Jeanette Winterson’s The Stone Gods: A Brief Discussion
Updated: Nov 6, 2022
Minor spoilers ahead for The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson
The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson is anything but a traditional narrative. While I found the novel to be confusing and somewhat on the nose at times, I must say I was drawn to its poetic language and its use of repetition of certain phrases and lines to bridge the different stories. At times, It almost felt as one long narrative beatnik poem with the aesthetic sensibilities of a modern Sci-fi dystopia, a cyberpunk jazz novel, if you will.
In any case, one of the most fascinating aspects is the way in which the novel plays with repetition. As I’ve mentioned before, it uses the repetition of meaningful and poetic phrases to link up its different stories. But this repetition is also applied on a thematic level. One of the most prominent themes of the novel is the forgetting and repeating of history. This is best illustrated by the story of Planet Blue; in which humanity is not only seen to destroy their current planet (Orbus), but is also already seriously destabilizing their new planet (Planet Blue), and may have already destroyed one other planet before (there are hints that Planet White is Earth). This same theme is reiterated when the history of Easter Island is told to us: The natives destroying the island for their worship of the stone gods, and then ultimately, when most of the island is barren, destroying the stone gods as well as each other.
When we regard this novel through the lens of post-humanism or transhumanism, I would say both are relevant and the novel remains purposefully ambiguous about which viewpoint it takes. It could be said that the creation of Robo Sapiens is a transhumanist feat. Mankind finally having developed the perfect vessel for consciousness, intelligence and even emotion. However, given how the narratives of the novel treat the actions of humanity, I would say there is also a strong undercurrent of anti-humanism present in the novel. This is also tied to the aforementioned theme of repetition (i.e. forgetting and repeating history).
Then there is the question of narrative hierarchies and how this might influence their meaning: If Planet Blue is indeed a fiction embedded in the world of Post-3 War and Wreck City, what does this mean for the narrative, thematic and textual parallelism and repetitions? Is it just life imitating art or art imitating life? Or is there a more complex cosmology beneath the parallelisms and recurrences (For example Block Universe Theory or even Multiverse Theory) and what would this mean for the narrative?
In conclusion: While contemplating the connective tissues between all four parts (in the sense of chronology or other metaphysical connections) is a fascinating exercise, I would state that more important questions lie in the thematic and subtextual area. As a treatise on human history, and what it means to be human the novel is particularly dense, touching on themes of forgetting and repeating history, reason vs emotion, nature vs nurture, mankind as trapped in a deterministic cycle of destruction vs mankind as a free actor with geological impact slowly but surely (after a few failed attempts) ascending the stairs to godhood and many more themes.