While thinking about this final blog post I began to ask myself the progressive thinkING question of what does it matter that we’ve been doing this? There’s a right answer to that question, but what I found to be more interesting was the entire opposite. There is a level where none of this matters and blog posting is something like a “momentary stay against confusion” (a partial quote from Robert Frost about the function of poetry). To extrapolate from the inherently grim idea that nothing matters, I’d like to add that there is an aspect of chaos that works to complicate the whole situation. This is what I’d like to explore in my final blog post. What does it mean that Jemisin’s characters don’t fully subscribe to nihilism in the face of annihilation? How has humanity survived in the Stillness for so long? I believe the answer lies in a consideration of philosophy and whether or not chaos truly is a force in the Stillness.
The main geologic difference between our world and Jemisin’s is that within her Earth there’s a sentient, swirling mass of molten metal that is very angry. That does a lot in taking chaos out of the equation. Although the goal of Father Earth is to exact a kind of revenge, where he chooses to unleash his power for that purpose seems to be at random. Before the reader becomes aware of an actual, physical Father Earth, volcano eruptions and earthquakes seem to happen with no rhyme or reason. When the reader becomes aware of Father Earth and his agency, they are then able to get at a concept that extends past chaos. There is an end goal that Father Earth has and whether or not he is striking at humanity indiscriminately does not matter because he has a goal in mind. Hidden patterns and ends are what scientists in our world would describe as part of chaos theory. This theory states that there are patterns within seemingly random events that either are so complex that we cannot see them or have not yet gone through a cycle that would allow for a pattern to be recognized. When the reader finds out that Father Earth has a will that he is imposing onto the humans, they discover that the acts on the Earth are not random at all. Father Earth’s ability to send out corestoned Guardians to change humans as well as the land is further evidence of a converging will that is pointed towards a single goal.
Where does philosophy come into play then? We know as readers that the world is at a vague equilibrium at the end of the trilogy, but what about all of that time before anyone knew about Earth’s living core pockmarked with souls? With orogenes (oppressed and discredited) as the replacement for sophisticated monitoring equipment, humanity was able to survive on the Stillness for thousands of years. There is a level of preparedness that became a way of life, and I’d like to emphasize the mental aspect of that disaster ready state that the people of the Stillness live in. Initially I thought that a philosophical optimism seemed like the easiest way to combat an oppressive power structure and disastrous continent at least in sense of allowing for sustainable mental health. That might have worked for Syl Anagist or earlier people, but the characters that the reader is introduced to seem to have too much ability to change the Stillness to simply be optimistic. How Jemisin empowers and maintains her characters mentally seems to be in line with modern concepts on grit/resistance and growth mindsets. Instead of searching for silver linings, characters like Essun, Lerna, and Ykka recognize how bad situations are without losing their drive towards a solution. If I had to coin a term, it would be respectfully pessimistic. They do not trivialize how bad things are while still maintaining that they could, and will become, worse.
Nassun goes beyond this idea by adopting nihilism when she intially abandons all hope for a better future. In light of her discovery that there is an actual, seething-with-anger Father Earth, this makes sense. How can she hope to make an impact when this force is at work? In the literal sense she does contemplate an impact though it’s with the moon and is not a progressive decision at all. Despite her nihilism she recognizes that there is a course of action to be taken that would further the futility of life, although it would be the final act of all life there on Earth.
My final realization is that, though optimism does not have a lot of space to flourish in the Stillness, there is an absence of real chaos that strips the idea of an indifferent universe away. The Stillness’ humans may not understand why they are being punished, but there is an actual reason why the things around them are happening. There’s a space to fit religion into this because a portion of modern humans believe that a god is responsible for their lives. Instead of a large dominating religion the Stillness seems to have Father Earth which is really only a couple degrees of separation from pagan Earth centered religion. It’s very likely that this was an intention of Jemisin because pagans were a group targeted and wiped out by a mostly white, intolerant group of zealots.