Cloud Atlas - epic film about karma and reincarnation

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths. What can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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Re: Cloud Atlas - epic film about karma and reincarnation

Postby Hiker » Mon Jan 06, 2014 5:54 am

I'm sure it was unintentional on the film makers' part, but Jim Broadbent's character "Cavendish" reminds me a lot of Stephen Bachelor, author of Buddhism without Belief.

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Re: Cloud Atlas - epic film about karma and reincarnation

Postby gavesako » Tue Aug 26, 2014 12:38 pm

A new epic book:

A Master of Many Universes
‘The Bone Clocks’ Is David Mitchell’s Most Ambitious Novel

“Multiverse” may sound like a grandiose metaphysical term to attach to a novelist, but fans and scholars say it aptly describes Mr. Mitchell’s books, which span centuries, continents and genres, often within a single work.

“ ‘Universe’ doesn’t seem ample enough, because each book shows you how much bigger his world is and expands the limits of what we think his stories are,” said David Ebershoff, Mr. Mitchell’s editor at Random House. “His new novel is really the first time that many readers can begin to piece the books together.”

“The Bone Clocks,” which is being released on Sept. 2, is Mr. Mitchell’s most ambitious work yet, and provides the key to a larger narrative puzzle — a kind of rambling macronovel — that he has been assembling across his books. Characters from his earlier books appear in major roles that cast their previous literary incarnations in a strange new light. Themes and motifs that echo across his books — survival, mortality, the perils of power and the possibility of rebirth — are amplified and refined.

“In the same way that my novels are built of hyperlinked novellas, I’m sort of building what I’ve taken to calling in a highfalutin way the ‘uberbook’ out of hyperlinked novels, because I’m a megalomaniac, and I like the idea of maximum scale,” Mr. Mitchell said.

“The Bone Clocks” opens in 1984 England, where a rebellious teenager, Holly Sykes, runs away from home and unwittingly gets caught up in an occult war that has been raging for centuries. In classic Mitchell fashion, the narrative transgresses time, space and genre, jumping from 1980s England to contemporary Iraq, the medieval Swiss Alps, the 19th-century Australian outback, a Manhattan townhouse that serves as a metaphysical portal, and finally to an Irish village in 2043, where an elderly Holly struggles to protect her grandchildren after an environmental catastrophe. As the story progresses, Holly learns that she has been a pawn in a battle between two rival camps of immortals, the Horologists, who reincarnate by taking on new bodies, and the Anchorites, who stay eternally young by preying on the living.

Mr. Mitchell, 45, says “The Bone Clocks” grew out of a new preoccupation with mortality. “The seed of the story was my impending midlife crisis and an exploration of what I’d be prepared to do to cheat aging and death,” said Mr. Mitchell, who is English and lives in Ireland with his wife and two children. ... ... 2&referrer

And there is a certain satisfaction at recognising the new incarnations of the immortal few and of their opponents who – like Esther Little – adopt new bodies as they pursue the fight for good. The problem is not that the reader is asked to suspend disbelief as an entire fictional world is brought vividly to life, as in Lord of the Rings or even Terry Pratchett's Discworld. The jarring comes from rendering in such brilliantly evocative detail a hot summer in Eighties Kent and then asking readers to plunge into the alternative universe of the Anchorites of the Dusk Chapel of the Blind Cathar of the Thomasite Monastery of Sidelhorn Pass – before switching back again.

The vast sweep of the story culminates in the mid-21st century when technological gains signify nothing as a world dominated by an all-powerful China faces power shortages and environmental disaster. This, at least, is awfully credible. And despite my partial resistance to Mitchell's – any – alternative universe, I desperately wanted to know what happens to Holly, through her loves, health worries and responsibilities, a real life of meaning and emotion that survives the almost silliness of her super-natural engagements.

For sci-fi fantasists, the imaginary world Mitchell creates might be a thing of wonder, a Dungeons and Dragons for literate grown-ups. For others, I suspect the flesh and blood anguish of a long life lived well against the odds will prove the greater pleasure.

It is the human, not the super-human, moments that touch as when Hugo Lamb queries whether his love had ever been reciprocated or, indeed, the almost preposterous act of loyalty with which the book concludes. It is an ending worthy of the movie epic the Wachowski siblings – creators of the bold if problematic adaptation of Mitchell's 2004 novel Cloud Atlas - might just essay. ... 83840.html

Among living novelists, he is, in fact, singularly unbound by place—or, for that matter, by time or genre or almost any other constraint. “Boundaries between noise and sound are conventions, I see now,” a character observes in his most famous book, Cloud Atlas. “All boundaries are conventions, even national ones. One may transcend any convention, if only one can first conceive of doing so.”

You could call Mitchell a global writer, I suppose, but that does not quite capture what he is doing. It is closer to say that he is a pangaeic writer, a supercontinental writer. What is for geologists a physical fact—that the world is everywhere interconnected, bound together in a cycle of faulting and folding, rifting and drifting, erosion and uplift—is, for Mitchell, a metaphysical conviction. Immensity alone, he knows, is psychologically and morally risky; it makes our own lives so comparatively insignificant that it can produce fatalism, or depression, or unimpeded self-interest. To counter that, his fiction tries again and again to square the scale of the world with the human scale, down to its smallest and inmost components. The human conscience matters because it leads to action—a captain holds his fire, a free man saves a slave—and human action matters because, if everything is interconnected, everything we do tugs on the web of space and time.

The Bone Clocks retells this story: It is about how the events of one life reverberate through our world, and through unseen worlds around us. But the book also makes clear the extent of Mitchell’s formal preoccupation with connection. The customary observation about his novels is how radically they differ from one another: Black Swan Green, the coming-­of-age story, is nothing like Jacob de Zoet, and neither one is anything like Cloud Atlas—which, six times over, is nothing like itself. But The Bone Clocks upends that impression. As it turns out, the most striking thing about these books is not how far-flung they are, but what a vast, strange, interconnected world they form.

“An epic battle between good and evil,” Mitchell says, making fun of himself in a coming-this-fall-to-theaters-everywhere voice. Well, yes. The Bone Clocks—five-sixths of it, anyway—is about a standoff between two groups of immortal beings: Horologists (good) and Anchorites (evil). The Horologists don’t know why they are immortal; they only know that, 49 days after they die, they wake up in a body whose former soul has just departed. The Anchorites know exactly why they are immortal: because they hunt down children with especially potent souls, lure them to a mysterious chapel, and “decant” them, like hell’s own sommeliers. Their mission is to use that stolen soul stuff to live forever. The mission of the Horologists is to stop them.

The desire for immortality is a common inducement to evil in Mitchell’s work. Novelists need a motive for their antagonists, after all, and most of the classic ones—money, power, hatred—leave him cold. “But what if you didn’t have to die?” he asks. “What if you could stay relatively young and healthy and beautiful forever?” He smiles at me: 45 years old, tall, fit, sandy-haired, blue-eyed, one-sixteenth of a notch too boyish to be cast as a handsome serial killer. “Kinda tempting, isn’t it?”

Sure. But it is one thing to fear death, and something else entirely to live for 900 years by imbibing the souls of children in a shadowy hideout between worlds. ...

I do not want to say much about how The Bone Clocks ends. It suffices to note that Holly lives on into desperate times, ones that have nothing to do with a fantastical battle between good and evil and everything to do with problems in which we are all currently complicit. In that future, every possible kind of connection is unraveling: transit systems, telecommunications, sympathy. It is very plausible and very proximate, and months after I read it, it is still disturbing me.

In person, Mitchell is an unlikely voice of impending doom; he is, at present, organizing pesto and chutney and local cheese on the pier between us. But when I ask if he regards the Armageddon in The Bone Clocks as an “if” or a “when,” he says, “I lean to the when.” He does not do conspiracies or paranoia or even excess negativity, but he is increasingly worried about endings: his own, the world’s. ...

Death, of course, is the ultimate disconnection—unless, that is, some part of us lives on. I ask Mitchell what he thinks about souls, which feature prominently in his books, and especially in The Bone Clocks. “I doubt that we have them,” he says, “and I hope that I’m wrong.” He means it, but he is once again laughing as he says it, and I remember something Marinus says to Jacob de Zoet: The soul is a verb, not a noun.

I was undone by the ending of The Bone Clocks, but I was also—to borrow the word for how Horologists reconstruct themselves when they are born anew—re-raveled by the one note of grace Mitchell bestows on the failing world. It is the grace of connection: a single life that turned out to matter, a single act, a debt repaid, a promise kept, a flame lit by another flame. ... atlas.html

Short intro by the author

Bhikkhu Gavesako
Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26) - Teachings of Ajahn Chah in many languages
Dhammatube - Videos on Buddhist practice
Ancient Buddhist Texts - Translations and history of Pali texts

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Re: Cloud Atlas - epic film about karma and reincarnation

Postby gavesako » Tue Aug 11, 2015 9:03 pm

A post on Naomi Appleton's blog related to this thread:

Heim on intention in Buddhist ethics
Posted on August 10, 2015 by naomiappleton

I have finally found a moment to finish reading Maria Heim’s 2014 book The Forerunner of All Things: Buddhaghosa on Mind, Intention, and Agency (Oxford University Press). In it, Heim uses Pali scriptures and the commentaries of Buddhaghosa to explore notions of intention or motivation in Buddhist ethics. She spends a chapter each on the suttas, abhidhamma, and vinaya, tracing commonalities and differences in presentation and emphasis. Her fourth chapter is on the narrative materials (particularly the Jātaka commentary and the Dhammapada commentary), which she sees – following Buddhaghosa – as offering yet another perspective on the Buddha’s teachings.

I enjoyed the attention that Heim gave to genre in her study. Often we forget that different sorts of text might explore the same questions in different ways, or might even ask different questions altogether. A sutta about intention will not necessarily take the same form or have the same concerns as an abhidhamma exegesis with its desire to systematise, nor will it be the same as a vinaya discussion, which is naturally concerned with issues of culpability.

It was Heim’s concluding thoughts about the narratives of the Jātaka and Dhammapada commentaries that stuck with me, however. She notes (p.214):

Stories reflect on action in particular ways and value a particularism that does not necessarily lead to universals or to grand theory. They are open in important ways to multiple interpretations, and they place value on the process of puzzling through the opacity of human action.

This, elegantly put, goes to the heart of my own interest in narrative materials. They nuance the systematic teachings, open them up, challenge them, explore them, and often do not provide a straightforward answer to whatever we are asking of them.

This is why I really HATE the phrase “And the moral of the story is….”!

Heim also notes stories’ ability to emotionally engage us, and how tales can therefore challenge our notions of independence or subjectivity, and enable us to become more morally sensitive. She concludes (p.215):

Thus narrative commentaries ripen or mature our knowledge of the general truths we have explored in other genres. They do so not so much by exemplifying them as by inhabiting them.

I love this idea of stories inhabiting the more systematic or general teachings offered in other genres. Stories are so much more than mere exemplars. They are a different way of exploring Buddhist (and Jain and Hindu and other) ideas to other sorts of teaching, but no less valuable. ... st-ethics/
Bhikkhu Gavesako
Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26) - Teachings of Ajahn Chah in many languages
Dhammatube - Videos on Buddhist practice
Ancient Buddhist Texts - Translations and history of Pali texts

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Re: Cloud Atlas - epic film about karma and reincarnation

Postby mal4mac » Wed Aug 12, 2015 8:59 pm

Mitchell is a great author. "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet" is also a superb novel, really conveying the difficulties that can occur when West meets East (highly appropriate for this forum!)

"... a place like no other: a tiny, man-made island in the bay of Nagasaki, for two hundred years the sole gateway between Japan and the West. Here, in the dying days of the 18th century, a young Dutch clerk arrives to make his fortune. Instead he loses his heart.

Step onto the streets of Dejima and mingle with scheming traders, spies, interpreters, servants and concubines as two cultures converge. In a tale of integrity and corruption, passion and power, the key is control - of riches and minds, and over death itself."

I just borrowed the "The Bone Clocks" from the library, sounds interesting!
- Mal

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