Briefly On Perverse Symbiotism and Concealed Memetic Intent in the Prologue to China Miéville's "Perdido Street Station"
Wrote this in a moment of orgasmic purblindness after reading the prologue mentioned above. Shoved it on my spanking-new Live Journal as part of a test post. Withiel slapped me and told me to post it here. Enjoy.
In the syncretic skullspace where author's intent meets auditor's interpretation, narrator and reader become one as they simultaneously discover with disgust the writer's putrid portrayal of a city "like a slab of carrion thronging with maggots". Although the joint revulsion of this simile is denigrating to locale and denizen alike, it can be claimed to subtextually subvert the apparent "conspiracy of industry and violence" that constitutes New Crobuzon, since the creation of life from death that is maggots eating dead flesh is procedurally beautiful, if aesthetically repugnant. Similarly, "the hovels that encrust the river's edge like mushrooms" is misleadingly pejorative: since fungus feeds from descaying organic matter, Miéville has reproduced the semiotic ambiguity of an ugly image that describes an admirable process.
However, from these two descriptions a confusion arises as to who is eating whom: presumably, maggot-citizens are eating the carrion-city, but are the mushroom-hovels consuming the land or their inhabitants? Since New Crobuzon is a "vast pollutant", perhaps the land? But the constant, recurring suggestion of retching implies that it is the residents being eaten, as though this "sprawling monster" of a city were some venomous predator. Nearing their destination, the bargeman "hawks foully into the water" onomatopoeically suggesting that a retch is incorporated into this near-vomit. At their destination, the narrator is "nauseous with claustrophobia and foreboding". The monosyllabic brevity of (particularly the early) sections of the text reads like panic, like shortness of breath, like the inevitable, strugglingly repressed, antiperistaltic waves that several times puke forth as a gush of longer, polysyllabic portrayals of disease (a "psoriatic" Old City) and oozing (New Crobuzon seems almost drowned in "mucus"). The longest regurgitation occurs for most of the penultimate paragraph, just before the narrator closes the prologue by spitting the hitherto kept-down name of "New Crobuzon", a name which also sounds like a rather nasty encounter with the toilet telephone.
As well as depicting a perversely balanced symbiotism whereby the citizens and city are mutually destructive, thereby reinforcing the textual suggestion and reinterpreting the subtextual suggestion of Miéville's food-chain similes, this emissive evocation falls in line with the idea of Perdido Street Station's prologue as a cryptic mission-statement of memetism. Just as the maggots devour the carrion, and logically would then go forth and make more maggots, and the mushroom will produce spores from decay, just as Miéville's chunder-conjuring inspires nausea and demonstrates violent, exponential, virulent, involuntary propagation, just so will the reader (it is implied) spread - this sickness of perception? a polemic message? book sales? - to others.
In the syncretic skullspace, Miéville has prepared and cryptically revealed a meme.