Cloud Atlas

This afternoon I finished reading “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell. Enjoyed it greatly, although I’m not sure I could tell you why. The structure delighted but the subtext eludes like a particularly entertaining bar of thoughtsoap in the nice warm bath of storytelling.

This passage, an aside by a minor character, stopped me cold:

Exposition: the workings of the actual past + the virtual past may be illustrated by an event well known to collective history such as the sinking of the titanic. The disaster as it actually occurred descends into obscurity as its eyewitnesses die off, documents perish + the wreck of the ship dissolves in its Atlantic grave.

Yet a virtual sinking of the titanic, created from reworked memories, papers, hearsay, fiction – in short, belief – grows ever ‘truer’. The actual past is brittle, ever-dimming + ever more problematic to access + reconstruct: in contrast the virtual past is malleable, ever-brightening + ever more difficult to circumvent/expose as fraudulent.

• The present presses the virtual past into its own service, to lend credence to its mythologies + legitimacy to the imposition of will. Power seeks + is the right to ‘landscape’ the virtual past (he who pays the historian calls the tune)

• Symmetry demands an actual + virtual future too, We imagine how next week, next year, or 2225 will shape up – a virtual future, constructed by wishes, prophecies + daydreams. This virtual future may influence the actual future, as in a self-fulfilling prophecy, but the actual future will eclipse our virtual one as surely as tomorrow eclipses today. Like Utopia, the actual future + the actual past exist only in the hazy distance, where they are no good to anyone.

0 comments
  1. I’m skipping your excerpt because I haven’t yet read it. But I have read Mitchell’s other two, Ghostwritten and Number9dream, and can heartily recommend them. Both are really exilhirating and are similar in style, but Number9dream weaves the reader in and out of narratives that may be dream, may be reality, and is flecked by nods to cyberpunk, whilst Ghostwritten is… well, I won’t give it away.

  2. Although I do admire Mitchell’s writing style, I did found that both books had dense, turgid sections that put me off. The journal/letters towards the end of Number9Dream were remarkably tedious.

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