Esther’s Space- journey through my life

March 19, 2008

Final Response to The Diamond Age

Filed under: ENG 576: Literature in the Information Age — estherspace @ 9:12 pm

This has been niggling me (if that’ s an acceptable way to use that word) throughout the book, and I might have found a way to finally articulate it: Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer is concerned with the question, “if we live in a world where anything is possible, what do we want?

Looking back over the book with this question in mind, a number of Stephenson’s (since, yes, I am going to attribute the ideas to him) ideals or notions of what a functionable society needs are revealed. In a world that he could have created to be anything, he chooses very specific items and themes to incorporate.

For example, the Primer itself is an enormous part of the narrative. It represents both The Book, and education. Through it’s functioning with Nell, it could indicate to us, the reader, that books and education, in the correct framework and support network, can enact massive social and individual change in a positive way.

More generally speaking, look at the example of the Victorians. They exist at the highest level of society, because they (or originally, the first neo-Victorians) (may/must have) asked my question of themselves, and decided to pursue authenticity as their primary achievement in a seemingly limitless world.

As Katie commented on in her post, it would seem like the future world of any possibilities would break down, culturally and geographically, the things that separates cultures, races, or just groups of people. But, in this novel, Stephenson does not. The next appropriate question to ask is ‘why?’ I will not purport to have the answer, but it seems like the answer might be connected to ideas of culture and race as more than just socially constructed, and Kim discussed in class, as well as something to do with the human need to ‘other’ in order to maintain a strong sense of ‘self’. Stephenson is suggesting that there is a natural tendency for people to group with those of a similar race, and the human investment in maintaining those dividing boundaries and groupings.

Another, probably related, item that Stephenson incorporates into his world is a fairly rigid (patriarchal) hierarchy that society is built upon. Where is the egalitarian view of the future? Not here. Why? I don’t know. But, I do know that even a revolution isn’t capable of doing away with heirarchies of power. Except, after the revolution, the power is in the hands of a woman, one woman, to be exact, and she is followed by large population of ‘faceless, nameless’ (as Kim put it) females that work completely as a community, not as individuals interested in achieving a higher status. This makes for a fairly frightening world that Stephenson ends the book with. The future is full of………..? Is it the power of love that Nell has realized? Probably not, since she will run her part of the world using ‘faceless, nameless’ girls that have never learned the concept of thinking of their own best interests above those of the community, or needing something that cannot be shared with the entire community.

Again, I’ve run into the same problem I’ve had through the second half of the book; every time I try to mentally work my way through something, I continually run up against a wall.  I never thought I’d say this, but I am actually really looking forward to the prospect of being able to write my next post on a close reading of myself in the act of reading.  What has become of me?


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