Philosophical Themes in The Prince of Nothing

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Cleaver428

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« on: September 08, 2014, 01:03:35 am »
Throughout The Prince of Noting, I found myself believing I knew the themes and ideas one day, and then the next day feeling completely lost. I have done a fast, pathetic search of the boards and found only bits and scraps of what I'm looking for so far. I understand these novels are meant to be interpreted differently but I think I would really benefit moving forward in the series if I had a general idea of what the author was shooting for. So from my limited understanding most of the people in the story (except that damn kellhus and maybe a few others) are ruled by the darkness that comes before which includes religion and culture. The books critique this and the main point seems to be that following these arbitrary customs results in destruction, war and generally bad stuff. But then Kellhus comes in and his dunyain philosophy rejects the darkness that comes before. But kellhus is ALSO portrayed poorly even though he rejects the darkness. So what is going on here? Does the author imply that some sort of middle ground is needed to be found between outright rejection of the darkness and a complete embrace of it? I have read up on Kant and Nietzsche ("read up" is putting it strongly) so I kind of understand the motivations of the characters but I just don't feel comfortable with what the main themes and ideas are yet.

One more thing, is everything made clear in the aspect emperor trilogy? I am planning on getting those books soon.
Thanks people


The Sharmat

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« Reply #1 on: September 08, 2014, 02:59:12 pm »
Does the author imply that some sort of middle ground is needed to be found between outright rejection of the darkness and a complete embrace of it?
I think a strong argument could be made for that. The Dunyain and the Consult represent the two opposite poles. One has rejected history, morality, and instinct entirely, focusing on pure detachment and intellect, and so become a monstrous race of inhuman sociopaths willing to do anything for power. The other has surrendered entirely to its instincts and innate hungers, and seeks to make a world where all that exists is a material universe laid out for them like a buffet of sensation. They are an alliance of monstrous hedonists willing to do anything to pursue pleasure and avoid (their own) pain.

The Aspect Emperor trilogy answers some questions but raises even more new ones. It does shed some light on the previous series in retrospect though, and it cannot be expected that all the answers would lie in what will be the middle volumes of the series.

MG

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« Reply #2 on: September 09, 2014, 11:22:24 am »
Hi Cleaver428!  I feel the same way about philosophy in the series and I teach it!  :P  To me, the 'darkness that comes before' is an inescapable matter to all characters in the story: the 3 seas, Kellhus, the gods.  Kellhus is able to exploit the darkness that comes before the Inrithi, but is ignorant of the darkness that comes before him.  I think this will be one of the big turning points in The Unholy Consult, when Kellhus sees, too late, the puppet strings guiding his actions.  But I think it won't stop there, I think a lot of characters that assume they act with independent agence are in for rude surprises.  Welcome!

The Sharmat

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« Reply #3 on: September 09, 2014, 02:29:38 pm »
At least there's a sort of intellectual honesty to the Consult. They know they just do things because they're thinking with their dicks.

Cleaver428

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« Reply #4 on: September 09, 2014, 10:09:51 pm »
It's really interesting that Kellhus is also ruled by his own certain brand of the darkness that comes before. I guess he is just more aware of its existence than the other characters in the story. I suppose Achamian has also sort of rejected his darkness because of his intense skepticism. Achamian seems to be the character that the audience is meant to see as 'the good guy' despite his flaws. But in comparison to kellhus most of the characters aren't all that bad in my opinion haha. I view kellhus as a product of his upbringing, you really can't blame him for the stuff he does because it has been drilled into him. All those flashbacks in Ishual show that initially, he was just a little bit hesitant about the dunyain ways but their relentless conditioning really twisted him. (The moment when he first confronts the faceless people in the chamber comes to mind) Do you think the author indicates that basic morality is inherent regardless of upbringing? Even though kellhus was conditioned from birth he still had moments when he lapsed out of his conditioning and seemed to feel real compassion or something akin to it. woah woahhh I have never read anything in the fantasy genre quite like this stuff.

One thing I found really strange, messed up and almost comical was the consult guys and skin spies always getting aroused in so many of their scenes. Like when the synthese teases sarcellus with its wing. That was total insanity!

MG

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« Reply #5 on: September 09, 2014, 11:03:01 pm »
They were made for transgression's sake!

I hear you Cleaver428 and I'm wondering what hides in the darkness Kellhus is completely blind to....

Those pragma were up to more than what they said!

Crtha

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« Reply #6 on: September 10, 2014, 01:08:02 am »
Welcome Cleaver.

The themes are critical by nature.
The author is working within genre conventions and is examining the tropes and how they apply to who we are as readers.

The most important and common theme in fantasy is the triumph of good over evil.  This, and the idea of pre-determined fate versus self actualization are the primary themes in PoN.
We are not given easy definitions of good.
There are few characters who provide easy analogues for ourselves that we can dub as being 'good', and the question of evil is also muddied.
Earwan social systems preach a kind of Aristotalean ideal of 'good', embodied by Proyas. Esmenet and Xinemus present a Stoic philosophy. Akka embodies socratic self criticism.
Kellhus is clearly the Nietschean extreme of the self actualizing ubermensch, but because his objectives are bent towards missions of domination it is difficult to see his amoral methods as 'good'.

The carnal selfishness of the consult provides a straightforward and obvious antagonist, but by introducing variations on the romantic philosophical notions of LeVayan satanism - some readers feel that they may have a point in the face of some of the absolute impositions that the social restrictions of three seas culture and religion presents.

So, rather than implying that any philosophical system is 'the best way', the author holds up these philosophical problems for the reader to consider.
I heartily recommend spending a little time on Wikipedia having a look at some of these concepts if PoN has whetted your interest.
I'd suggest browsing Platonic ideals, socratic method, Stoicism, Aristotlean ethics, moral ontology and epistimology, and self-actualization as a way to gain a better understanding of the basic philosophical themes.,
Retracing his bloody footprints, the Wizard limped on.

Cleaver428

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« Reply #7 on: September 10, 2014, 09:39:49 pm »
Thanks a lot for pointing me in the right direction!!! I was surprised to see deep philosophical themes feature so prominently in these books when I first picked them up. It was a bit overwhelming and I felt I was missing out on the true meaning of the books because of my lack of knowledge in philosophy. I feel a bit more comfortable now and hopefully your sources will fill in some of the gaps for me.