Obelisks, Stone Eaters, and Lorists: The Many Faces of the Archive (Part One of Two)

There is an order to life in the Stillness*

There is also a continuity. It is difficult for a society to prioritize the preservation of history when the preservation of life itself is such an immediate concern. Yet Hoa’s early assertion that “much of history is unwritten” (The Fifth Season 3) is laden with far more meaning than we could fathom when first starting the series. In my group’s blog post on the 2011 earthquake in Tohoku, Japan, we discussed how art professor Jave Yoshimoto’s documentation of the tragedy in the form of a 30-foot wood carving related to Yaetr Innovator Dibars’ rejected research on Seasons for Seventh University. But the histories recorded in the Sanze universities, and those taught in creche, represent a tiny fraction of the massive banks of memory spread throughout the Stillness in different, less conventional forms. Obelisks, Stone Eaters, and Lorists all serve to preserve pieces of the great history of humankind. They are the unsung archives of Jemisin’s world.

Jemisin hints early on that the obelisks are more than the mere “batteries” Essun conceptualizes them as, or “simply engines,” as Nassun “understands [them] to be” (The Stone Sky 196)–deadciv relic power sources which a select few top-tier orogenes happen to be able to harness. In The Fifth Season, when Syenite finds and raises the buried obelisk in Allia’s harbor, Hoa tells us, “That [Essun’s] mind insists it was sleeping before is not something she’s willing to question deeply” (252). Two books later, we find out that the massive, enigmatic crystals were made possible by those who (unwillingly) put their lives into them, wrapped in the horrific sinklines, providing “raw magic…as a catalyst,” “in order to help the fragments initiate the generative cycle” (The Stone Sky 262). An unintended consequence of this was a preservation, a perpetuation, of the knowledge those lives once held.

The form and extent of this stored knowledge is revealed gradually. First, Jemisin merely tells us that the obelisks contain equations (lines of force, lines of sight, etc.*). As the series progresses, however, the true nature of the obelisks becomes increasingly clear. After connecting to the sapphire during her quest to reach Corepoint, Nassun attempts to describe to Schaffa that “the sapphire…knows this place” (The Stone Sky 191). When she reconnects, she is provided not with an intuitive understanding of extremely complex physics as she had been in the past, but is instead “overwhelmed with a blue flicker of images, sensations, beliefs…her perspective changes,” and the scenes which are displayed before her unmistakably depict Syl Anagist (The Stone Sky 193-194). The obelisks, Jemisin shows us, are an archive not just of facts and pictures, static knowledge. They are an archive of the will of a people; when Nassun links together the 27 obelisks in a spare key “in order to replicate the onyx’s power, Jemisin assures us that “a replica has only power, no will, unlike the onyx” (383). When the onyx slips into the ocean after its duty is done, “it also puts the last remnants of the Niess to rest” (389). Yet this is not the end of the Niess influence in the Stillness. As long as there are lorists, another form of archive, the work of the Niess persists. This I will address in my next and final post (aside from the self-reflective essay).

*Now that some time has passed since I have finished the books, the locations of quotes do not come to me as easily as they did earlier in the semester. The irony of mentioning this inability to recall in a blog post about memory is not lost on me.

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