WEEK 12: Miéville’s Perdido Street Station

This is an open thread on the first ~150 pages or so of China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station (2003). This thread will remain open until 9pm on Monday, 28 November.

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23 thoughts on “WEEK 12: Miéville’s Perdido Street Station

  1. China Miéville sets Perdido Street Station in the vast, complex, richly-imagined city of New Crobuzon. “Learning” the city’s geography alone can feel overwhelming at times, much less keeping track of its uniquely complicated social relations as they unfold throughout the text.

    This week, then, let’s try to break this massive, crowded, repulsive city into more manageable parts. Choose a short passage that you feel provides a striking description of what life is like in the city of New Crobuzon and analyze it. How does Miéville describe your chosen portion of the city (or the social world(s) of its inhabitants)? What stands out to you as being particularly interesting or significant about your chosen passage? Does this passage remind you of any other setting we have visited in the other texts on our course?

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    1. Chrystiana W

      I found Lin’s perspective of the city particularly interesting. The way she processes more than just the immediate picture before her is fascinating. She describes the city in different nuances and with a description that goes beyond a still standing image. Lin’s view of the city on page 16 describes the hideous state of the city but also depicts how creatures and humans of different social classes interact. You get a preview of the innate power structure and how day to day life is conducted. What really stands out in the passage (16) is the juxtaposition of the wealthy and the poor. They are placed side by side against the ugly backdrop of a filthy city, sagging under pollution. Duckers and divers rummage through piles of rubbish while upper class gentlemen and ladies walk by with an air of disapproval. The image formed in my mind slightly reminds me of the power struggles in “The Alchemy of Stone”, wealth and poverty in such near proximity in a city on the brink of destruction.

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    2. Samantha Hamilton

      I believe that the best description of the city comes from the introduction of the book, page 1 from “The river twists and turns…” to ” ships and metal claws that lift cargoes from the water” (page 2). This is because of the descriptive words that Mieville choses to describe things. For example, it is not just a “railway” but instead it “protrudes like veins”, and “rock hills” are like “bruise-blood” (Page 1). For me, reading this description paints a picture not only of a urbanized, industrial and decrepit, filthy city, but also a city that has an aura of pessimism and sounds like a place where dreams go to die. This text reminds me much of “The Difference Engine” because of its description of a city in such dire conditions (if you remember near the end of the book, during the revolution the description of the characters trolling through the mud). This is what comes to mind when I think of the “dead fish and frogs that have given up the fight to breathe in this rotting stew of detritus swirl” (page 3). I believe that both texts are very similar in these respects.

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  2. Maddy Robinson

    The moment I saw a map at the beginning of Perdido Street Station, I knew it would be a feat to keep track of.
    At the beginning of Chapter Eight, a section describes the circus with a few paragraphs, starting with “the night air” and ending with “an unsettling cacophony that ebbed and flowed around them” (83-84). The circus is shown as a sort of microcosm of the entire city with bizarre mix of races and creatures that move like “fish through weeds” (83), near “untended growth” (83). There are also “enormous contraptions of bolted steel” (84), which seem just as unappealing as the invading wilderness and circus-goers.
    This passage struck me as odd because it seems one of the few times where the city isn’t segregated. Other areas of New Crobuzon are defined by who inhabits them, but the circus is a complete mess of people of all types, including children, prostitutes, and scientists. New Crobuzon’s weird mix of mechanical and biological also seem to be further reflected in the practice of being “Remade,” as well as Issac’s mission with Yagharek, and even with the contrast between Lin’s biological art and Issac’s science. Do you think Miéville keeps contrasting these elements on purpose, and if so, why? Is the difference between races and communities is going to play a large role later on in the novel? What do you all think?
    (Personally, I think Issac and Lin are going to have some serious relationship issues.)

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    1. Jordan Scott

      I agree that that map at the beginning of the book makes the city of New Crobuzon look like a really intricate and varied city that would be tough to get a grasp on. The circus is unique in that is seems to be a melting pot for the majority of the cities inhabitants regardless of who they are. I think there is something interesting in the mention of the “old monastic ruins at the centre of the huge common” (83). This description makes me wonder if this may be one of the older areas of the city and may in fact be why so many of the citizens are able to gather here – due to the advanced age. Older areas in towns always seem to me to be more open to the masses, whereas newer developments typically try to cultures and rules that limit the types of people that are allowed there.

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    2. The circus is indeed a haven for cultural and racial diversity. Although you brought to my attention the contrast between the “integrated” and “segregated” parts of the world – the multiculture versus the monoculture. This got me thinking about the last story we looked at: The Effluent Engine. Its alternate history version of New Orleans, specifically the scene in which Jessaline goes to the port exchanging mail between New Orleans and Haiti, is very similar to portions of Perdido Street Station. Given that comparison and the tensions experienced between the nations in Effluent Engine, I think it’s quite safe to assume that similar, if not greater dramatics, are going to ensue later on in Perdido Street.

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  3. Monique D

    From China Mieville Perdido Street Station: “Somewhere inside, in the chamber, out of reach of the sky, Rudgutter and countless drones strutted. The parliament was like a mountain poised on the verge of an architectural avalanche.” (64) this passage stood out to me because it is discussing the parliament building and area of New Crobuzon. It’s discussed in such a way that it seems that everything revolves around the power and control of the parliament and what it does there. Everything extends out from the centre and everything (or so it seems) is connected to this point. It even mentioned that the weather seems to revolve around the centre however I do find it really interesting that it states it is out of reach of the sky. Why exactly do you think this is? I believe that because if all the creatures that exist in this world who have the access and ability to fly it seems like the parliament is trying to protect itself from easily becoming the victim of a revolution. If it protects it parliament from those who are not happy with the way they run the city, they hopefully can stop a revolution. There are a lot of characters that are not purely human but it seems that on a political and class level that humans are considered the most powerful and higher class. However with that being said it is interesting that it says “poised on the verge of an architectural avalanche” (64) could this be foreshadowing? The emphasis on architecture and the centralization of the parliament around the core of the city reminded me of the Gargoyles in the Alchemy of Stone.

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    1. Jane Wishart

      I strongly agree with your point of the coming revolution. In a novel that seems so heavily influenced and deeply involved with politics and secrecy, the parliament building should reflect the current political atmosphere. The existence of the slakemoth and its captivity enforced by the government is especially troubling given the moth’s ability to potentially destroy the city of New Crobuzon. The government is unable to keep the moth from getting stolen and therefore allows for it to wreak havoc on the city when Issac frees it, unknowing of its power.
      I believe that the importance of the building being “poised on the verge of an architectural avalanche” (64) is important to note for this fact. This seeming out of reach structure is incredibly unstable. It is on the verge of collapsing itself, at maybe the smallest movement or sound. This is clearly not a structure that represents governmental control, as it might even be the reason for its own collapse.
      The importance of the building “out of reach of the sky” (64) could be linked back to Yagharek or other bird species who have had their wins taken away. This cruel and unusual punishment leaves an entire race of humanoid beings without their given right to flight. The fact that beings that could potentially be one with the sky could not obtain access to the building because of its unreachability could possibly represent the rift between classes and power. Especially since access to flight technology is one of principle actions and motifs in the novel, thus far.

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  4. A.Crane

    The first several paragraphs of chapter 6 describe the city of New Crobuzon in great and grotesque detail. What really struck me about the way China Mieville describes the city was the repeating usage of terms that describe live organisms. “Aerostats oozed from cloud to cloud above it like slugs on cabbages”. “Slugs” and “oozed” in one sentence already gives the reader a queasy feeling of the city’s atmosphere. Militia pods streaked through the “heart” of the city, the transportation trains moved through New Crobuzon’s “carcass”, The city didn’t stand still but rather “thrust upwards”, the high story buildings “burst into the air like fat fingers, like fists, like stumps of limbs waving frantically”, the walls of Parliament building resembled a “shark’s tooth, or a stingray’s jag, some monstrous organic weapon”, and the boilers inside “throbbed”. The author uses so many grotesque organisms to describe the city, that it gave me a feeling of a strong atmospheric setting of something similar to a post-apocalyptic suspense video game. There’s just something unsettling about describing hot air balloons as “slugs” and tall buildings as “fat fingers” or “stumps of limbs” that makes me feel like this city is not friendly, colorful, or welcoming. It seems like a hostile organism looming over its inhabitants, but I’m not sure if that organism is meant to be dead or alive.

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  5. James.

    The first chapter relates to where the protagonist of the story lives with his non-human girlfriends. It is related to us how there are infestations of bus and flies and the city. This shows that there is no real functioning health system in the city. By way of this statement, the geography of the city, New Crobuzon, is seen to be cramped, dysfunctional, and unhealthy. Despite not being a medieval time period, New Crobuzon feels very much like a cramped and dirty city in the Middle Ages. The geography of the city is seen to be that of a dysfunctional environment on many levels.

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  6. Hannah Tennant

    I found Lin’s interaction with the part of the city that her people generally call home very interesting. Translated it’s called the “Plaza of Statues” (20). In particular her in commentary on the statues themselves give us a look into their community as well as Lin’s personality.
    We read that “Sweet smoke wafted over the crowd: khepri, mostly, but here and there other races, investigating the statues. They filled the square: fifteen-foot figures of animals and plants and monstrous creatures, some real and some that had never lived, fashioned in brightly coloured khepri-spit”. (20) In the midst of other descriptions of harsh and confusing architecture, are these weird and confusing statues. Lin finds them unimaginative and representative of a community she does not want to be a part of. We learn it takes many khepri women to create such a statue, that community is necessary to make them a reality–the khepri community who live together have made the Plaza of Statues their own and have unwritten rules on the code of conduct their people must follow. Specifically that art and life (at least for the middle class kephri) is a community effort, traditional clothes are preferred, and that those who don’t follow that way are outsiders.
    The full passages of Lin’s interaction with the Plaza of Statues and her people give us a glimpse of a community within a community–a part of the city that has been set apart. The rules of community and the distinctive art in this part of the city suggest the struggle of its people to make a place for themselves and work in their culture to the vast cultures surrounding them. Perhaps the rules of conduct and following along with cultural norms so strictly is necessary in order to maintain themselves amongst a city so fluctuating.

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  7. Kate Anderson

    A section that stood out to me occurred at the bottom of page 22: “Behind her. for a moment, the sky was very full: an aerostat droned in the distance; tiny specks lurched erratically around it, winged figures playing in its wake like dolphins round a whale; and in front of them all another train, heading into the city this time, heading for the centre of New Crobuzon, the knot of architectural tissue where the fibres of the city congealed, where the skyrails of the militia radiated out from the Spike like a web and the five great trainlines of the city met, converging on the great variegated fortress of dark brick and scrubbed concrete and wood and steel and stone, the edifice that yawned hugely at the city’s vulgar heart, Perdido Street Station” (22). This passage struck me because it highlights the Station, the place the entire city is built around, as a remade in and of itself– a hodgepodge of different material, huge and looming, vulgar. It gives us an aerial view of the city itself, and New Crobuzon is presented as a web, a mass of twisting, turning, and tangled organic tissue that stems from the Station. The city is confusing, dangerous, and ultimately a trap for the unfortunate souls that live within it. All the organic and body imagery elsewhere in the book presents the city as its own entity, and this passage seems to support the fact that it’s a predator. I don’t think it’s coincidence that this entire society revolves around the place where people arrive. Any thoughts on this? Are there any other examples of the city represented as a malicious being?

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  8. Zach Morrison

    The first thee chapters of Perdido Street Station, which chronicle Lin’s journey to Bonetown and Isaac’s dealings in Brock March, describe the dystopic reality of New Crobuzon. As Lin travels from Aspic to the khepri neighbourhood of Kinken, we are exposed to the disgusting circumstances surrounding the various regions within the city. In general, these enclaves are represented as dense conglomerations of disintegrating hovels; the oozing and decaying components of the “huge plague pit” (9) that is New Crobuzon. However, in the midst of these grim descriptions of the city’s appearance, there seem to be optimistic images of thriving and unique communities that contrast their abysmal surroundings. For example, the “cosmopolitan nature” of Aspic, or the “communal” pride witnessed in Kinken’s khepris (20-21). What do these fleeting images of functioning communities suggest about the otherwise dilapidated city? Does the existence of these communities suggest stability in an urban centre that is otherwise constantly described as being in a state of decay?

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  9. Greg Bevington

    Yagharek’s description (page 58) of the streets and river system of New Crobuzon struck me. There is an emphasis on wind swept scraps of garbage in the streets and plenty of gross stuff in the city’s dark rivers (including bloated corpses). It made me think of the city as old and often corrupt and neglected. I agree with James’ post from yesterday – the feeling of this city does resemble the picture we have of sickly communities in the middle ages. There’s a part somewhere in the book (which unfortunately I don’t have marked) that talks about wyrmen casually defecating on the ground while cursing and laughing that further supports that feeling. New Crobuzon seems like a mean, cold place without any parallels with quite the same overall harshness in our earlier readings.

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  10. In China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station, Lin and Isaac have a special relationship that I understood to be a commentary on the relationships shared by people who don’t see skin colour (or even gender) as an issue when choosing your partner. However, there are still people who see multi-coloured couples and openly gawk, or even stoop to openly derogatory remarks.

    As a result those couples may believe that they have to consider what boundaries they will set for each other, and what forms of affection they will display in public.

    In the novel, Lin and Isaac explore these boundaries, as Isaac hides the fact that he and Lin are an item in most public places, and even from some of his work colleagues. Lin, on the other hand, often expresses her dissatisfaction at being hidden from the eyes of anything less than their most trusted companions.

    What kind of example does this set for couples trying to navigate these tricky issues in our own society today?

    Or, what other kinds of issues does Miéville take the time to explore in his book? How does that issue relate back to our own society today, and what could it mean for people who might have to deal with that issue?

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  11. Andrea Williamson

    Above all else, the prologue to the novel was the most shocking to me in terms of understanding the lifestyle and state, or at least the future state, of the city of New Crobuzon. Mieville describes the city as almost a repulsive sickness thrust upon its inhabitants, dangerous and decomposing. The city is described with many words of repugnance, decay, and dismantlement. The city itself is initially described as a “dirty smear, like a slab of carrion thronging with maggots” (Mieville 2), suggesting that the city is not a very pleasant place to live. Buildings within the city are said to “dribble pale mucus” and wires across the river are “held fast by milky aggregates of phlegm” (2). The water is described as such: “”the water here reflects the stars through a stinking rainbow of impurities, effluents and chymical slop, making it sluggish and unsettling” (3). This initial description of the city painted the picture for me that this was going to be a city deeply affected by something sick, with a large history to tell in terms of how it got to this point. The setting reminds me somewhat of the ending of the Time Machine, where the world was unsettling, inorganic, inhuman. This setting was described in that novel as negative, therefore setting me up to believe that this city’s state will, too, have negative implications. Do you agree, or did you come to a different conclusion about the setting and state of the city of New Crobuzon?

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    1. Stacey Haviland-Janzen

      I definitely agree with your conclusion that Mieville’s initial description of the city sets the reader up to view it in a negative light. The numerous quotes you discuss display how the city is represented as disgusting and almost gives the impression that the city, and those within it, are rotting away.
      You point out that the setting reminds you of the Time Machine’s, and call it “inorganic.” I had quite a different impression of the initial view of the city. For me, the city seemed to be a living, breathing entity, although by no means a healthy one. The buildings are consistently described in organic and living terms: the “hovels” around the rivers edge “have grown like mushrooms” (1), the railways “trace urban anatomy like protruding veins” (1), and the larger city is a “behemoth that eats its citizens” (2). This description led to me to believe that the city itself is going to be just as much of a dynamic and living character as the people within the novel.

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    2. Joshua Simpson

      I wholeheartedly agree with the passage you chose to depict the city. Not only does it portray a putrid, decaying cesspit of a city, it is presenting this from the view of an outsider, as we, the reader, are. The prologue does not portray the city from the point of view of someone who lives there, which would lead to our questioning their motives for presenting it in such a repulsive light , and thus diluting the experience of the city itself. By presenting the initial description from the point of view of a newcomer the text ensures that the putrid scene of the city is accepted without much question. The newcomer is simply relaying to the reader what they see. This further allows the reader to consider how individuals within Corbuzon see their city, allowing for the reader to recognise patterns among characters who seem to be avoiding or oblivious to the nature of their city. Thus aspects of certain characters may be revealed in how they interact with such a disgusting place. I like your comparison to the Time Machine but, like Stacey, question the use of inorganic, for I too find this to be a very organic description. This lends a greater sense of foreboding to the city for it is difficult to distinguish the organic form the inorganic, leading to a horrific feeling of the city itself being alive and decaying. Thus the inhabitants almost become an infection within a ruined body rather than inhabitants within a city.

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  12. Thao Tran

    Mieville’s spares no expense in describing the destitution and disgust with the city of New Crobuzon. Even the description of the marginally more upscale Bonetown is a contradiction on itself, “a syncresis of industrialism and the gaudy domestic ostentation of the slightly rich, the peeling concrete of forgotten docklands and the stretched skins of shantytown tents” (31). It gives a sense that life struggles to exist within the walls of the city, and that the city itself, if not the life within it, are willing themselves into nonexistence by the acceptance of their circumstances.

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  13. Concerning the last passage of Chapter Two in Perdido Street Station, we get a quick flash of urban life in the heart of New Crobuzon. The focus of this paragraph highlights the complex maze of transportation routes at the heart of the city. Its hard not look at the city like an organism, something that China Miéville exploits. He describes the routes with words like droning, fibers and congealed. While we don’t get the explicit feelings from a particular character, the city is portrayed as a very dense and foreboding place. The architecture is described as “the great variegated fortress of dark brick”. Miéville is deliberately trying to highlight the extreme expansiveness and verticality of

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  14. Concerning the last passage of Chapter Two in Perdido Street Station, we get a quick flash of urban life in the heart of New Crobuzon. The focus of this paragraph highlights the complex maze of transportation routes at the heart of the city. Its hard not look at the city like an organism, something that China Miéville exploits. He describes the routes with words like droning, fibers and congealed. While we don’t get the explicit feelings from a particular character, the city is portrayed as a very dense and foreboding place. The architecture is described as “the great variegated fortress of dark brick”. Miéville is deliberately trying to highlight the extreme expansiveness and verticality of the city.

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  15. David Poeung

    In the first 150 pages of China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station, the reader is introduced to the city of New Crobuzon, and what life is like living there. To me, the most striking description of the city occurs right at the beginning, from the passage “They surround me…” to “…It is too late to flee” (pages 1-2). Within this short section, readers are given their first descriptions of New Crobuzon, which Miéville describes as a towering, looming, inescapable monster that’s an amalgamation of various buildings, railways, and landscapes and filled with disgusting waste and effluence. It is interesting that the author wants the reader’s first impression of the city to be that of a twisted, disgusting cesspool. While not nearly as putrid, the descriptions of the city’s looming and towering buildings reminds me of similar descriptions of large overlooking structures in regards to the Gargoyles of Ayona in Ekaterina Sedia’s The Alchemy of stone.

    Does the author’s presentation of the city as a repulsive amalgamation serve as a reference to its inhabitants, the various twisted half-human creatures and Remades that live in it? Is it a metaphor for Mr. Motley, who could probably be described similarly? What do you think the state of the city and its inhabitants could mean for what is to come in the rest of the story?

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  16. Barbara Baker

    The steampunk representation of the relationship of art and science in Perdido Street Station is complicated. Like in the Victorian era, science is viewed as a noble pursuit and art is seen as a more scandalous, even revolutionary affair. This is clear through the art world’s view of Isaac and Lin’s relationship versus the scientific community’s. For Lin, her world is accepting of their “cross-love” relationship and as such their relationship is basically an “open secret” for her (13). Her society is described as “the libertines, the patrons and the hangers-on, bohemians and parasites, poets, pamphleteers and fashionable junkies” who would see their relationship as “an avant-garde transgression, an art-happening” (12). While Isaac faces the rigidness of the scientific community. His university “did not just play at being old-fashioned” (13). For Isaac his relationship with Lin would push him into “pariah status” (13).

    The remade then provide an interesting criticism on what happens when science and art mix. First the remade are described repeatedly as grotesque. This is exemplified by the circus exhibit garuda that is described as a “disgusting charade” (92). As explained by Derkan, “remaking is creativity gone bad… art’s something you choose to make…it’s a bringing together of everything around you into something…more of a person. Even with Remaking a germ of that survives” (94). The epitome of this remaking as art idea is the sculpting of Mr. Motley’s likeness. Here, he can be see as the ultimate Remade. He is described as:
    scraps of skin and fur and feathers swung as he moved; tiny limbs clutched; eyes rolled from obscure niches; antlers and protrusions of bone jutted precariously; feelers twitched and mouths glistened. Many-coloured skeins of skin collided. A cloven hoof thumped gently against the wood floor. Tides of flesh washed against each other in violent currents. Muscles tethered by alien tendons to alien bones worked together in uneasy truce, in slow, tense motion. Scales gleamed. Fins quivered. Wings fluttered brokenly. Insect claws folded and unfolded” (42).

    The fact that the ultimate Remade wants to be portrayed artistically highlights the margining of art and science. His comment on his figure as art adds an interesting perspective on the debate of whether art and science can coexist. Initially he is offended that Lin does not understand the essence of his being as “not error or absence or mutancy: this is image and essence” (115). However, soon Mr. Motley talks himself out of this as he realizes, “Your art takes place where your understanding and your ignorance blur” (115).

    What I wonder is how this portrayal of merging art and science comments on the ability to merge these endeavours? Is Miéville consistent with the Victorian view that mixing these pursuits is immoral? Is that what the grotesque nature of the Remade portrays? Or is the reader meant to see the beauty in this coming together as Mr. Motley sees it?

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