Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Sad Duties of Feudal Stagnation

So yeah, Dune is big and long and multi themed. What to do about that…well I’ll just focus on a couple things. I’m not about to write a dissertation on Dune that would be a major loss of street cred. Anyway…let’s move on.

I think one of the most important keystones in Herbert’s methodology of the Dune universe is the plausibility with which he creates a universe devoid of computers; a universe where the human mind and body has been altered and changed to become just as good, if not better than that of a machine.

The existence and plausibility of people like mentats, guild navigators, and the Bene Gessirit puts forth this Nietzschea /existential ideal. That as human beings, not only do we have control over our bodies, but we can bend space-time itself. The ascendance of super humans shows a world full of nietzschean independent spirits; people with their own independent wills, which they use alone for their own purposes. Yet there is a contradiction. For all of this human engineering, all of these organizations ascribe to a tight hierarchy and a tight set of morals. So unlike Nietzsche predicted, the overman is not always an independent spirit, but merely independent in their own skill. It takes true messianic superpowers in order to have a measure of independence. Yet even Paul is forced to follow the rules of court and marry Irulan, a woman he can’t love. It seems that regardless of ability or intelligence, the ruling class often finds itself trapped in its own set of revolving door of customs.

For all their power and glory none of these people seem to be very happy. The dune universe is one of Machiavellian realpolitik sprinkled with a heavy dose of kantian ethics. Characters seem forever plagued by their duties, obligations etc. It’s all very fitting for a feudal society such as this one. This obsession with duty, law and order is the undoing of many of the Dune characters. They lose the ability to be happy when they follow protocol. And like Jessica bearing a son, find more contentment when they do what they wish. However such action are always to be admonished by someone, somewhere. Here in this world there is always a hierarchy to answer to.

I think this is an important facet to latch onto. While the world is full of superhumans, they don’t seem to have very developed wills. Rather they’re stuck in this feudal stagnation, running the same institutions and the same Great Houses for millennia on end. There is very little of authenticity in this world. People are trapped into feudal roles, as peasant, laborer and even mentat. There’s a profound sadness to the Dune world. Everyone is caught up in their own personal play, just reading from the script. Yet no one seems all too satisfied. Even Paul seems like he’s just going through the motions as he conquers all.

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