A Walk in the Clouds of Cloud Atlas, Part 1

I read very little contemporary fiction, on the view that there isn’t time, given the classic literature I still haven’t read, not to mention the torrent of current non-fiction I try to follow. Still less am I inclined to read any contemporary fiction that might be colorably considered “postmodern.”

So why would I read David Mitchell’s 2004 novel Cloud Atlas, especially after trying, on airplane flight several years ago, to watch the confusing and borderline incoherent movie based on the book? What’s going on here? Is this some kind of wacky reincarnation story? An overcooked Eastern mystic “everything-is-connected-to-everything-else” pastiche? Did Tom Hanks, Hugh Grant, Hallie Berry, Hugo Weaving, and the rest of the all-star cast get six separate salaries for the six different parts they each played? (The movie’s budget was north of $100 million.)

But here I was a few weeks back, reading Michael Walsh’s concluding chapter to his edited collection Against the Great Reset: Eighteen Theses Contra the New World Order, and came across this:

So entrenched is “transgressive” art that the creative community now bears more than a little resemblance to the sham battles between Union and Unanimity in the “Orison of Somni 451” chapters of David Mitchell’s brilliant 2004 novel, Cloud Atlas. Even those who think they are rebels in fact are being manipulated by government power designed to present the illusion of debate, disagreement and, when necessary, outright rebellion.

Michael added in a helpful footnote:

The 2012 film adaptation defensibly omits this final realization on Sonmi’s part. The audience has become so invested in her parlous slavery, dramatic escape, heroic defiance, and her tragic death would have negated the movie’s overall tone and message.

As it happens, Michael Walsh is not the only Michael who has told me I should read Cloud Atlas. Michael Shellenberger has been saying the same thing to me for several years.

David Mitchell.

So I duly sat down and read it. The Committee of Esteemed Michaels are right: Cloud Atlas is a work of genius, though it does require some careful attention and effort by the reader, similar to James Joyce. I think it has a chance to become the Moby Dick of our age, likely read with interest a century from now and beyond. Moreover I think it is a profoundly small-"c" conservative book, explicitly rejecting the background noise of so-called “progressivism”—the twin pillars of historicism and nihilism—and defending natural right, though this is possibly no purpose of the author. Rather, like all great art, it is an imaginative mirror of nature, in this telling once again “red in tooth and claw.”

The novel comprises six separate stories and timelines spread over five centuries, each with a distinct story genre and prose style, making for an initially jarring reading experience. The first four stories feel familiar because they all belong to the recognizable past or present. The first is a Herman Melville-style ocean-going explorer’s yarn set in 1849 (there are distinct echoes of Typee and Omoo); the second is an interwar take on a striving classical composer whose eventual suicide reminds slightly of Stefan Zweig of The World of Yesterday; the third a Chandleresque thriller-suspense mystery set in 1970s San Francisco; the fourth a comic farce about a slovenly, disreputable London publisher whose later fictionalized film account of his involuntary institutionalization set in 2012 becomes an unlikely bridge to the distant future—a suggestion that it is not necessarily “classic” literature or philosophy that can command consciousness.

The last two stories are set in far distant time—one a dystopian sci-fi tale set in “New Seoul,” Korea, 200 years from now, in which genetically engineered humans known as “fabricants” exist as a brainwashed slave class to serve the materialist needs and desires of “natural” born “pure bloods.” The regime type is self-consciously known as the “Corpocracy,” guided by the ideology of “The Unanimity.” This section reads more vividly amidst our increasingly conformist universities of today, and especially in the aftermath of our recent Covid regime. (The “Corpocracy” of New Seoul is a “bio-state” complete with “DNA sniffers” to detect social deviance through biological markers.)

The prophet of rebellion is fabricant Sonmi 451 (the number surely an homage to Ray Bradbury). She is being interrogated about her views just prior to her execution by an “Archivist” who represents the Unanimity—an homage to Winston Smith’s interrogator O’Brien in 1984 just as “The Unanimity” parallels Big Brother. The Archivist asks Sonmi for “her version of the truth,” to which Sonmi replies: “Truth is singular. Its ‘versions’ are mistruths.” Try saying this on a college campus today, and watch how fast you are cancelled. The bedrock principle of the novel is the metaphysical freedom of the human mind and the importance of individual choice. It implicitly rejects all modern ideologies of a historical dialectic, the easy progressivism of “the right side of history,” and the concomitant leftist materialism that individual choice has no effect amidst the larger forces determining our future. Our universe is not simply random, reduced to matter in motion.

Sonmi 451 ( Doona Bae).

In the film version Sonmi goes on to explain: “’You can maintain power over people as long as you give them something. Rob a man of everything, and that man will no longer be in your power.’” The Archivist knows the reference: “Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, 20th-century philosopher, complete works banned by Unanimity. How do you know about him?” One of her seditious thoughts: “No matter if we are born in a tank or a womb, we are all pureblood. We must all fight, and if necessary die, to teach people the truth.” Just as Lincoln might have put it to Douglas—or at a futuristic Gettysburg.

The final story line in the chronology, though appearing as a complete, standalone central chapter of the book (all the other story lines come in two separate installments), is set in the distant future, and written in a made-up, oral tradition language that takes a while for the reader to grasp. What would Leo Strauss make of this placement and the linguistic equivalent of a “new mode and order” of storytelling?

It features a post-apocalyptic scene set some centuries after the “Corpocracy” has somehow ended—whether through war or revolution is left vague, though Sonmi’s manifesto had some important role in it, like Solzhenitsyn and the Soviet Union. But there was “The Fall” (apparently a global nuclear war whose contamination threatens the survival of the human race, but clearly redolent of the original Fall of Man of the Old Testament), leaving a handful of primitive survivors on the big island of Hawaii. These survivors are split between a peaceful agrarian and pietistic clan who follow the dimly understood teachings of the prophet Sonmi, and a barbaric, cannibalistic tribe they preys on the former in the most violent and gruesome ways. This is a callback to the opening story of novel set in 1849, where the seafaring American lawyer Adam Ewing observes two indigenous South Pacific tribes of similarly contrasting impulses, with the warlike tribe slaughtering the peaceful tribe. Ewing writes in his diary: “What moral to draw? Peace, though beloved of our Lord, is a cardinal virtue only if your neighbors share your conscience.”

But somewhere in this distant post-apocalyptic world of the central story there are a handful of technologically advanced survivors too, who periodically travel to the island on their fusion-powered ships for some mysterious purpose only slowly disclosed. In other words, barbarism in the state of nature remains a fundamental prospect no matter the state of technology or “progress.” No sentimental Rousseau to be found in this grand sweep of several centuries.

Many readers, and especially viewers of the film version that differs from the book in significant ways (as film adaptations must do), primarily take away a theme of reincarnation or the unity of the soul over time. But even if the filmmakers saw it this way, the rich moral-political teaching is more central to the book, and it survives in the film version. That so many readers and viewers miss this is another indicator of the mis-education of our time. This will be the subject of the second installment tomorrow.

THE COLUMN: From Hell's Heart

After Joe Biden's disgraceful speech last week —the worst and most deliberately provocative bully pulpit address in American history—many people have finally woken up to the very real threat threat of Leftist fascism (historically, there is no other kind) and its burning desire for civil war, and have begun asking themselves: what if this idiot is serious?

That Biden is, in fact, an idiot, is beyond dispute. For more than half a century this thoroughly nasty piece of work has been bullying, blustering, bragging, plagiarizing, insulting, sliming, and attacking his political enemies—who now apparently include anyone who opposes him and his criminal Anti-American Party—without any fear of reprisals whatsoever. Since he spent most of that time in Congress, profiting handsomely at the public teat, attacking Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas, he was immune from consequences thanks to the Speech and Debate clause in the Constitution: the same Constitution he now openly despises and seeks to supplant.

The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States. They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.

Bidding fair to claim the title of Second-Worst Irish-American politician in American History, and closing fast on the current titleholder, Ted Kennedy [the noxious "Robert Bork's America" speech begin at 25:38 and is well worth a watch], Biden vilified his predecessor, his supporters, and by extension every American who voted for the Republican candidate during the contentious and hotly contested 2020 election. You can see the hatred and the anger on his face as he "calls for unity":

The fact is, Biden is Fredo Corleone without the wit, charm, or brains: "I can handle things. I'm smart. It's not like everybody says, I'm dumb. I'm smart and I want respect." He is Ubu Rex without the self-restraint, a Roman emperor who judging from the two Marines outrageously stationed behind him actually trusts his Praetorian Guard. Like another National Socialist who instantly comes to mind, he's forever mad at the world for not recognizing his talent and his genius and will show us who's boss or die trying.

Too much of what’s happening in our country today is not normal. Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic. Now, I want to be very clear — (applause) — very clear up front: Not every Republican, not even the majority of Republicans, are MAGA Republicans.  Not every Republican embraces their extreme ideology. I know because I’ve been able to work with these mainstream Republicans.
But there is no question that the Republican Party today is dominated, driven, and intimidated by Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans, and that is a threat to this country. These are hard things. But I’m an American President — not the President of red America or blue America, but of all America. And I believe it is my duty — my duty to level with you, to tell the truth no matter how difficult, no matter how painful. And here, in my view, is what is true:

MAGA Republicans do not respect the Constitution.  They do not believe in the rule of law.  They do not recognize the will of the people. They refuse to accept the results of a free election.  And they’re working right now, as I speak, in state after state to give power to decide elections in America to partisans and cronies, empowering election deniers to undermine democracy itself. MAGA forces are determined to take this country backwards — backwards to an America where there is no right to choose, no right to privacy, no right to contraception, no right to marry who you love.

Caligula and the Praetorians in 41 AD: oops.

All of these "rights," of course, are not rights but policy prescriptions of the Left. There is no enumerated, nor implied, "right" in the Constitution to "choose" to murder your unborn children, to contraception, to "marry who[m] you love." "Privacy," unenumerated, is something we would all like to have, but given the initial privacy violation of the 16th amendment, which has made the lives and ledgers of every citizen open to the inquiries of the state, and to which the presumption of innocence does not apply, it's a little late for a "progressive" Democrat to be bitching about loss of privacy. More of what in decent Irish neighborhoods used to be called fighting words:

They promote authoritarian leaders, and they fan the flames of political violence that are a threat to our personal rights, to the pursuit of justice, to the rule of law, to the very soul of this country. They look at the mob that stormed the United States Capitol on January 6th — brutally attacking law enforcement — not as insurrectionists who placed a dagger to the throat of our democracy, but they look at them as patriots. And they see their MAGA failure to stop a peaceful transfer of power after the 2020 election as preparation for the 2022 and 2024 elections. They tried everything last time to nullify the votes of 81 million people.  This time, they’re determined to succeed in thwarting the will of the people.

Make no mistake: despite Biden's walk-back the next day—for members of Congress, words have no lasting meaning— this was an evil speech and tantamount to a declaration of war on both conservatives and a Republican Party that, however poorly, represents them. It should have been immediately been greeted with articles of impeachment by the hapless, cowardly, and contemptible GOP, but of course it wasn't. Biden and Left have backed the Chicken Party into a corner, from which they cannot fight back without giving MSM credence to the charges he just laid against them. Grandpa Joe (more like your Wicked Uncle Ernie from Tommy), a veteran of nearly half a century of "reaching across the aisle" in order to pick the country's pockets, may be dumb but he's not stupid. He knows his enemies and their foolish desire to be loved by the press, and knows that they won't dare stop him as he fiddles about.

Despite his manifest unworthiness for the highest office in the land, Joe Biden is in a way the perfect president for our times. Since Reagan, and with the partial exception of Donald Trump, we have had a parade of base, weak, conniving, corrupt, and otherwise unsuitable presidents, so why should he be any different? In latter-day America, only scions and plutocrats need apply: starting with the CIA's very own commander-in-chief, George H.W. Bush, we've had William Jefferson Blythe III, George W. Bush (aka Junior), Barack Hussein Obama II, Donald J. Trump, and now Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. And if the president's staff of Drs. Feelgood can keep him ambulatory and relatively sentient and publicly continent until January 2025, there's a very good chance he'll be POTUS again, especially if he runs against his fellow obsessive geriatric, Trump.

Die, MAGA, die!

Like Captain Ahab in Melville's masterpiece, Moby-Dick, JB, Jr., has finally harpooned his nemesis, the American government, determined at last to make the magnificent monster pay for laughing at him all these years. 

But the Whale is bigger than Biden, and swims in a school far beyond his understanding or ken. On Thursday night, Robinette's concluding words were:

And I have no doubt — none –– that this is who we will be and that we’ll come together as a nation.  That we’ll secure our democracy.  That for the next 200 years, we’ll have what we had the past 200 years: the greatest nation on the face of the Earth. We just need to remember who we are.  We are the United States of America.  The United States of America.  (Applause.) And may God protect our nation.  And may God protect all those who stand watch over our democracy.  God bless you all.  (Applause.)  Democracy.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

What they should have been were: "From Hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee." Ahab's last words, just before the White Whale drags him down to Davy Jones' Locker. Talk about a call for unity: the (applause) on both sides of the aisle, from both satanic Left and patriotic Right, would have been thunderous.

THE COLUMN: From Behind the Unreasoning Mask

Thus spake Captain Ahab:

All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event — in the living act, the undoubted deed — there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? 

So now the mask slips and the truth is revealed: it was never about masks, or Covid, or "the science" at all. It was always—and always will be—about power. The Long March through the Institutions, the hallmark of the Frankfurt School's assault on the Western democracies, has now claimed its latest and thus far biggest prize. 

Who had the collapse of Canada as a functioning democracy on his bingo card? It was disheartening enough when Australia (with a "conservative" prime minister) fell, and that disarmed and benighted nation quickly transformed from the land of Mad Max and Crocodile Dundee back into the British penal colony it always was. 

But Canada? Granted, what became in 1867 the Dominion of Canada was comprised in part by American loyalists who rejected the separation from the motherland in the late 18th century and moved northward. Canadians also rightfully resented American incursions into their territory during the War of 1812 (a war much celebrated in Canada and totally ignored in the United States as the embarrassing mess it was). But since then, Canada has been America's closest ally. Canadians have long distinguished themselves in war, especially during World War I, where their service at Passchendaele, Ypres, and the Somme has become the stuff of military legend. Until the pestiferous arrival of Justin Trudeau as prime minister, no two countries were closer or had a more amicable relationship than Canada and the U.S.

Who is that masked man, really?

Now, in the blink of an eye, that relationship has been imperiled by Trudeau's abrogation of representative, parliamentary democracy via his mini-Machtergreifung last week. In this outrageous and disgraceful action he has been aided and abetted by his deputy prime minister (and finance minister) Chrystia Freeland (Harvard, Rhodes scholar), whose journalist grandfather was reportedly a Nazi collaborator during the war. Coincidentally she is married to a reporter for the New York Times, and is a former journalist herself. Of Ukrainian descent on her mother's side, the steely, multi-lingual Freeland has emerged as She Who Brings Down the Hammer:

In her remarks following Trudeau's act of nation-destroying pique, she said this:

Around the world, liberal democracies have been facing serious and sustained threats. We may have thought – we may have hoped – that Canada would be spared. Over the past two and a half weeks, we have learned that it is not. This occupation and these blockades are causing serious harm to our economy, to our democratic institutions, and to Canada’s international standing... That is why our government is taking action. We are resolute and determined. These illegal blockades must and will end. What we are facing today is a threat to our democratic institutions, to our economy, and to peace, order, and good government in Canada. This is unacceptable. It cannot stand and it will not stand.

"Our democracy," indeed. A dedicated leftist, Freeland is a member of the board of trustees of the World Economic Forum, the most dangerous threat to real democracy and freedom in the world today. Led by Klaus Schwab, whose Strangelovian accent would make Laurence Olivier's demented dentist Dr. Szell blush, the WEF is the force behind the Great Reset, a cross between the dystopian visions of Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World as run by Daddy Warbucks and Dr. Evil.

Like SPECTRE, Schwab and his Resetters (whose numbers include, of course, Britain's Prince Charles, the scion of a family of anglicized Germans who trace their lineage back to the houses of Hanover and Saxe-Coburg und Gotha), seek nothing less than global power and influence—and in fact have already achieved it:

The punitive reaction to the Freedom Convoy was only unexpected in its timing. While most Western governments have been relatively silent regarding Trudeau's sudden coup, the media has generally cheered, reflecting their Ivy League loathing of the working classes and their lip service to republican democracy. Just as they celebrated the fiery, "mostly peaceful" BLM and Antifa riots during the summer of 2020, so they've (baselessly, to use one of their favorite words) depicted the truckers as racists and Nazis, taking their cues in that regard from Trudeau himself

The Wall Street Journal naturally opposed the move: 

Protests aren’t emergencies, and Western leaders had better get used to handling civil disobedience firmly without traducing civil liberties. Mr. Trudeau criminalized a protest movement, deputizing financial institutions, without due process or liability, to find and freeze personal accounts of blockaders and anyone who helps them. These extraordinary measures are a needless abuse of power.

When the Emergencies Act was first passed, critics were assured “emergency powers can only be used when the situation is so drastic that no other law of Canada can deal with the situation.” In abusing these powers for a nonemergency, Mr. Trudeau crossed a democratic line. Canadians wanted the blockades to end, but it never should have come at the expense of the rule of law.

Amazingly, and to its credit, so did the editorial board of the New York Times, meekly defending the right of peaceful protest, something Trudeau, Jr., had once claimed to champion:

We disagree with the protesters’ cause, but they have a right to be noisy and even disruptive. Protests are a necessary form of expression in a democratic society, particularly for those whose opinions do not command broad popular support. Governments have a responsibility to prevent violence by protesters, but they must be willing to accept some degree of disruption by those seeking to be heard. The challenge for public officials — the same one faced by Minneapolis and other cities in 2020 during the protests after the murder of George Floyd — is to maintain a balance between public health and safety and a functioning society, with the right to free expression. Entertaining the use of force to disperse or contain legal protests is wrong. As Mr. Trudeau said in November 2020, in expressing his support of a yearlong protest by farmers in India that blocked major highways to New Delhi, “Canada will always be there to defend the right of peaceful protest.”

One of the obstacles to understanding the malign intentions of the Davoisie and its fellow travelers in this mésalliance of corporate leaders and government officials—one of the textbook characteristics of Fascism, along with the employment of private militias to subvert the democratic process—is the highly successful campaign the international Left has waged since the collapse of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact under exigent circumstances in 1941, mostly via the media, to convince you that National Socialist Germany and the international Union of Soviet Socialist Republics were somehow antithetical, when in fact they were two sides of the same hellish coin. The nickname "Nazi" (almost never used by the members of the NSDAP themselves) derives from the first two syllables of the German word for "national," and was used to distinguish National Socialists from the "Sozis" in common parlance. 

Today, the bonzes of the WEF hide behind their ostensible capitalism and stupefying wealth to deflect any notion that they are aligned and allied with the international Left: how can we be both pro-capitalist and pro-communist at the same time? (Maybe they should ask Davos regular and former Nazi collaborator, George Soros.)

The sad and sobering part is that some two-thirds of Canadians approve of the Trudeau government's curtailment of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees freedom of conscience and religion; freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication; freedom of peaceful assembly; and freedom of association. But as in Britain, Ireland, Australia, and the U.S. Canada's major media are strongly pro-government (as long as that government tilts left) and will not brook any opposition to their love of internationalism. If that means rights have to be shelved "for a limited time," well you know the old saw about omelets and eggs. It only took two years to end "two weeks to flatten the curve."

As Ahab says in the passage quoted above, from Chapter 36, "The Quarter-Deck," of Moby Dick: "If man will strike, strike through the dumb mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall?"

How indeed? Especially when the wall strikes back.