Deleuze and Dune

Terence Blake

Agent Swarm


“« Always diverge, never converge » (Bob Bogle FRANK HERBERT: THE WORKS)”

“Contrary to a popular story-telling stereotype, instantiated by later works influenced by DUNE such as STAR WARS, the narrative of DUNE does not follow the model of the hero’s journey. It recounts the story of an initiatory journey gone wrong”

“Secondly, as a postmodern novel, DUNE presents us with a vision of time that has much in common with that of Gilles Deleuze—a non-deterministic time with multiple bifurcations, qualitative leaps, and constantly in flux”

“Lastly, DUNE exemplifies the four criteria that Gilles Deleuze sets for the modern science fiction novel, in his own articulation of what has been called « cognitive estrangement »: estrangement, other cognition, futurity, apocalypse”

“Deleuze often tells us that there is an illusion that befalls everything at its beginnings:

« things and people are always forced to hide, determined to hide when they begin… The essence of a thing never appears at the beginning but in the middle, in the course of its development, when its forces are strengthened » (Image-Movement, 11, my translation)

“This statement is very plausible, but it conceals an even deeper doctrine. We know that for Deleuze everything is flux, everything is arrangement, and there is no essence, no origin.

« If one must hide, if one must always wear a mask, it is not based on a taste for secrecy that would be a personal secret, nor out of precaution, but based on a secret of a higher nature, namely, that the path has no beginning or end’ (Dialogues, 38)

“The ‘path’ in such a cosmos is not a straight line, but a constant detour. It is the line of time with multiple bifurcations, constantly in flux. The radical apocalypse is ontological and epistemological, revealing to us that everything is a veil, a veil behind a veil, without end and without foundation, and thus without a true beginning”

“Frank Herbert, in DUNE, doesn’t say anything different. Right at the beginning, in the epigraph, there is a quote taken from the « Manual of Muad’Dib » by Princess Irulan:

« A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct »”

“But if we look closely, she has understood nothing.

Firstly, Irulan speaks in terms of balance, whereas Paul speaks in terms of flux”

“Furthermore, she writes this in a « manual », expressing her retrospective knowledge of the prophet Muad’Dib’s place in history, while Paul Atreides followed the call of the initiatory journey into the unknown”

“Irulan has no special insider’s knowledge of her subject. Paul marries Irulan solely to establish his legitimacy as the new emperor. To console Chani, destined to remain only the emperor’s concubine, Paul’s mother, Jessica, says to her

« Look at that princess over there, so haughty, so confident. They say she has literary aspirations. Let’s hope that fills her existence because she will have little else »”

“the relationship between philosophy and science fiction”

“For Deleuze, ‘and’ is the operator of immanence and of the divergence of multiple series, thus of becoming, whereas ‘is’ is the operator of transcendence and the convergence of series onto a single point, thus of homoeostasis”

“Frank Herbert asserts that

« the verb « to be » does make idiots of us all » (MAKER OF DUNE, 101)

“Bob Bogle formulates Frank Herbert’s maxim of thought (but it could also be the watchword of Deleuzian thought) as follows:

« always diverge, never converge »”

“I would like to clarify the underlying problematic of my title: philosophy and science fiction under the condition of immanence, i.e. under the condition of thought after Nietzsche and thus after the death of God, the condition that Jean-François Lyotard called « postmodern », providing at least three definitions that partially overlap but remain distinct”

“The postmodern condition, according to Lyotard, is:”

“1) the end of grand narratives of legitimation (sociological or political version)”

“2) Secondly, it is the incredulity towards meta-narratives (psychological version)”

“3) Finally, it is the search for instabilities and paralogies (ontological and epistemological version)”

“Already in DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION, on the first page, Deleuze tells us that

« modern thought [note:Deleuze prefers to use the term « modern, » but the meaning is the same] arises from the failure of representation, as well as from the loss of identities and the discovery of all the forces that act beneath the representation of the identical. The modern world is one of simulacra ».”

“These three characteristics of the postmodern find their coherence in a new figure of time, referred to by Deleuze as ‘the untimely’ or ‘the time to come’”

“DUNE, as the « first modern science fiction book » (according to Brian Aldiss), fits perfectly into this constellation of ideas”

“As a description of the formation and rise to power of an immanent messiah, Paul Atreides, the ducal heir turned Paul Muad’Dib, the messiah of the Fremen, the novel explores the hero’s dependence, as well as that of an entire empire, on the geriatric and psychedelic spice, the « melange », that not only prolongs life but also enables the heightened states of consciousness and the prescience necessary for interstellar navigation by the Guild Navigators, and for the religious and political manipulations of the Bene Gesserit”

“There is a meta-narrative that organizes the narration of DUNE, which is the myth of the hero or what Joseph Campbell describes as the ‘monomyth.’ It is a recurring story with a thousand variations, that of the adventurous quest or initiatory journey. The hero, with an atypical or miraculous birth, is called to adventure. They cross a threshold, enter an unknown world, undergo trials, are rewarded with a prize, and enriched or initiated, they return to ordinary life to improve it. It is the archetypal story of the hero’s individuation, which explains the continuous variation of its episodes, according to the singularities of their journey”

“However, Frank Herbert uses this organizing structure in an original way compared to the stereotypical formulas of the Hollywood composition manuals. Unlike George Lucas in Star Wars, who consciously made use of the monomyth but in a non-critical manner, Herbert wants to teach us incredulity toward this structure and toward any messiah”

“He wants us to learn to be wary of the myth of the hero and of the disindividuation that can occur by following the monomyth as a mimetic model”

“He cites examples such as Hitler, Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin, Mussolini. In Herbert’s view, incredulity toward any hero must be accompanied by incredulity toward any system:

« It’s the systems themselves that I see as dangerous. Systematic is a deadly word. Systems originate with human creators, with people who employ them. Systems take over and grind on and on. They are like a flood tide that picks up everything in its path. (ibid, 97-8)

“Paul is caught in the gears of a collective process that he triggers but cannot control, resulting in religious credulity and unleashing the drives of war”

“For Frank Herbert, the pursuit of absolute predictability renders its practitioners foolish, credulous, and conservative. This was already the case with the Guild, and Paul finds himself caught in the same trap”

“One aspect of the postmodern condition is the crisis of foundations of knowledge and, consequently, the valorization of difference and dissensus, of paradoxical perceptions and statements, of instabilities and flux, of incommensurabilities. It is the resurgence of diachrony, of Bergsonian duration, which begins to prevail over synchrony, i.e. over an overly spatialized view of time”

“This Heraclitean flux is the ontological underpinning of the universe of DUNE. Everything is flux, there is no foundation, it is a world of simulacra. There is no fixed point, and each stability is a potential trap, a deception to be wary of, a sign to interpret”

“From the very beginning, we learn that Paul is cunning, he feigns sleep to better observe the Reverend Mother who will test him. He learns that there is a power hidden behind power, that power operates by masks, through trickery, deception, and simulation, that his own sensations can be manipulated to make him feel the burning of his hand when it is intact”

“This fractal nestedness is a recurring motif in the novel, showing us deceptions concealed behind other deceptions, « plans within plans within plans incessantly ». There is no final viewpoint; it is a world of simulacra, as Deleuze says. Like Paul in the novel, we as readers are embarked on a process of learning signs and their endless interpretation”

“The initiation of the hero involves a whole process of interpretation closely related to the time of learning because there is no univocal sign with stable meaning. The world of signs and simulacra is already the world of duration. Paul undertakes a labour of de-spatialization of time in order to see and interpret the signs. His failure occurs when he becomes ensnared in the webs of an inexorable re-spatialization that avoids the worst but elevates him as a living god and propels his followers throughout the galaxy to wage a deadly jihad”

“Norman Spinrad, a brilliant science fiction writer and astute critic, analysed DUNE as a tale of the failure of the myth of the hero”

“« Everyman, transformed into the Light-Bringer, like the true Bodhisattva, eschews the pinnacle of egoistic transcendence and returns to the worlds of men, not as an avatar of the godhead, but as Everyman reborn, as the democratic avatar of the godhead within us all » (SCIENCE FICTION IN THE REAL WORLD, 154)

“The avatar of transcendence represents the failure of this process, whose true purpose is the rebirth of the ordinary man, and the production in his place of his opposite, « the Emperor of Everything ». What begins as a process of individuation and liberation ends as deindividuation and domination”

“For Deleuze, as for Herbert, the goal is not to rise above the ordinary man and rule the world. The end or accomplishment of the process is to ‘be like everyone else,’ to be a reborn ordinary man who ‘makes everyone become’ (A THOUSAND PLATEAUS, 342). The other name for this democratic becoming is ‘becoming-invisible’ or ‘becoming-imperceptible.’ We will see at the end that the aim of the entire Dune Cycle is to produce humans invisible to prescience, uncontrollable, and ultimately free—the opposite of a despot”

“DUNE is indeed a science fiction novel with a postmodern ontological and epistemological scaffolding. It is not based on the « hard » sciences but draws on the new sciences of systems and instabilities, which include ecology as well”

“Darko Suvin proposed and defended the following definition: science fiction is the ‘literature of cognitive estrangement’ (METAMORPHOSES OF SCIENCE FICTION, 4)”

“In Deleuzian terms, we can say that this expression of « cognitive estrangement » is more deterritorialized than that of « science fiction », since cognition is broader than science, and estrangement is broader than fiction—it is an otherness without the model of truth or identity”

“In the preface (pages 1-5) of his book DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION, Deleuze speaks of the science fiction-like aspect of philosophical concepts, thus indirectly giving us his vision of science fiction, and indicates four traits: estrangement, other cognition, futurity, and apocalypse”

“This « estrangement » is ubiquitous in DUNE. The story takes place in a distant future (20,000 years) on a faraway planet with a unique ecology. The vocabulary and cultural references in the book can be disorienting: to understand the story, one must constantly refer back to the glossary and appendices at the end of the book. Paul himself is continually confronted with otherness, as he encounters unknown and enigmatic characters from the very beginning, emigrates to an unfamiliar planet, and is exiled in the desert among the oppressed and outcasts of the imperial system. He must navigate unique abilities and experiences while learning to understand the unusual signs that surround him”

“The new philosophy, empiricist,

« teaches us a strange ‘reason,’ the multiplicity and chaos of difference » (60).

A strange reason, an estranging and estranged cognition, in essential relation to uncertainty, multiplicity, and chaos”

“This cognition at the limits of known science is part of the research undertaken by Frank Herbert in preparation for writing DUNE. Herbert embarked on extensive preparation that lasted for six years, studying religions, psychoanalysis, linguistics, systems theory, ecology, economics, philosophy, botanical research, and soil chemistry”

“Based on these researches, he constructed his own synthesis:

« A new field of rises out of this like a spirit rising from a witch’s cauldron: the psychology of planetary societies » (Dangers of the Superhero, 99)

“Herbert tells us that the future, as he understands it, is not theactualised future of a linear history, but the future becoming created by breaking free from the limitations imposed by a system”

“The apocalypse in the chronological sense would be the future end of the world. In the intensive sense, it is the unveiling of a coherence after the death of God, after the death of man, after the failure of the dominant meanings that structure our world and consciousness”

“Paul wants to provoke such an intensive apocalypse, but he fails, trapped by the forces of spatialization, creating a deterministic future where he sees everything, even when he loses his eyes in an explosion”

“Behind all the action of DUNE, there is the shadow of what happened before the last jihad (known as the Butlerian Jihad). There has already been an apocalypse: it was the reign of thinking machines over the empire of synchronized worlds”

“Schools like the Bene Gesserit and the Guild were formed to replace the artificial intelligences and prevent their return. But ultimately they produced a new synchronization”

“Leto must undo this new synchronized empire and deconstruct his father’s failed work; he must accept the animal-becoming that his father refused: gradually transforming into a giant sand worm. He is left with the task of de-spatializing the future, creating a race of humans that will be invisible to prescience, unpredictable and uncontrollable”

“« I give you a new kind of time, without parallels. It will always diverge. There will be no concurrent point on its curves. I give you the Golden Path. That is my gift. Never again will you have the kinds of concurrence you once had » (Leto, GOD EMPEROR OF DUNE, 448)

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