It has been awhile since I’ve checked in on the books portion of this site. That’s because I took a break from reading new (to me at least) books in favor of revisiting the six books of Frank Herbert’s Dune Series. This is something I do about every year or so, whenever the mood strikes me. Rereading these is always an enjoyable experience since it is an interesting mix of revisiting old friends and finding new perspectives and ideas within familiar settings and finding new ways they apply to the time in which I am reading the books.
The series has been reviewed so many times before that I don’t feel like I can say anything novel at this point. Obviously, I love the books, but more importantly I love how different passages stay with me at different times depending on what’s going on in my life and the world. With this in mind, I just wanted to share some of the quotes and ideas that really stood out for me during this reading. So sit back, grab a spice beer, and enjoy my collection of largely spoiler free quotations from the series.
First, a few quotes that have stuck with me through the years. Starting with Dune: Messiah:
The convoluted wording of legalisms grew up around the necessity to hide from ourselves the violence we intend toward each other. Between depriving a man of one hour from his life and depriving him of his life there exists only a difference of degree. You have done violence to him, consumed his energy. Elaborate euphemisms may conceal your intent to kill, but behind any use of power over another the ultimate assumption remains: “I feed on your energy.” – Messiah; 237
Some awesome person even set this to an old Calvin & Hobbes cartoon on their Tumlbr page. I don’t know this person, and I hope they don’t mind the link; I just think their idea is fantastic. I find myself thinking of this one most frequently at work when dealing with someone who is particularly difficult or demanding.
Next, a pair of thoughts from the God Emperor of Dune:
There’s a lesson in that, too. What do such machines really do? They increase the number of things we can do without thinking. Things we do without thinking – there’s the real danger. – God Emperor; 346
He has learned that it is difficult to live in the present, pointless to live in the future and impossible to live in the past. – God Emperor; 390
As someone who often finds himself relying on machines to do a lot of thinking for him and has occasional problems focusing on the present situation, I like keeping this in mind from time to time. Doesn’t always help me, of course, but I usually find the idea relevant.
Last, from Chapterhouse: Dune:
Beware jargon. It usually hides ignorance and carries little knowledge. – Chapterhouse; 314
I think anyone who has ever been at least partially awake while working an office job can appreciate this one.
Finding new things to focus on is also part of the fun of reading the series for me. As an example, during the earlier parts of my reading my wife was working on a paper about language for her linguistics class. As a result of this, I think I noticed more thoughts about language than in any of my previous readings. Here are three of my favorites:
Again, starting with Dune: Messiah:
I don’t speak…I operate a machine called language. It creaks and groans, but is mine own. – Messiah; 232
This is more whimsical quote that happens to occur just before a very important scene in the early part of the series. Paul Muad’dib has taken custody of Bijaz (who was a ton of great lines in his short amount of page time) who speaks entirely in nimble riddles and word tricks. Bijaz’s weapons are his words and Paul is quick to realize that the dwarf is far more than he appears. This particular quote is a great representation of the character and was the particular one that stood out.
As the series transitions more into an analysis of governance and power, we’re given a passage more in line with my opening thought. From Children of Dune:
In all major socializing forces you will find an underlying movement to gain and maintain power through the use of words. From witch doctor to priest to bureaucrat it is all the same. A governed populace must be conditioned to accept power words as actual things, to confuse the symbolized system with the tangible universe. In the maintenance of such a power structure, certain symbols are kept out of the reach of common understanding – symbols such as those dealing with economic manipulation or those which define the local definition of sanity. – Children of Dune; 201
This excerpt from Princess Irulan appropriately heads a chapter in which Farad’n Corrino is being indoctrinated into Bene Gesserit thought. I like how it touches upon the ways in which language can be used to subjugate and control certain groups or people.
Lastly, from God Emperor of Dune, a novel in which Leto II certainly has a lot to say about a variety of topics, language included:
Word images begin to distort in the instant of utterance. Ideas embedded in a language require that particular language for expression. This is the very essence of the meaning within the word exotic. See how it begins to distort? Translation squirms in the presence of the exotic. The Galach which I speak here imposes itself. It is an outside frame of reference, a particular system. Dangers lurk in all systems. Systems incorporate the unexamined beliefs of their creators. Adopt a system, accept the beliefs, and you help strengthen the resistance to change. – God Emperor; 342
I chose this passage because despite being among the easiest to pull out into a single quote, it also is both interesting and extremely relevant as the story transitions into the later books. For the real world, it raises questions about how language influences and prejudices how we experience ideas and reality. For the books, it shows part of the God Emperor’s shaping of humanity to question reality and the universe around them, and primes them to explode outside the boundaries of the known universe.
The series also has no shortage of quotable thoughts on politics as well, and, seeing how an election cycle is ramping up, I can’t help but think about how some of these apply.
For those pandering to special interests and looking to appeal to traditional party bases:
Power bases are very dangerous because they attract people who are truly insane, people who seek power only for the sake of power. – God Emperor; 118
To those who seek constant warfare while undercutting social services for returning veterans:
The trouble with some kinds of warfare (and be certain the Tyrant knew this, it is implicit in his lesson) is that they destroy all moral decency in susceptible types. Warfare of these kinds will dump the destroyed survivors back into an innocent population that is incapable of even imagining what such returned soldiers might do. – Heretics; 64
To those conservatives desperately clinging to an idealized past:
By your belief in singularities, in granular absolutes, you deny movement, even the movement of evolution! While you cause a granular universe to persist in your awareness, you are blind to movement. When things change, your absolute vanishes, no longer accessible to your self-limiting perceptions. The universe has moved beyond you. – Heretics; 261
As the number of candidates and corporate money pouring into the elections machine climbs steadily higher.
You seldom learn the names of the truly wealthy and powerful. You see only their spokesmen. The political arena makes a few exceptions to this but does not reveal the full power structure. – Heretics; 468
All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptible. Such people have a tendency to become drunk on violence, a condition to which they are quickly addicted. – Chapterhouse; 59
After all these things, remember well the lesson of Muad’dib:
Muad’dib must always be that inner outrage against the complacently powerful, against the charlatans and the dogmatic fanatics. It is that inner outrage which must have its say because Muad’dib taught us one thing above all others: that humans can endure only in a fraternity of social justice. – Children of Dune; 324
Until next time, cheers and Long live the fighters of Muad’dib!