Spoilers below the jump for those who aren’t reading along or aren’t finished. On Monday, I’ll open up a discussion of what we should do next.The first time I read this final chapter, I almost tossed my Kindle across the room in disgust. We’ve come all this way, through all this mess, and it turns out that it all happened because one of our putative heroes is a rapist? I was just furious, reading this after watching Lin get destroyed, remembering Derkhan’s lost ear. The idea that the whole damn book was something of a red herring, that Mieville kept the attack out of the conversation, tricked us into thinking that garuda were somehow savage, into forgetting that Yagharek had been punished for some crime. I do think that some of that moral disgust is warranted. There’s something I dislike about condensing this kind of fairly sophisticated moral discussion into the final moments of the book, into a literary choice to help us along the path to forgetting that Yagharek was guilty of something and to ignoring whatever that something might have been.That said, on a second reading, I actually think this turns out to be a potentially feminist reading of the aftermath of sexual assault, and of feminist allies’ responses to it. Isaac’s initial reaction, before Yagharek’s violation is translated for him, is to insist that whatever the garuda did, he redeemed himself by helping Isaac and Derkhan. But once that translation’s made, he sees — and so do we:
What he saw most immediately, were all the vistas, the avenues of choice that Yagharek had stolen. Fleetingly, Isaac glimpsed the denied possibilities. The choice not to have sex, not to be hurt. The choice not to risk pregnancy. And then…what if she had become pregnant? The choice not to abort? The choice not to have a child? The choice to look at Yagharek with respect?
There’s that doubt at the end, the phrasing provides implication that maybe Kar’uchai is stealing Isaac’s choice to respect Yagharek by giving him this information. But really, I think it’s Yagharek who stole Isaac’s chances at respect, and stole his own chances to make his own reputation from a neutral baseline.And I really like Kar’uchai’s insistence that while being raped closed off future avenues for her, it did not change any of her interior self:
I was not violated or ravaged, Grimneb’lin. I am not abused or defiled…or ravished or spoiled. You would call his actions rape, but I do not: that tells me nothing. He stole my choice, and that is why he was…judged….Do not look at me with eyes reserved for victims.
It’s a useful formulation, one that’s made possible by the framing of Yagharek’s crime. He stole something from her, rather than doing something to her. He was the one who changed. The future changed. Nothing in her essential self has been altered. I think it’s worthwhile that Mieville leaves that gap between Kar’uchai’s explanation and Isaac’s ability to understand. In a way, it’s his most successful creation of an alien in the book: it turns out the garudas are just as rational as humans are, perhaps considerably more just. But however much we want to make the conceptual leap to see things the way they do, the chasm between us, and them, remains.But where does that leave the book? I wrote in the last piece how I feel Mieville is challenging us by asking us to accept a story with an essentially neutral impact. Isaac, Derkhan and Yagharek are ultimately invisible. They don’t change New Crobuzon society a whit. They’re important only in that they allow New Crobuzon to continue exactly as it was before. They preserve all the city’s choices. And we have to accept that ultimately, those choices may be terrible. This final section is a dramatization of that conceptual leap for us as readers, a personal articulation of a somewhat difficult act of storytelling consumption. I think in a way it’s pretty cheap and exploitative to use sexual assault to make that point, and I think the choice of something so ugly and impactful is a reflection of the fact that the slake-moths don’t quite work as monsters. If we truly felt their threat, their power to annihilate choice for everyone, forever, Mieville wouldn’t have to bring us back down to the worst of behavior to make his point.