The Sound of Silence: Eschatology and the Limits of the Word in David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas


It should come as no surprise that the Wachowskis elected to adapt David Mitchell’s 2004 tour de force Cloud Atlas into a film. Like Mitchell’s works, the Wachowskis’ 1999 film The Matrix is a part of a contemporary trend in which artists and writers such as Angela Carter, Paul Auster, and Salman Rushdie engaged in postmodern discourse, themes, and techniques without necessarily subordinating itself their visions to a postmodern worldview.1 Mitchell received an M.A. in 1987 from the University of Kent in comparative literature focusing on the postmodern novel, and his first three novels employ the themes and problematic tensions raised by the theory dominant during the rise of continental philosophy in Anglo-American graduate programs during the 1980s and 90s.2 Cloud Atlas engages theory ranging from overt metafictional winks, such as Timothy Cavendish’s disapproving mockery of “flashbacks, foreshadowings, and tricksy devices,” which “belong in the 1980s with M.A.s in postmodernism and chaos theory” (150), to more subtle uses of popular postmodern metaphors apparently drawn from the theory, as when Henry Goose poisons Adam Ewing with a fake medicine, thereby literalizing Derrida’s riff in “Plato’s Pharmacy” on Socrates’s claim that writing is a pharmakon, a word that means both “cure” and “poison” (75-9).

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