EXISTENCE AND DEMIURGY IN TERRY PRATCHETT'S WORKS
In the transition of the postmodern epoch of traditional literature into the epoch of electronically aided culture in the demanding form of surpassed postmodernity Terry Pratchett stands as an exemplary generator of infinite text reaching beyond literature into the virtual space of Internet as well as into the everyday world of commerce.
Explicating the construction of intertext as a mechanism of cultural transformation and transition this author of the late 20th century has touched upon two ends of human existence: the boundaries of human life and the infiniteness of existence of the human realities.
The English fictional tradition has brought up to this day a complex taste for utopia, distopia, allegory, fairy tale, pun, cosmopolitanism, traveling and adventure which meet on the tiny ground of Pratchett’s Discworld. Irony is the means which glues together this strange mixture of textual patches into a varied texture representing human culture in a kaleidoscope of realities making up the hyper reality of the present-day readership.
The text about the Discworld spreads in 30 books plus already. They fall into three groups:
The creation, the order, the hierarchies and the general picture of the Discworld are to be explicitly found in two groups which might be called: ‘The Beginnings of Discworld’ and ‘The Keys to Discworld’.
The building of the disk world starts as simple as a child’s crayon drawing, goes as fascinating as a fairy tale, as low as a Disneyworld soap opera carried out in nihilistic teenage jargon, as far as Eastern magic capable to reach between the world of the living creatures and the home of Death, as frightful as the apocalypse, as homely as the routine of the Unseen University academic life, as big as the commonplace human individual - Rincewind, the mediocre magician, the coward who happens to save the world, and Twoflower - the naïve tourist, the investigator of new worlds.
The Colour of Magic gives the most explicit description of the Discworld in terms of what might be called its cosmogony, cosmology and geography. In a second hand crossing point of the universal dimensions there is an astral plain where the gigantic world turtle A’Twin is floating. On its back are the four elephants on whose backs is the disc of the World surrounded by the incessant Rim Waterfall. Above it is the baby-blue sky and the sun of the Discworld. In the centre of this flat world there is a tower of green ice on whose top is Dunmanifestin - the home of the Discworld Gods. The disc world is flat while at the same time it is a land, a spherical toy, a playboard. It contains life and is contained in the activities of its characters. In The Colour of Magic the seasons of this land are described. There are 8 seasons, the week is of eight days and the specter is of eight colours, while the eight son of an eight son is a source of magic. Let us employ the author’s description:
To the inexperienced reader who for the first time comes across a Discworld book the symbol of the disc is insufficient in itself since its meaning in the context of our daily experience is limited to the CD device, or to something two-dimensional - flat and simple. This is because the outsider has not entered upon the multi-dimensional reality comprising the demiurgy of the Discworld by means of infinite text mechanics involving the reader into a postmodern cultural recovery of human things. This complex reality is revealed in the different books not in chronological way but redundantly: like patches of information existing there and discovered by the visitor to this world in the course of his or her own experience. What is even more interesting the reader is on the side of the author, or rather - the authors of this intertext: there on the one side is the disc world with all its stories, characters and sights. On the other side is the group of people contributing to the text where the reader also belongs as a shareholder in the interplay of discourse. The reader thus participates in the group of those endowed with the power to observe and comment and we are involved in making some kind of a “critical ontology of ourselves as a historico-practical test of the limits that we may go beyond... as free beings” (see Foucault 1984b: 47).
The redundancy of the Discland text is to be found on all textual layers: the layout of the text; the registers - description, persuasion, narrative; the character-development; the layers of dialogue - author’s dialogue, characters’ speech; the stories.
The books classified as ‘the beginnings’ of the Discworld contain the most detailed descriptions, the fictional facts round which the stories are built. In the books which can be classified as leading into the very nature of this imagined reality are the ‘key books’ which reveal the basic aspects of the functioning of this world in what might be called its socio-cultural diversity, controversies and intercourse.
It is curious to find out that politics is a vague background: a priority to a limited number of aristocrats. Social rule is presented in its variety: monarchy, tyranny, democracy. Political power is revealed in the political secret negotiation, in actual government - carried out by the city guards, in the wars, and in the establishment of guilds. However, all these are approached from a cultural point of view. Using Foucault’s analysis of postmodernism as a background we find out that the texture of the Discworld wholly agrees with it:
In this the Discworld is very close to Mor’s Utopia, and the wealth of noplace lands typical for the English bestsellers: Gulliver’s imaginary land’s, Robinson Crusoe’s island, The Treasure Island, Alice’s Looking Glass travel, the map of the world revealed in The Lord of the Rings, Orwell’s fantasies, not to mention science fiction in all its variety and detail. However, the Discworld stories are not science fiction, nor are they social fiction. They are the technical image of what postmodernism is to be followed by. They are pure mechanics of hyper literature. They are made up: not imagined, but following the twist and turns of logic in the language reality. They might be called samples of craftsmanship had it not been for the brilliant use of stylistic devices and high standard of text building.
The construction and filling with details the place where the Discworld is positioned supplies a ground where the narrative can travel without leaving the boundaries of the text coherence. The very text in the procedure of its completion is the texture of that fictional reality which can be approached from various aspects as far as the different stories go. They are narrated in a unified style which is a complex mix of registers which is necessary for the purpose of world creation.
The building up of the heros is based on redundancy: they appear from story to story following their own life stories which may be the main plot lines or relieving background of familiar community members. They have biographies which are built up like the Discworld itself out of pieces of information slipping in description and dialogue, repeated in reasoning and dramatic appearance like rumour, like gossip, like a newspaper story, like a scene in a play, like a speculative conversation in a pub. There are the cycles of books about the witches, those about the wizards and the third group - about the city guard. Still there are some other characters who appear throughout the books such as Death, his granddaughter Susan, Conan the Barbarian. There is also another group of minor characters who serve to connect the places of the Discworld, making them familiar like momentary acquaintances who remind us of people and events whom we have known well - the friends, the relatives the fellows, the enemies, the business partners to the leading figures of witches, wizards, guards, aristocrats etc.
The fictional reality of the Discworld is a space where cultural realities meet. They are represented mainly through unusual and comic personifications of traditional values. The demiurgy of the Discworld involves the weaving of the fictional equivalent to the semiotic category of actant in the image of Death. It is the focus of existence: its boundary limiting it and extending it into the infinite texture of humanity.
In terms of quantity, the texts contributing to the image of Death constitute about one sixth of the Discworld texts and this is because of the accent placed on the question of life and death going as far as the very existence of the Discqworld into the fundaments of the Discworld demiurgy.
In his work What is an Author M. Foucault discusses the common grounds of writing. One of them is its relationship with death. There are two basic expressions of this relationship: accepting death - as in Greek epic - as a doorway to immortality; and keeping death away - as is the case and the cause of Scheherazade’s stories (Foucault 1984a: 102). Terry Pratchett has added a new interpretation of death: in his stories Death is Humane. This feature is acquired through specified compilation of ethic and literary mechanisms building up an acceptable for the contemporary individual philosophy of life and death.
A technical approach to isolating the image of death in Terry Pratchett’s books, leads to the discovery that Death is hyper textual - a link hero, whose presence in most of the books about Diskworld is due to the fictional fact that he is an inevitable part of the created reality. Death is an essential feature of Diskworld and a foundation principle. His presence is marked by its morphic personification in the common figure of the man with the scythe, as well as by its ubiquity: he is everywhere, for everything; there is Death of the Rats, there is the feminine form of Death - his granddaughter - Susan, there is also the mixed image of Death and Hogfather which is a revival of life. The image of death serves as a link between the limited ranges of Discworld and the Universe, where he is proportionally small. He is afraid of the auditors - the ruling principles of the universe, he is a friend of Chaos, and he is subordinate to the universal death - Asrael.
This is an antinomic presentation of Death, speaking of its relativity: it is great while it is small, it can be approached from within the limits of the Discworld as well from the outer space within the limits of the Universe; it is one while it is many; it is somewhere while it is everywhere; it is the hero of stories that happen in certain moments of time and in certain places while it abides outside time and space.
It is remarkable that in a seemingly eclectic set of features, the author has built an image of a foundation principle of a reality: a hero whose characteristics and activities on all possible levels form a systematic philosophical attitude to the question of human existence in an individual cosmological perspective.
Besides Death there are other key heroes such as Rincewind - the coward whose true gift is his ability to survive and that is the feature which makes him so precious to the Discworld, for the survival of Rincewind is the survival of the Discworld itself as the story goes in The Light Fantastic. Being a wizard though a miserable one, Rincewind is too academic to understand life, but he understands living as the mere procedure of existing. That makes him another boundary character of existence. To remain such he is to be combined with events and characters who endanger existence and such who preserve it, such as Twoflower or Conan the Barbarian. Twoflower is the tourist from the Agatean Empire who in his curiosity would search beyond the limitations of existence and quite readily would leave the Discworld. Rincewind is the boundary agent who inevitably brings him back where he belongs. Conan is the hero who guards the dangerous steps of Rincewind.
A reader cannot complain of neglect of women characters, as well, who are raised to existential significance. There is the feminine form of Death - his adopted granddaughter Susan who is good at logic, with children, tales, and music. Next the witches prove to be guardians of life since they understand it and can interfere with it. The witch is a complex image, realized in the triad whose members may change to the purpose of the story but whose top is Granny Weatherwax. The witches like the wizards can see Death. They can reach beyond the limitations of the everyday routine of living. There are women city guards, aristocrats, heroes, stars. And all of them are involved in the preservation of the Discworld.
The characters of the Discworld in their abstraction can be viewed as actants in the terms of Greimas, while at the same time in their concrete roles in the textual reality they can be viewed as individuals. The individual in the Discworld as a boundary to existence is complex in itself: it is not a character type, it is not anything near an ideal of humanity. It is the middle individual that is in the focus of infiniteness, since the middle is the most distant point from all ends or limitations. The characters of Terry Pratchett are neither too great not to be made objects of ridicule, irony, pity or criticism. And none of them is mediocre or common: Rincewind is a zero magician, but good at being a zero without which some other great figures might feel uneasy; Granny Weatherwax is to magic what the sea is to the fish; Twoflower; Connan the Barbarian and the Silver Horde; the night guard and Captain Vimes; Lord Vetinary and all the others of all race and trade up to the speaking dog Gaspode and the tiny red organism at the bottom of the ocean - all of them are unique and all of them add to the construction of the fictional reality of the Discworld.
All the characters inhabiting the Discworld are original, unique, each with their own story. In the existing text the author hasn’t told even a small part of these stories, but we are given the whole picture and the concept of this world so we can continue from any place the author’s narrative has stopped. The Discworld is complete yet unfinished which gives it the depth of multidimensional interference by any reader or rather visitor.
The characters as actants bear human traits and human values passing cultural interfaces between times and prejudices. This is the main purpose of the wide use of intertext. The fictional reality of the Discworld is a crossroad where texts meet to build up its infiniteness.
In the first place infiniteness lies in the core of the specific Diskworld demiurgy. The boundaries of infiniteness are to be sought in the motivation of the very existence of the disc world: a tiny grain of dust in the infinite universe while at the same time existing within itself in glass balls containing it again and again, and over and over so that it survives (The Light Fantastic). Its cosmology and cosmogony let all human beliefs since infiniteness is the container of cultures simultaneously and always, not in the linear and confronted ways of real human history. This is another extension to the borders of the Discworld notion of infiniteness.
The technicalities which allow this attitude to infiniteness to be displayed lie in the instrumentaria of the infinite text which allow immediate transformation of cultural and circumstantial contexts. It is revealed like a dreamwork where everything is within the continuum of one’s mind. Here the continuum is the reality of the Dicworld which is at the same time a place, a hierarchy of structure and function, and a meta reality which is displayed together with the awareness and self-awareness of its boundaries.
Even on the grounds of Philosophy it is impossible to meet patches of approaches, methods of analysis, views and notions belonging to differing systems, since all of them have their own logical limitations. Here, in the Discworld this is possible because all limitations are thrown away by the method of building and breaking absurdities. Thus our minds are led to the real boundary of infiniteness: the actual, simple, everyday, concrete, finite world of the individual.
The freedom to use texts in building a hyper textual infinity allows the writer to embark on the road leading beyond postmodernism into the realms of the latter’s desired, prescribed and explainable effects. Let us turn to one of the theoreticians setting the fundaments of these effects. M. Foucault wrote:
Pratchet’s intertext extends as far as the roots of human culture. In the latest book Thief of time he goes as far back as eastern views of death and life. Parody in the case of Yeti’s rebirth cannot but reveal the presence of ancient Tibetan attitude to the world. It is very close to this again in The Light Fantastic, and in Small gods. Underneath the amusing story there lies something very close to the core of Yoga:
Another source of intertextuality is, of course, Shakespeare. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet and Macbeth offer imagery and ideas to Wyrd Sisters, Lords and Ladies and the other books about witches.
Folklore and tales are present in Witches abroad and are mixed with the improved images of the strange creatures taken from the books of Clifford Simak and Roger Zelazny: trolls, dwarfs, vampires, zombies, werewolves, elves, dragons, octopus-like ancient gods, living trees etc. Old British saga, the Nibelungenlied, and glimpses of ancient Greece taken from the dialogs of Plato, meet new legendry in the image of the dragon in the city - like Godzilla or the Music with rocks.
One of the characteristics of English literature is victorianism, understood in the terms of Foucault as indirect speaking of real human things like love, or perversion, or death. It is this feature of ‘victorianism’ that makes English books so popular - they bear some sort of primitive or childish clarity of expression, imagery and context. Being on the edge of postmodernity Terry Pratchet has managed to be Victorian at the same time. This is the social trait of decency realized in literature. It is this social trait that makes the Discworld text ubiquitous in terms of acceptability and relevance.
The infinite text is present also in the idea of common existence of different cultures on the Discworld and especially in Ankh Morpork which is more or less modern London.
The geography of the Disc also adds to this cross-cultural travel: the lands and the people described offer hundreds allusions and in the entirely imagined pictures there lurk some elements of our actual world that we can recognize momentarily and then lose among the layers of parody and absurdity. I especially like one of them:
The Light Fantastic, 107-108
It is much like proto Bulgarians travelling westwards yet still following the ways of the East.
We are retold well-known things from the cultural history of mankind, yet they sound entirely new after they have passed through the interface of postmodernity. The text is multiplied by means of irony and parody and pastiche creates unexpected relationships. The intertext is defined by R. Barthes as “the impossibility to get outside the infinite text”. There is no need to get outside it: one feels comfortable inside it since it is insufficiently explored.
According to Umberto Eco every story tells a story which has already been told. This is what Terry Pratchett does in a way that makes the story sound new. The disc world texts tell stories in a way that gets beyond literature, literacy and reading. Just as the author does not matter when the infinite text is concerned, the stories do not matter either. They are always original because they are told in individual situations about individuals.
The text experiments “exploring things unsayable and things invisible”:
In this line we can add a statement of Baudrillard’s which agrees with the above and adds to the understanding of the Discworld demiurgy: “reality... is what is hyper realistic” and the hyper realistic is “what has already been retold” (Baudrillard 1988: 186-192). The infinite text of postmodernity and after enters literature when it is original and its originality is provided by the unusual way of retelling already told stories.
The text of Terry Pratchett is multi dimensional: it can be called transtextual in the terms of Genette (1982: 8), where its intertextuality is realised through direct borrowing from Shakespeare or in the form of pastiche in all the cases of allusion to philosophies and religious views concerning the beginnings of the world. The level of paratextuality is explicitly organized in the adopted specifics of the layout of the books and their internet extensions: Death speaks in CAPITALIZED UTTERANCES, the pictures of the main characters are present both in the web sites and in the album and map of the Discworld which can be viewed as paratextual forms; all the books have the same layout and their covers are in the same style etc. The metatextuality of the Discworld texts is of limited nature or simulated as far as some of the books comment on texts from related books, or some of the comments view imaginary texts. Architextuality exists in the author’s comment concerning the nature of the magical texts in the unlimited Library of the Unseen University. It is a fictional image of the concept of the infinite text. And last but most important, all the previously mentioned features of transtextuality in their unusual realisation in the Discworld text, serve as levels to its hypertextuality because the text of the Discworld contains itself like a mirror reflecting a reflection in an opposite-standing mirror. In fact the hypertextuality here is based on the use of a text which is built on the story of human culture retold from a specific point of view creating a new reality behind an interface which does not let texts but images and ideas, comments and relationships which otherwise are absurd. In the Discworld there are chivalry and romance (Guards! Guards!), fairy tales (Witches Abroad, Wyrd Sisters, Hogfather), journalism (The Truth), theatre (Lords and Ladies), opera (Maskerade), cinema (Moving Pictures), politics (Interesting times, Jingo, The Fifth Elephant), travelling (The Last Continent), academism (Interesting Times, Sourcery), rock music (Soul Music), country life (Reaper Man), history, geography, racial and cultural tolerance etc. All features of life of the Discworld are curiously transformed pictures of human culture taken from the fields of philosophy, history, literature, artistic life, journalism and social experience. There are traces of texts interwoven with patches of texts to form a story - entirely new yet whose parts are recognizable. And this story then is extended by comment and repetition to reach the status of a fundamental aspect of the fictional reality of the Discworld. All stories have their proper places in the demiurgy of this reality and absurd as they might seem if taken separately, they stick together supporting their versions and verifying each other in the general texture of the Discworld.
Thus the Discworld text is infinite in itself which agrees with R. Barthes’ definition of the interetext as the impossibility to go beyond the infinite text (Barthes 1986). This might be one of the keys to the understanding of the Discworld text.
Another key is suggested by Umberto Eco (Bryant 2002) in his statement that writers have always been aware of the fact that ‘books always tell about other books’. The infinite text is not denied the opportunity to enter the realms of literature proper. If the connection between postmodernism and literature is originality, provided by the unusual way of reproducing (see Baudrillard 1988: 192).
Terry Pratchet is certainly original both in terms of producing an author’s style of unusually sophisticated idiom of light optimistic parody and of creating a tangle of intertexts where cultures are transformed in an unusual way. In his work What is an Author M. Foucault comments on three types of authors: the author can be discussed in the narrow sense as “the person to whom the production of a work can be legitimately attributed”, or as “the author of a theory, tradition, or discipline in which other books and authors will in their turn find a place” - “transdiscursive” authors; and there is the third group - the “founders of discursivity”: “They are unique in that they are not just the authors of their own works. They have produced something else: the possibilities and the rules for the formation of other texts” (Foucault 1984a: 113-114).
It is evident that Terry Pratchet does not belong to either of the mentioned types. He has created bestsellers which might seem more paratextual than literature proper. There is much gossip in them yet it concerns classical aspects of the life in the big cities of the late 20th century which prevents them from being deciduous. They are structurally clear which makes them exemplary in the field of modern writing. They are ‘Victorian” in the terms of Foucault i.e. decent which makes them readable to broad audience. And as far as the transformation after postmodernity is concerned they are formative as they can serve as a hypertextual interface of the cultural transformation in a field of intercultural tolerance. The Discworld’s approach to transtextuality opens doors to unused resources from the cultural heritage of closed cultures created in smaller languages. A mild irony and optimism in retelling stories in the world languages might settle the problems of untranslatable hostility in texts of national importance.
The boundaries of existence thus outlined in Terry Pratchett’s text include existence on all levels: the individual, the community, the society, the world, the imaginary, the living and the non-living things, and the universalia of human culture. Demiurgy is to be sought in the mechanisms of creation of fictional reality, in the telling and reproduction of text, and extending it to transtextuality.
Baudrillard 1988: Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulations. Standford UP, 1988.
Barthes 1986: Barthes, R. The Death of the Author. Oxford: Blackwell, 1986.
Bernard 1947: Bernard, Theos. Hindu Philosophy. N.Y.: The Philosophical Library, 1947.
Bryant 2002: Bryant, Christopher. Postmodern Parody in the Discworld Novels of Terry Pratchett. University of Plimouth, 2002.
Foucault 1984a: Foucault, M. What is an Author. // The Foucault Reader. Ed. Paul Rabinow. 1984.
Foucault 1984b: Foucault, M. What is Enlightenment. Unpublished French manuscript, published by Paul Rainbow. // The Foucault Reader. Ed. Paul Rabinow. 1984.
Genette 1982: Genette, G. Palimpsestes. Paris, 1982.
Lyotard 1992: Lyotard, J. F. Contribution To an Idea of Postmodernity. // The Lyotard Reader. Ed. Andrew Benjamin. 3rd. ed. Cambridge, Mass., 1992.
Sturgeon 1986: Sturgeon, Theodore. (1953) More Than Human. Bulgarian translation by Iskra Ivanova. Varna: Galaktika, 1986.
Waley 1982: Waley, Arthur. Three Ways of Thought in Ancient China. Stanford UP, 1982.
© Gergana Apostolova