returning to it, however, as I do intend on doing more in depth looks at certain aspects Bas-Lag. But that may be a while. I’m exhausted.