WEEK 13: Miéville’s Perdido Street Station (II)

This is an open thread on the rest of China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station (2003). This thread will remain open until 9pm on Monday, 5 December.

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19 thoughts on “WEEK 13: Miéville’s Perdido Street Station (II)

  1. This week, let’s talk about monsters — specifically, about the slake-moths. What are the slake-moths, and how does Miéville describe them in this novel? Where do they come from, what do they want, what do they do, and what makes them so terrifying?

    You might also wish to consider the concept of the “monster” more generally, or to compare the slake-moths to other monsters you have encountered (either in this text, in this course, or elsewhere). What makes a given creature “monstrous” in the first place? What do monsters mean to us — or, put differently, what kinds of cultural work do monsters do?

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    1. Chrystiana W

      Slake moths are terrifying creatures that feed on human consciousness. They start off as worm like creatures and they are fed a substance called “dreamshit”, a hallucinogenic drug. What makes them so terrifying to me is that they do not give their victims the merciful relief of death after feeding on their subconscious; instead they are left alive but empty, mindless and incapable of living a normal life. Furthermore, these creatures multiply rapidly.

      In all honesty, slake moths are probably the most horrifying creatures I’ve ever read about. It can do so much damage with almost no effort and defeating a creature as such is almost impossible, moreover the idea of one’s mind being tempered with or destroyed is horrendously unnerving. I’m unable to draw a comparison with creatures of other texts because I’ve never encountered a “monster” similar to slake moths in all the literature I’ve read so far.

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  2. Kate Anderson

    The slake moths are grotesque, intricate looking creatures who feed on human minds; in particular, on human emotions and dreams found in the subconscious. They exude a physical substance to feed their young which humans refer to as “dreamshit” and use as a drug. When we first encountered them as itty bitty caterpillars, I didn’t expect them to turn into literal nightmare fuel, yet here we are. What I find so terrifying about them is the one way to defend yourself from them is entirely situational, and as an abstract figure existing on two planes at once they cannot be easily or simply killed. They are at the top of the food chain, so they have no fear, and even demons are afraid of them, as we are told by Vermishank. They also lay eggs, so the population grows quickly and effortlessly. They are animals, without emotion, empathy, or self-control, and they use your own mind against you. What’s not to be terrified of? They are the physical manifestation of the loss of control, what happens when your own mind turns against you. They feed on the very substance that makes humans human. Without our minds, we lose ourselves, and there’s no cure for it. That’s why the slake moths are so scary.

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    1. Mollie Grill-Donovan

      You’ve pretty much covered what makes the Slake Moth so terrifying. I think in addition to what you have said, since the Slake Moth only eats the minds of those who are self-aware. This makes being a self-aware entity a terrifying experience. And I think you’ve captured that as well, because even without the existence of Slake Moths, to be self-aware means that your mind can turn against you. Look at various human mental illnesses, like schizophrenia or alzheimers, and you see how being self-aware also comes with terrifying ways for your mind to turn on you. I think that Slake Moths are so scary because they represent the very real possibility for humans that the self-aware mind can be its own downfall.

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      1. Chrystiana W

        You’ve brought up an interesting point. In all the novels I’ve read, self awareness is always depicted in positive light. Introspection and the capability to recognize one’s self as an individual in his/her own environment is always described as a desirable and/or positive attribute to what makes us human. But the dark side of this is seldom explored. Would you suggest that mental illnesses is consciousness in conflict with self awareness?

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      2. Caitlyn Bennett

        I think the comparison to mental illness is very interesting. It seems all the ways that the Slake moths can target the mind, or ensure their own survival is similar to the distinct hold mental illness can have on the mind. If the Slake Moths can lay eggs and effortlessly extend the species, then so can mental illness, get worse and worse or transform from one illness into a series of ailments. Someone already mentioned it but it’s also interesting that self awareness is typically attributed to the superior intelligence of humans but once its taken away, what is left of human consciousness? The Slake moths and Mental illness have an irrefutable and potentially irreconcilable effect on the mind.

        I would not say that the mental illness is in conflict with self awareness. I don’t believe these are in conflict with each other because in many cases being self aware, or maintaining self awareness isn’t going to be enough to prevent or end mental illness. As well because it doesn’t seem the human mind is particularly capable of defending against the signs of mental illness once they appear.

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  3. Lorenzo Marcil

    As I was reading chapter 19, I was struck by the similarities that I was with the other course texts. The most obvious one regards the cleaning model that is repaired. It is mentioned that the cleaning automaton could have contracted a virus from a “programme card…[that] led to a set of instructions feeding back on themselves” so that “activities the construct should have been able to carry out as a reflex, it had started to pour over” (Mieville 234). The idea that programme cards could initiate a sequence that would lead to artificial intelligence (as the next chapter describes in full detail) clearly calls to mind the function of the modus in The Difference Engine, a sequence of cards that would inevitably lead to artificial intelligence.

    Another comparison I found was something specific Isaac said when describing the Torque. After all of the horrors Isaac lists, he mentions “the Torque is neither good nor bad…not evil… it’s mindless, it’s motiveless” (Mieville 231). This reminded me of how acts of nature are portrayed in Around the World in 80 Days; the pacific storms that slow the Rangoon and the blizzard that stalls the troupe in America are both described by their power and devastating abilities, but they are also not vilified because Verne does not consider nature to be good or bad in the novel.

    All this simply leads me to ask what other comparisons to the previous course texts people found. I know it’s a rather open question, but I’m interested to see what others found.

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  4. Andrea Williamson

    Honestly, the slake moths are probably the most terrifying monsters I’ve encountered in any form of literature I’ve read before. It’s not just due to the way their appearance is described, but because of what they can do. The thing that terrified me the most about them was the fact that Mieville eludes to the idea that death isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you – it’s the loss of control, the loss of the mind, the loss of self awareness. People are mostly defenseless to slake moths, due to the capabilities of their wings to hypnotize you and their size, so if you encounter one, that’s most likely your last conscious moment. These creatures are described as being huge and frightening, feeding on and devouring the subconscious (dreamshit used to feed their young), leaving you alive but without your mind – vapid, empty, a shell of a human. So I think that would probably be the worst part about the slake moths for me – the realization that death isn’t the worst thing that can be wished upon you, but the loss of self.

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    1. Slakemoths are creatures that feed on the consciousness of individuals. This drains them of their ability to be self-aware, and leaves them as a mere shell of their former selves. This is what makes them truly “monstrous”. The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus wrote that a fear of death is in actuality the fear of living an unfulfilling life. Slakemoths are the complete manifestation of this. While they do not kill their victims, one could argue the inability of a Slakemoth victim to achieve a fulfilling life after their consciousness has been devoured is a fate worse than death.

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  5. Cyrus Yu

    Seeing what the slake moths can do, truly is mind blowing. As slake moths can stun your mind and feed on your subconscious, leaving you empty, i would say it would be worst than death. It’s like being within a state on limbo, wondering around with no personality, idea or self. Within the text, we can see them described as something that would be the last thing you’ll remember or see, with its wings petrifying it’s subjects, there are very little options you have, but losing your identity. Therefore you would fear them, and wish death upon yourself than meeting on of these monsters.

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  6. Mykayla Bergie

    Slake Moths are monsters who feed on the subconscious of self-aware people. Their wings hypnotize, then your identity and consciousness fade away as they feed on it. This is terrifying, because instead of them actually killing you, you are left with no way to live a full life.

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  7. Maddy Robinson

    I think that monsters are provided in fiction to unite the listeners. It doesn’t matter if Hercules was a Democrat or a Republican, you’re going to cheer for him because humanity has a common enemy in the monsters he faces. The slake-moths put this theory to the test because they feed on your thoughts, and while there are many different species in this book, they all are able to have thoughts to a certain extent, which unites them against the slake-moths.
    Lorenzo also mentioned a parallel earlier with the Torque and the weather in Around the World in Eighty Days, and I think what these (and monsters) have in common is the effect of chaos. The slake-moth’s wings are described as “random as inconstant as oil” (362), unpredictable, and earlier in the book it was not seen as a threat. Issac even called the thing “little bugger” (180)! The scary nature of the slake-moth comes from its unpredictability, I think.
    Also, this is sort of irrelevant, but I found the best sentence in the book:
    “The plunger edged sadistically closer and closer to the cheese.” (250)
    (You could argue the plunger is painted as a monster here, too.)

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  8. Joshua Simpson

    The slake moths are terrifying moth-like predators. Beginning their lives as a larva the slake moths are fed a substance called ‘dreamshit,’ which also happens to be a very powerful drug, until they begin their metamorphosis into the the adult form. The adult slake moth proves itself to be a horror within any city unlucky enough to hose one. It uses the mesmerising patterns that shift along its wings to keep its victims in place while it extends its long tongue into its victims brain and devours the mind. Unfortunately for the victim this process does not kill them, instead leaving them a mindless shell without any conscious thought or capability. It is this ability to render the victim a mindless shell that truly makes the slake moth so terrifying. As well as the ease with which they may entrap a victim, the motions of their wings proving near impossible to resist.

    The creature ‘monster’ is a very culturally relevant creature. A monster allows people to express their fears in a way that is understood and sympathetic to everyone. In the case of the slake moth the monster here represents a loss of identity and individuality with no way to prevent this loss. It is the manifest fear of being sent into a coma, being placed in a vegetative state or simply being trapped in a situation in which you are no longer an individual, where any thought you have does not matter. These fears are something most people share, yet they are not fears that are often voiced, they are the subconscious and hidden fears. Thus, it is monsters like the slake moth that bring these fears into the light and allow people to share and cope with the anxieties that they might otherwise not. So long as humans have fears monsters will exist so that we may look to them and understand one another.

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  9. The slake moths are a particularly frightening kind of monster, not because of their appearance, but because of their abilities. They seem to be an unstoppable kind of evil with their ability to mesmerize a person so they are defenseless as everything that made the person them is destroyed.

    Many monsters in media are scary because they can kill you, but that pales besides what the slake moths do. Feeding on the consciousness of a person is altogether more intrusive and deprave than a simple killing; It’s a violation of the body and mind. Victims are left hollow and without purpose.

    These monsters also play into the fear that many people have about rapidly increasing species and especially bugs that do so. The insect army that has explosive reproduction rates is a common enemy in many films and novels. The idea that even if you could kill all but a select few, and it could all be in vain over a period of a couple years is a monstrous concept.

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  10. Brittany Groebmair

    Mieville does a great job with the expression of how frightening slake-moths are. Slake-moths are essentially giant, scarier looking moths that feed on the human subconscious; dreams, thoughts, and personality – everything that makes us human as opposed to simply “animals”. I think that what makes these creatures so terrifying is that there is little humans can do to defend themselves against the slake-moths, and ultimately these monsters take what is most important in terms of what makes us who we are. These creatures induce a vegetative state and reduce humans to nothing more than a body, with all concepts of our psyche sucked clean. I think that this concept is terrifying all on its own, without even considering how terrifying a giant moth would be physically.

    Initially, you would think that moths do not fit the typical “monster” cliché, however Mieville does an incredible job at making these creatures seem like one of the scariest monsters I’ve ever heard of. “Monster” can be considered a subjective term but when I think of monsters, I think of creepy creatures hiding in my closet or under my bed OR I consider the cute fuzzy ones like Sully from Monsters Inc. Considering this, I think Mieville goes against the grain with his creature-choice but doesn’t fall short with the slake-moths when thinking of all the components that make up a monster – ugly, terrifying, in control and dangerous!

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  11. A.Crane

    One of the interesting things I discovered While reading “Perdido Street Station” was the reoccurring theme of hybridity in small narratives as the story progressed. One of the earliest cases of the theme are seen when the author describes the way Isaac and Lin see the world – Isaac seeing through Human eyes, and Lin seeing through the eyes of an insect – many small pieces at once, many different parts and aspects of the city that come together as one in her head. Humans, although see everything, only see what’s in front of them. The ability of Khepri to see many different things at once, in a much wider arc than the Humans, implies that hybrid difference. Lin says that when she sees with her eyes, “each tiny part has integrity, each fractionally different from the next, until all variation is accounted for, incrementally, rationally” (p. 16). The way she describes her vision is very similar to the way Mr. Motley described art, as well as the world as a whole – with many distinct and different parts coming together to form a whole. Another instance of the book reinforcing the theme of hybridity was when Yagharek first visits Isaac and asks him for help. After some discussion, upon agreeing to help him, Isaac describes himself as “the main station for all the schools of thought” (p.50). He said that in order to reassure Yagharek that he came to the right place. Isaac was no chymist, no biologist, no thaumaturge, because he is many things at once, which is why he is rogue at this point in his life. I like that the book doesn’t highlight the main theme of hybridity in an explicit manner, but rather eases the reader into slowly understanding it and seeing it throughout many smaller sub-plots and events in the novel.

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  12. I’d like to separate the definition of “monster” in a fictional/narrative context into two subcategories: shadows and aberrations. Slakemoths undoubtedly fall into the “aberration” category, being unknowable creatures of utterly alien motives or thought processes that only interact in violent and malicious means. They are huge, terrifying things that are nothing but harmful to humanity. The slakemoths are particularly insidious due to the fact that they do not merely kill their victims: they destroy them, leaving only a catatonic husk behind. In fact, the slakemoths remind me a great deal of the spectres from the novel series His Dark Materials. The spectres, like the slakemoths, are malevolent entities whose sole purpose is to destroy the minds and souls of humans. These aberrations share the basic quality of either being too alien, too dim-witted, or too apathetic to be reasoned with and simply go about their destructive ways.

    In contrast, “shadows” are more relatable monsters. They can have a personality all their own, with complex moral reasoning and turmoils. Often, “shadows” serve as literary devices used to reflect, criticize, or comment on very human qualities by extracting and personifying them as these monsters. The quintessential example of such a “shadow” is the monster from Frankenstein. This creature, very unlike the slakemoths or the spectres, is a complete character. True, it performs what many would consider evil actions, but we the audience can understand and even empathize with why it commits such horrors. It doesn’t kill or destroy simply because of its nature or some aberrant compulsion, it does so because it has been driven to such drastic action by its circumstances.

    Personally, I think that shadows are much more compelling monsters than aberrations, given their complexity and the ambiguity inherently present in their actions. One can theorize and discuss with a shadow, whereas a slakemoth or a spectre simply is. However, I must admit that giant hypnotic moth creatures that devour the mind are satisfyingly terrifying. So, I shall put them on a shelve with some of my other favourite literary horrors, right beside Philip Pullman’s spectres and H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu.

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  13. Monique D

    As most have already stated the Slake-moths are a creature that terrifies the characters in the novel. They take away your soul, your thought and your emotions. Also mentioned was that they usually attack those who are self-aware. For many being self-aware is a very prominent attribute in their identity and their personalities and taking that away is terrifying. These monsters feel like a way for people to be controlled to not become self-aware and branch out and differ from what is socially acceptable and allowed in the city. Monsters when particularly scary and evil act as a common enemy for anybody. No matter your species, race or class they can be a common feared entity. The fear that is held for these monsters reminded me of the Soul-Smoker in the Alchemy of Stone. The obvious difference there is that while the soul-smoker is feared by all and avoided at all times unless needed is that when the Soul-Smokers acts upon you, you end up losing your life. Which is different than the Slake-moths whom do not take your life they leave you with a rather mundane and lifeless body. The Soul-smoker seems kinder and more humane than these slake-moths.

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  14. Thao Tran

    Slake Moths are flying creatures who feed on the monsters who feed on the subconscious minds and emotions of self aware people, leaving them in a catatonic state with no chance or way of recovery. Given the grotesqueness of the world in which they are a part of, I don’t see them anymore hideous in physical appearance, but certainly a lot scarier than a lot of the other creatures and creations we’ve read about in this story. Much like Yagharek, the Slake Moth is committing a crime of “choice-theft”, with which the victims have no way of consenting or having a choice in the theft of their humanity. It’s a very impacting allegory of the emotional state victims of hate crimes et al must feel when they are violated in such a personal way.

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