Dust in Pullman's Novel Northern Lights

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Dust in His Dark Materials
Essay published by JParry on 25th Jul 2007.
There is currently 1 Comment. We're interested in hearing yours! Dust is the central concept of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, the purpose of all its action and the great philosophical explanation behind all the mysteries. Most of the main characters are to some extent engaged in the quest to understand Dust, either to destroy it or to preserve it. Throughout the trilogy, however, Dust acquires a bewildering array of meanings, facets, forms, and functions. It operates at numerous different levels, both literal and metaphorical, within the story and as a philosophical metaphor for real life, and it is an extremely difficult concept to really come to grips with, even after repeat readings of the book and much thought. In “Circumventing the Grand Narrative: Dust as an Alternative Theological Vision in Pullman’s His Dark Materials”, Anne-Marie Bird attempts to apply Derrida’s theories of deconstruction to the idea of Dust, to examine and reconcile the ways it functions to subvert absolutes and binaries while also seeming to put forth a “grand narrative” of its own. She places the “alternative theology” of Dust within the context of modernity and post-modernity, totalizing and totalitarian narratives, and the place of spirituality in contemporary life. I wish to analyze the different roles Dust plays in His Dark Materials¸ and to try to understand the extent to which all these meanings can cohere into one overarching meaning, and the extent to which there very dissonance is part of the symbolic nature of Dust in the larger, philosophical sense. Dust, with its vast array of meanings, is a grand metanarrative, the first cause and reason for everything. But its nature is such that it undermines any restrictive, totalitarian aspects of such an overarching narrative. Dust is a tangible metaphor for what it means to be human, in all its dizzying complexity. The first clear reference to Dust in...
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