Diaspar Cannot Hold

In structuralism a structure is conceived as possessing a centre, a fundamental ground, which supposedly explains everything about that structure, that totality, that phenomenon; the centre might be an arche, a claimed origin that everywhere unfolds, or a telos a presumed destination that the structure, the phenomenon, is heading towards. This centre is usually itself left unexplained as if it is beyond the structure it’s in, so that the centre is both in the structure yet not in it. The centre is not a centre. The centre governs the structure, but is itself beyond the play of meanings of ‘repetitions, substitutions, transformations, and permutations’ involved in a fuller history of meaning. The centre maintains the structure as enclosed totality, as if it contains or exhausts all the meanings we can attribute to that structure.   Docker 132


Diaspar is a fallacy. The concept of having an overriding purpose, goal or aim to a society is a large part of The City and the Stars, given the sizable similarities between Diaspar and a machine, but what is the machine producing?  Diaspar is a complex system interweaving human and machine functions, what is that ultimate prize that Diaspar is heading towards?  Structuralism speaks of bringing out a process, a simulacra in an object that is previously invisible.  In this way, the function precedes the substance. 

“Diaspar and its inhabitants had been designed as part of one master plan” (Ch 5), a central structure to the society, the preservation of the pinnacle of genius and intellect of all of humanity.  The atomized singular units of Diaspar hold no larger ideas of life in Diaspar, but singularly carry out their task of intimately and infinitely exploring the insulated and continuous algorithm of Diaspar.  The people of Diaspar are cogs to a phantasmatic production.

The citizens of Diaspar are ignorant toward the purpose of their existence, but their blind faith in the continual function speaks to the importance of function over substance. Details are inconsequential as long as life remains contained and perpetual, “Diaspar is a frozen culture, which cannot change outside of narrow limits…they store the image of the city itself, holding its every atom rigid against all the changes that time can bring” (Ch 5).  Alvin’s great curiosity and quest is the search for this purpose of survival, the central goal of Diaspar that has supposedly written into the computer’s programming by the creators.

 Alvin crushes the totalizing and central perception of the people of Diaspar by the discovery of Lys, the exploration of old civilizations and of Vanamonde.  The unacknowledged function of their society has no substance.  Their claimed origin of the elite genius of mankind has been devastated along with the trust in a presumed destination.  Diaspar has no explainable purpose or structure. They are not the great intrepid pioneers, the centre and prize of humanity they thought they were, but rather the enfeebled diaspora of a society destroyed by its own hubris. 

             The initial world of Diaspar of infinite exploration of intimate knowledge was fixed and comfortably simple, but once the bubble was burst the universe is seen as “without end, unconfirmed, unreduced, unfinalised, untotalised, not continuous, not linear, where truth in never arrived at, is always involved in a play of differences that keep deferring its arrival, its full presence” (Docker 133), chaotic.

            The comfortable, wrapped with a memory bank stored bow perception of structuralism dissolves, the centre cannot hold, instead a universe without overarching goals and fundamental grounding purposes remains, seen in the last words of the novel:


In this universe the night was falling; the shadows were lengthening toward an east that would not know another dawn. But elsewhere the stars were still young and the light of morning lingered; and along the path he once had followed, Man would one day go again. Ch 25


John Docker. Postmodernism and popular culture: a cultural history. London: Cambridge University Press, 1994. 132-3.