K. Williams: Communicative Action in DUN

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K. Williams: Communicative Action in DUN

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Integrative Explorations Journal
Politics and Power
Communicative Action in Frank Herbert's Dune

Kevin Williams
Shepherds College


In the Dune Chronicles Frank Herbert uses science fiction to elaborate on non–
fictive and subtle nuances of communicative action. Set in a futuristic feudal
society in which computers, robots and other "thinking machines" have been
strictly forbidden by holy edict, the politically adept use verbal and non–verbal
communication primarily as message technologies. However, the protagonist,
Paul—Maud'Dib—Atreides, draws on several interpenetrated levels of rhetoric.
These correspond to Gebser's archaic, magical, mythical and rational structures of
consciousness. He uses his aperspectival awareness to become a messiah (a myth–
maker) and wield supreme power by becoming emperor of the known universe
(assuming the ultimate rational role—He by which all is measured).

This paper discusses Herbert's use of science fiction to realize aspects of
communication and consciousness largely overlooked by contemporary
communication theory. It explores, in particular, his contribution to an "integral
(and ecological) theory of communication." The paper will cover the use of
communicative gesture as technology, and multiple levels of civilizational
consciousness that may be (re) called upon as rhetorical action. In doing so, the
paper discusses manners by which larger than life figures (such as Kennedy and
Hitler) are able to gain political power while paradoxically short–circuiting or
circumventing the presupposed rational (persuasive argument) basis of political
argument (in favor of magical incantation and mythical imagery).

I. Peras

To know a thing well, know its limits. Only when pushed beyond its tolerance will true nature be seen.
—The Amtal Rule

If we define futurism as exploration beyond accepted limits, then the nature of limiting
systems becomes our first object of exploration. … The dominant pattern in current
planning betrays a system of thinking that does not want to abandon old assumptions
and that keeps seeking a surprise–free future. But if we lock down the future in the
present, we deny that such a future has become the present. … Where we commonly
believe meaning is found—in printed words (such as these), in the noise of a speaker, in
the reader's or listener's awareness, or in some imaginary thought–land between these.
We tend to forget that we human animals evolved in an ecosystem that has demanded
constant improvisation from us. … The virtuosity of our customary speaking tends to
conceal from us how this behavior is dominated by improvisation. This non–awareness
carries over into that talking with our universe by which we shape it and are shaped by it.

—Herbert: Listening to the Left hand

{1. Frank Herbert, “Listening with the Left Hand,” in Timothy O’Reilly, Editor, Frank Herbert: The
Maker of Dune (New York: Berkley Books, 1987)}

The limits of language and communicative action are tried and tested in the Dune
Chronicles. These limits range from the militarization of language, to the
mythical engineering of the Bene Gesserit's Missionaria Portectiva, to Bene
Gesserit use of Voice, as magical incantation, to unintended gesture and other
forms of nonverbal communication, such as music, which often speak louder than

Messages of the body … [often] complement—or contradict—the spoken word

{2. Timothy O’Reilly, Frank Herbert (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Company, 1981), 19.}

Through dialogue and interaction, the ways by which communication may be
reduced to signals (as in the case of hand–signals) and/or expanded to ambiguous,
ambivalent and polysemic gestures (messages within messages, meanings within
meanings, plans within plans) are explicated. We come to see that communication
cannot be reduced to a theory of messages (a singularity) or transmission (a
linearity). There is always something more and something less going on. Words,
their structure in language, their use in speech, carry (and reveal) civilizational
assumptions about the nature of things.

The Duncans sometimes ask if I understand the exotic ideas of our past? And if I
understand them, why can't I explain them? Knowledge, the Duncans believe,
resides only in particulars. I try to tell them that all words are plastic. Word
images begin to distort in the instant of utterance. Ideas imbedded in a language
require that particular language for expression. This is the very essence of the
meaning within the word exotic. See how it begins to distort? Translation squirms
in the presence of the exotic. The Galach which I speak here imposes itself. It is
an outside frame of reference, a particular system. Dangers lurk in all systems.
Systems incorporate the unexamined beliefs of their creators. Adopt a system,
accept its beliefs, and you help strengthen the resistance to change. Does it
serve any purpose for me to tell the Duncans that there are no languages for
some things? Ahhh! But the Duncans believe that all languages are mine.

—The Stolen Journals
—God Emperor of Dune

These assumptions, as a something less, is what Herbert refers to as "consensus
reality" (O'Reilly, 1981, p. 7; Herbert, Listening to the Left Hand). Consensus
reality is the constitution of the common sense and the hypostasis for perception in
a culture (as a spatio–temporal, or geo–historical phenomenon). The masses are,
for the most part, doomed to live a severely limited sense of reality. Those who
tacitly accept the words, and the ideas they convey, live lives that are prearranged
and preformed by others who wield power over them.

They simply refuse to wake up.

The person who takes the banal and ordinary and illuminates it in a new way can
terrify. We do not want our ideas changed. We feel threatened by such demands.
"I already know the important things!" we say. Then Changer comes and throws
our old ideas away.

—The Zensufi Master
—Chapterhouse: Dune 12

The something more, that which breaks the hold of the conventional, is the
ambiguity and polysemy of communication; the idea that communication is
excessive and can say more, and more, and more, than any singular intention.

"Strong decisions," Hayt said. "These temper a man's life. One can take the
temper from fine metal by heating it and allowing it to cool without quenching.

"Do you divert me with Zensunni prattle?" Paul asked.

"Zensunni has other avenues to explore, Sire, than diversion and display."

Paul wet his lips with his tongue, drew in a deep breath, set his own thoughts into
the counterbalance poise of the mentat. Negative answers arose around him. It
wasn't expected that he'd go haring after the ghola to the exclusion of other
duties. No, that wasn't it. Why a Zensunni–mentat? Philosophy . . . words . . .
contemplation . . . inward searching . . . He felt the weakness of his data.

"We need more data," he muttered.

"The facts needed by a mentat do not brush off onto one as you might gather
pollen on your robe while passing through a fief of flowers," Hayt said. "One
chooses his pollen carefully, examines it under powerful amplification."

"You must teach me this Zensunni way with rhetoric," Paul said.

The metallic eyes glittered at him for a moment, the: "M'Lord, perhaps that's what
was intended."

To blunt my will with words and ideas? Paul wondered.

"Ideas are most to be feared when they become actions," Paul said.

—Dune Messiah 67

Words, especially power–words, are actions—even weapons. Herbert recognizes
that all communication is communicative action. That is, it has consequences. It
is political. It reveals power. Thus, his philosophy of communication is profoundly
ecological because it deals with understanding the consequences of communication
as action.

Ultimately, for Herbert, communication is The highest function of
a message transmission system (that may ecology is the understanding
be examined at chemical and social levels) of consequences
and a sense making system (that engages each and every person in the circularity
between expression and perception).

Because of this, his characters have a depth about them that I find rare in
science fiction—which often presupposes the scientific and technological life–world
as the real world instead of a currently fashionable mythic world. This allows
Herbert to explore science, religion and politics as socially constructed,
communicated, mythological systems, to celebrate their achievements, criticize
their narrow–mindedness, and avoid their dogma. This allows him as well to
grasp the limits and significance of this epoch of radical change, and of the need
for a mythology that is consequent with it.

II. Logos

Herbert espouses the idea that the nuances of meaning emerge through language.
Human evolution is, then, dialogical as well as ecological (Listening to the Left

We sift reality through screens composed of ideas. (And such ideas have their roots in older ideas.) Such idea

systems are necessarily limited by language, by the ways we can describe them. That is to say: language cuts the

grooves in which our thoughts move. If we seek new validity forms...we must step outside language.

—Herbert, Santaroga Barrier, in “Science
Fiction and a World in Crisis,”

(Frank Herbert, “Science Fiction and a World in Crisis,” in Reginald Brentor, Editor, Science
Fiction, Today and Tomorrow. (New York: Harper & Row, 1974))

They were using the mirabhasa
language, honed phalange
consonants and jointed vowels. It
was an instrument for conveying
fine emotional subtleties. Edric, the
Guild Steersman, replied to the
Reverend Mother now with a vocal
curtsy contained in a sneer—a lovely
touch of disdainful politeness.

—in O'Reilly, Editor, Frank Herbert: Maker
of Dune, 333

In Dune, language is a medium in which thought grows, acquires form and
communicative action is designed and directed toward a specific end. Like any
mediator, however, it is an active participant in communication (the medium and
message interpenetrate). Moreover, language, its form and function, is treated as
one constantly shifting aspect of the larger phenomenon of communication. For
the most part, due to the political environmental milieu—a feudal society—
language is weapon. Characters select specific languages for specific
communicational objectives.

Languages are played like musical instruments. One selects an instrument for its
range, tone and timbre. In Dune, one selects a language for the mystical and
magical import of its range, tone, timbre and rhetorical assumptions.

Ghanima nodded to her Aunt as Alia stopped in front of them, said: "A spoil of
war greets her illustrious relative." Using the same Chakobsa [battle] language,
Ghanima emphasized the meaning of her own name—Spoil of War."

—Children of Dune. 17–18

This is the case in written as well as spoken communication.

Alia touched the letter, experienced an odd sensation of mutual contact. This
paper had been in her mother's hands. Such an archaic device, the letter—but
personal in a way no recording could achieve. Written in the Atreides Battle
Tongue, it represented an almost invulnerable privacy of communication.

—Dune Messiah 168

Speakers make use of different languages in much the same way as a skilled jazz
musician makes use of the different modes of a given scale and set of chord

( F. Touponce, Frank Herbert (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1988) notes that improvisation is
thematic in the Dune Chronicles (p. 3). "It dismays some people to think that we are in some kind of
jam session with our universe and that our survival demands an ever–increasing virtuosity, an ever–
improving mastery of our instruments. Whatever we may retain of logic and reason, however, points
in that direction. It indicates that creation of human societies probably should become more of an art
form than a plaything of science" (Herbert: Listening to the Left Hand). )

"Ah, yes," Scytale agreed. "We are energetic and we learn quickly. This makes
us the one true hope, the certain salvation of humankind." He spoke in the
speech mode for absolute conviction, which was perhaps the ultimate sneer
coming, as it did, from a Tleilaxu"

—Dune Messiah 18

While these characters display a profound virtuosity with regards to the use of
language, the word, the logos, is ultimately a trap. This trap is set by the space–
time orientation of the language espoused in its grammar, syntax and the
assumptions made at the etymological point of word–origin.

Because of the one–pointed time awareness in which the conventional mind
remains immersed, humans tend to think of everything in a sequential, word–
oriented framework. This mental trap produces very short–term concepts of
effectiveness and consequences, a condition of constant, unplanned response to

—Liet–Kynes The Arrakis Workbook
—Children of Dune

With regards to English, since this work is simultaneously a work of science fiction
and heuristic philosophy (and thus uses the foreign languages of other worlds to
teach us about our own), the threat lies in the modern spatial, perspectival
assumptions that cultivate the myths of cause and effect, linearity and

Linear thinking is a threat: the 1,2,3 . . . , A, B, C, . . . Mon, Tues, Wed, . . . orientation
revealed by such "realistic" sayings as Kierkegaard's, "life can only be understood
backward, but it must be lived forward," are not in tune with the circular–inclusive (not
cause–effect) ways we live. "Events of tomorrow do change our view of yesterday." To
fit stuff into this presupposition [linearity], we have to fill the unconscious.

—Frank Herbert (Listening to the left Hand)

III. Magi

This is the awe–inspiring universe of magic: There are no atoms, only waves and
motions all around. Here, you discard all belief in barriers to understanding. You
put aside understanding itself. This universe cannot be seen, cannot be heard,
cannot be detected in any way by fixed perceptions. It is the ultimate void where
no preordained screens occur upon which forms may be projected. You have
only one awareness here—the screen of the magi: Imagination! Here, you learn
what it is to be human. You are a creator of order, of beautiful shapes and
systems, an organizer of chaos.

—The Atreides Manifesto, Bene Gesserit Archive (Heretics of Dune)

The western contemporary life–world tends to deny the influence of magic and
dismiss it as mere illusion or slight–of–hand. This remains the case in spite of the
pervasive use of prayer, faith healing, good–luck charms, incantation and other
things that people use or do that would ultimately rely on some sort of magical
hypostasis. Moreover, this remains the case in spite of the findings of physics, in
quantum mechanics, in which physical things and events appear to awareness as
contradictory to rational thinking. Philosopher Jean Gebser suggests that magic is
no mere trickery, but a structure of awareness that once dominated human
consciousness and is still active and present, available to those who attune to it,
and veiled to those who reduce human experience to a rational mentality. There
are traces of magic consciousness in the earliest recorded human expressions (e.g.,
cave paintings) through contemporary culture.

Fremen were the first humans to develop a conscious/unconscious symbology
through which to experience the movements and relationships of their planetary
system. They were the first people anywhere to express climate in terms of a
semi–mathematic language whose written symbols embody (and internalize) the
external relationships. The language itself was part of the system it described.
The intimate local knowledge of what was available to support life was implicit in
this development. One can measure the extent of this language/system
interaction by the fact that Fremen accepted themselves as foraging and
browsing animals.

—The Story of Liet–Kynes by Harq al–Ada (Children of Dune)

Magic consciousness is, in Gebser’s terms, a transition from the sleep–like quality
and harmony with nature of archaic consciousness to the dawning of awareness: It
is sleep–like in quality, but in it arises the adumbration of waking—the germ of
need. For magic, as a structuring of consciousness, the human is no longer in the
world; the human begins to have a world. We see in the magic structure the
emergence of ecological consciousness because all things are seen as interconnected

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

—Arthur C. Clarke (The Making of Kubrick's 2001, Jerome Agel, 312)

This is an interesting statement in light of the Dune Chronicles in which machines
are given such an interesting treatment—especially those that result from
Holtzman mechanics. For the most part, machines are subjugated by human
intention as a result of the uprising against the "thinking machines" that had
previously subjugated humans. However, while most machines in Dune are
without computing ability, the machinic function is shifted from things to humans.
Mentats are human thinking machines—they make prime computations. Voice is
a machinic use of language—it makes people do things.

Magic consciousness is a collective consciousness. All members of a community are
linked together—egoless. This interconnection between all things provides a
necessary way for magic to travel and work that is nonlinear. Instead of the
individual (a mental–rational concept), we have at this level of understanding a
group ego or collective: The shamans power is manifest because all share in it; all
must believe in it, or it will not work.

Tone of voice and attitude alone can subjugate another's will.

—Duncan Idaho (Notebooks of Frank Herbert's Dune, 47)

Intonation and incantation are given special treatment in the Dune Chronicles. It
is well known that the tone of voice is as vital as the choice of words for oral
communication. Even when the listener cannot apprehend the meaning of words
being spoken to him or her, the quality of the voice provides the listener with cues
as to the speaker's intentions. Combining the conscious use of language, speech
and intonation, perhaps the most significant treatment of verbal communication in
the Dune Chronicles, and easily the most memorable, is the Bene Gesserit use of

Voice is the ability to use the expressive dimension of an oral gesture to subjugate
another's will to an intended message. Voice is used to communicate a signal
imperative. A signal is a communicative act in which there is a 1:1 correlation
between an expression and its content. Put another way, a signal's meaning (if we
can use that dangerous word) is established by a code that determines the way
that a sign points. For example, the red light on a traffic light is a signal because
the red light itself points to one meaning—stop. An imperative is a form of statement that bears a
command and has the power to control. The signal–imperative,
then, is an extremely powerful form of utterance from which only an
adept is safe. We are introduced to the Voice in the very first pages of

"Now, you come here!" [said the
Reverend Mother Gaius Helen

The command whipped out at him.
Paul found himself obeying before he
could think about it.

Using the Voice on me, he thought.

He stopped at her gesture, standing
besides her knees.

—Dune, 7

Only the adept, those who are free and observe with clarity, recognize
this power of voice.

Paul nodded. He saw how Chani had been fooled.
The timbre of voice, everything reproduced with exactitude.
Had it not been for his own Bene Gesserit training in voice, and for the web of
dao in which oracular vision enfolded him, this Face Dancer disguise might have
gulled even him.

—Dune Messiah 136

The Voice is an extreme example of invocation and imperative. And yet, by taking
the imperative statement to the extreme, to push it to the limit, and by use of
analogy, Herbert explores the use of vocal power and verbal magic that is already
always at play in human communication. It is this magic, through vocal
incantation, that deserves further attention here.

Our contemporary notions of mass (e.g., mass communications, mass audiences),
collective consciousness and the collective unconscious refer back to magic
consciousness. In terms of mass communication, popular songs provide a good
example of contemporary magic. Song lyrics are magical incantations. They are
simple. Yet they are ambiguous, polysemic. Thus, they carry the power of the
interpreter who can write on them his or her intent. Many words are nonsense.
They are simple utterances powerful not because they bear meaning but because
their invocation takes us into trance. This is one reason so many of the songs of
Dune are uttered by the Fremen. The Fremen are still in touch and in tune with

O Paul, thou Muad'Dib,

Mahdi of all men,

Thy breath exhaled

Sent forth the hurricane.

—Songs of Muad'Dib (Children of Dune)

Oh, worm of many teeth,
Canst thou deny what has no cure?
The flesh and breath which lure thee
To the ground of all beginnings
Feed on monsters twisting in a door of fire!
Thou hast no robe in all thy attire
To cover intoxications of divinity
Or hide the burnings of desire!

—Wormsong from the Dunebook (Dune Messiah)

This collective (mass) consciousness is expressed “in the visible interchangeability
of the real and the symbolic” (Gebser, 1991, p. 48). This is to say that, for magic
consciousness, there is a point–like unitary world. “The magic world is. . . a world
of pars pro toto, in which the part can and does stand for the whole” (Gebser, 1991,

p. 46).5
Stilgar believed in a supernatural world very near him. It spoke to him in a simple
pagan tongue dispelling all doubts. The natural universe in which he stood was
fierce, unstoppable, and it lacked the common morality of the Imperium

(Dune Messiah 81)

Magic works irrespective of time and place—it is Spaceless and Timeless. Indeed,
spacelessness and timelessness are conditions of point–to–point unity. Gebser

All magic, even today, occurs in the natural–vital, egoless, spaceless and
timeless sphere. This requires—as far as present–day man is concerned—
a sacrifice of consciousness; it occurs in the state of trance, or when
consciousness dissolves as a result of mass reactions, slogans, or “isms.”
If we are not aware of this sphere in ourselves, it remains an entry for all
kinds of magic influences. It does not matter whether such magic
influences emanate knowingly from people or unknowingly from things

5 . Jean Gebser, The Ever Present Origin, translated by Noel Barstad with Algis Mickunas (Ohio:
Ohio University Press, 1991)

Communicative Action in Frank Herbert's Dune

which, in this sphere, have a vital magic knowledge of their own, or are
linked with such vital knowledge

—Jean Gebser

—Ever Present Origin, 49

Not only do Gebser’s comments describe the trance–like experience induced by the
Voice, he notes that we are today susceptible to magic precisely because the
presupposition of rationality obscures it and allows it to pass unacknowledged. To
induce a trans–like state, the form magic takes does not want to be complex but
simple, repetitive, lulling— incantation.

But television directors, politicians, the psychiatric profession, advertising/public
relations firms, and sales directors are seeking out predetermined preferences to exploit
mass biases. In a very real sense, we already are conducting conversations
(communicating) with the species as an organism. For the most part, this communication
is not directed at reason.

—Frank Herbert

—Listening to the Left Hand

Where for rational consciousness there is a Names carry magic.
separation of the human from nature, and

—Reverent Mother Superior

in mythic consciousness there is a polar

Darwi Odrade

relationship, in magic consciousness there
is an audial enmeshment in nature. As —NOFHD, 53
sounds surround and engulf all within
them, so magic consciousness is enveloped in nature without distance or
disconnection. There is a merging with nature, and a reaction to that merging.
According to Gebser, magic consciousness produced the earliest attempts to control
nature in the ritual of cave painting and the hunt (for examples). Magic provides
the necessary power to rule rather than to be ruled. Magic provides the power to
make manifest. In this conquest to understand and conquer nature, the human
with magical consciousness becomes the maker. 6

6 . Of course this recognition lies at the heart and mystery of the giant sandworm—who the
fremen call Maker. The worm is magic: Maker of the Spice Melange. Maker of myth. Maker of

Integrative Explorations Journal

In the final analysis, our machines and technology, even our present–day power politics
arise from our magic roots: Nature and the surroundings must be ruled so that man is
not ruled by them.... Every individual who fails to realize that he must rule himself falls
victim to that drive

—Jean Gebser

—Ever Present Origin, 51

As cultural participants, we are as before hailed by a structuring of consciousness
that we already live, although this is one that we tend to disregard altogether. As
with myth, by circumventing the presuppositions of mental–rational
consciousness, while expecting us to believe the presuppositions of mental–
rational consciousness, magic is given a way, an opening to work on us precisely
because we don’t expect it. Those trapped in the rational world, for example, fear
the Bene Gesserit and call them witches.

When are the witches to be trusted? Never! The dark side of the magic universe
belongs to the Bene Gesserit and we must reject them.

—Tylwyth Waff, Master of Masters

—Dune Chapterhouse

At the age of fifteen, he

Paul, even at an early age, had already

had already learned

integrated into his psyche an understanding of


polarity that (as Herbert notes throughout the
Dune Chronicles) modern, rational (and —from "A Child's History

of Muad'Dib" by the

deficient) science tends to overlook in favor of

Princess Irulan

linearity, duality and three–dimensional,
spatial, perspectival thinking.

—Dune 241
Emerging from the one–dimensional (magic)
consciousness which revealed a rudimentary endeavor to deal with nature, but
prior to the three–dimensional (rational) consciousness that separates itself from
nature, there emerges a two–dimensional, polar, relationship with nature that
Gebser has called the mythic or psychic structure. Like the magical and rational,
the mythic is a structuring of consciousness that will have rhetorical, that is,
communicative import. We are in the presence of myth whenever we are in the
presence of stories, of organized verbalization, within the presence of mouth,
within the presence of psyche, within the presence of soul. The implicit attempts
of magical consciousness to extricate itself from the vegetative, vital sphere and to

Communicative Action in Frank Herbert's Dune

orient the body to the world lead toward polarity and a resultant mutation to
psychic consciousness and a mythical civilization.

Says Paul of the rationally corrupted Museum Fremen of his own dynasty:

The Fremen must return to his original faith, to his genius in forming human
communities; he must return to the past, were that lesson of survival was learned
in the struggle on Arrakis. The only business of the Fremen should be that of
opening his soul to the inner teachings. The worlds of the Imperium, the
Landsraad and the CHOAM Confederacy have no message to give him. They will
only rob him of his soul.

—The Preacher at Arrakeen

Mythic consciousness, like magic and mental consciousness, is less based on some
innate human physiological or psychological make–up than on a consciousness
transformation or mutation. Such a mutation can be found in the signs of the
times. Indeed, whenever we encounter a profound civilizational shift in awareness
the available signs—that is, any expressive acts such as stories, pictures, music
and so on—are re–articulated in terms of the new orientation. The mutations
from vital–magical to mythical–imagistic consciousness, and mythical to mental–
rational consciousness are preceded by a shift in depicted body orientation, shape,
physiology and posture.

For mythic awareness, psyche, mouth, and speaking are all are connected. There
is a consciousness of breath—inspiration. At the same time there is a development
in the use of language. Indeed, the very word myth comes from mythos,
mythonami, or “to speak”. But the very root of myth is the Sanskrit mu from
which you get also mythos and mutus, the speaker and the mute—a polarity
between speaking and silence (Gebser).

You Bene Gesserit call your activity of the Panoplia Prophetica a "Science of
Religion." Very well. I, a seeker after another kind of scientist, find this an
appropriate definition. You do, indeed, build your own myths, but so do all
societies. You I must warn, however. You are behaving as so many other
misguided scientists have behaved. Your actions reveal that you wish to take
something out of [away from] life. It is time you were reminded of that which you
so often profess: One cannot have a single thing without its opposite.

—The Preacher at Arrakeen: A Message to the Sisterhood

—Children of Dune

One of the primary lessons of the Dune Chronicles, one that we are in dire need of
recognizing today, is that our sciences are themselves a form of mythos. This is a
point that cannot be underestimated. We have been fed for years a story that tells

Integrative Explorations Journal

us that religion is paramount to superstition, since God can neither be proved or
disproved, and science, because of its ability to objectify, measure and produce
(e.g., drugs, treatments, automobiles and so on) is a better, more rational way of
knowing and understanding the world. However, while the sciences are sublime
achievements of human being, they are, in the final analysis no better or worse
than religion or any other explanatory system. They merely tell a different story—
one with a different beginning, middle and end.

Greatness is a transitory experience. It is never consistent. It depends in part
upon the myth–making imagination of humankind. The person who experiences
greatness must have a feeling for the myth he is in. He must reflect what is
projected upon him. And he must have a strong sense of the sardonic. This is
what uncouples him from belief in his own pretensions. The sardonic is all that
permits him to move within himself. Without this quality, even occasional
greatness will destroy a man.

—from "Collected Sayings of Muad'Dib" by the Princess Irulan


Apprehended in its own terms, myth is not some false story about the past, but a
system of communication, a type of speech, a mode of signification, or way of
understanding the world. For Gebser, myth is a structure of consciousness that
emerged as dominant in Western history around the second millennium BC, and is
still manifest today, although it is often obscured by the mental–conceptual bias of
our time.

At the quantum level our universe can be seen as an indeterminable place,
predictable in a statistical way only when you employ large enough numbers.
Between that universe and a relatively predictable one where the passage of a
single planet can be timed to a picosecond, other forces come into play. For the
in–between universe where we find our daily lives, that which you believe is a
dominant force. Your beliefs order the unfolding of daily events. If enough of us
believe, a new thing can be made to exist. Belief structure creates a filter through
which chaos is sifted into order.

—Analysis of the Tyrant, the Taraza File: BG Archive

—Heretics of Dune

Although it is one of the hardest ideas in Gebser to grasp, a major contribution of
Gebser’s thought are his attempts to think mythically even while writing a book in
dissertation form (a mental–rational endeavor). Gebser is careful throughout his
work to caution us as to the pitfalls of such interpretive work. We must be wary,
he notes, of reading one structure in the terms of another.

Communicative Action in Frank Herbert's Dune

Such a rich store of myths enfolds Paul Muad'dib, the Mentat Emperor, and his
sister, Alia, it is difficult to see the real persons behind these veils. But there
were, after all, a man born Paul Atreides and a woman born Alia. Their flesh was
subject to space and time. And even though their oracular powers placed them
beyond the usual limits of time and space, they came from human stock. They
experienced real events which left real traces upon a real universe. To
understand them, it must be seen that their catastrophe was the catastrophe of all
mankind. This work is dedicated, then, not to Muad'dib or his sister, but to their
heirs—to all of us.

—Dedication in the Muad'dib Concordance as copied from The Tabla Memorium
of the Mahdi Spirit Cult

—Dune Messiah

Mythical–imagistic consciousness is dream–like speaking; it favors polarity,
undergone experience and imagery. As was the case when considering mental–
rational consciousness, we, as cultural participants, are hailed by a structuring of
consciousness, employed as rhetoric, that we already understand, even if tacitly,
and thus stories make sense, even when we cannot put our finger on (i.e., point to)
why they work. If we can grasp the mythic dimension of imagery we do not have
to fall prey to its rhetoric. We will be able to see the dream laid out before us, and
gain an ability to ask if these are the dreams we want.

What social inheritance went outward with the Scattering? We know those times
intimately. We know both the mental and physical settings. The Lost Ones took
with them a consciousness confined mostly to manpower and hardware. There
was a desperate need for room to expand driven by the myth of Freedom. Most
had learned the deeper lesson of the Tyrant, that violence builds its own limits.
The Scattering was wild and random movement interpreted as growth
(expansion). It was goaded by a profound fear (often unconscious) of stagnation
and death.

—The Scattering: Bene Gesserit Analysis (Archives)

—Heretics of Dune

This realization lies at the heart of ritual—the enactment of myth.

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Empires do not suffer emptiness of purpose at the time of their creation. It is
when they have become established that aims are lost and replaced by vague

—Words of Muad'dib by Princes Irulan

—Dune Messiah

With the Lady Jessica and Arrakis, the Bene Gesserit system of sowing implant–
legends through the Missionaria Protectiva came to its full fruition. The wisdom
of seeding the known universe with a prophecy pattern for the protection of B.G.
personnel has long been appreciated, but never have we seen a condition–
utextremis with more ideal mating of person and preparation. The prophetic
legends had taken on Arrakis even to the extent of adopted labels (including
Reverend Mother, canto and respondu, and most of the Shari–a panoplia
propheticus). And it is generally accepted now that the Lady Jessica's latent
abilities were grossly underestimated.

—from "Analysis: The Arrakeen Crisis" by the Princess Irulan [private circulation:

B.G. file number AR–81088587]

Using an ecological and semiotic understanding of civilizational consciousness as
rhetorical device, Herbert brings to light the idea, consequent with much
contemporary philosophy, that all communication has a basis in politics; there is
no pure thought. The adept on Dune recognizes that the seemingly obvious, that
which is given, the data, Q.E.D. (quod erat demonstrandum), are actually not at
all given, but are that which are taken, capta, Q.E.I. (quod erat inveniendum), or
interpreted—captured.7 The mentat, the human computer, is the one who is able
to recognize the political intentions and historical conventions of the capta–data
continuum and thus enters into analysis, acta (that which are done), in a
systematic and methodological approach which sets aside (i.e., brackets) prejudice
and presuppositions and focuses on conscious experience (capta).

7 . See Richard Lanigan, 1988, Phenomenology of Communication: Merleau–Ponty's Thematics
in Communicology and Semiology (Pittsburg: Duquesne University Press).

Communicative Action in Frank Herbert's Dune

Paul Maud'Dib Atreides taught a simple warning:

The [socio–historico–political] mind imposes this framework which it calls
"reality." That arbitrary framework has a tendency to be quite independent of
what your senses report.

—Paul Maud'Dib Atreides

—NOFHD, p. 37

Mentat methodology deals with data, the given, as that which are accepted, taken,
as capta, before moving to action—acta. That is, to see the given, as what is
taken, to that which is done. Mentat analysis thus focuses on conscious experience
(capta) rather than hypothetical constructs (data). The mentat refuses to stand on
the proverbial shoulders of giants, and thinks as freely and as completely as
possible; the mentat institutes an emancipatory reflection.

This methodological movement is precisely what Husserl called for in his
phenomenology. Moreover, Lanigan points out that such a thinking process is
what distinguishes the human sciences from the physical sciences. The physical
sciences study data. The human sciences study capta. The historical notion of
"crisis" in the work of Husserl, "paradigm shift" in Kuhn, and "legitimation crisis"
in Habermas represent a scientific concern with a bifurcation of capta and data in
acta. In other words, "the human sciences are incorrectly seen to be or are treated
as methodologically different from the physical sciences, rather than essentially
different" (Lanigan, 1988, p. 7). The importance of this when considering the
Dune Chronicles as using science fiction as a vehicle for philosophy cannot be

Today, as we rely more and more on the computers, the "thinking machines" that
Herbert warns us about in the pre–historical Butlerian Jihad (the world we live in
today), there is a lesson being offered by Herbert. When we learn to look at the
speaker as a speaking subject in an ecological communication, we learn to look at
the constructions inherent in our language and speech. Recognizing the limits of
these constructions may well indeed provide us with opportunities to solve the
problems of our time.

The way we speak, the act of speaking constitutes the given, even though it is
much less given than taken. Often we borrow a word–idea from one realm of
experience and apply it, as a tool, weapon or Band–Aid, to a problem without
recognizing that the very act of shifting capta into data concretizes the idea, and
may keep us from achieving the very goal we seek, acta.

We have long known that the objects that our palpable sense experiences can be
influenced by choice—both conscious choice and unconscious. This is a
demonstrated fact that does not require that we believe some force within us

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reaches out and touches the universe. I address a pragmatic relationship
between belief and what we identify as "real." All of our judgments carry a heavy
burden of ancestral beliefs to which the Bene Gesserit tend to be more
susceptible than most. It is not enough that we are aware are of this and guard
against it. Alternative interpretations must always receive our attention.

—Mother Superior Taraza: Argument in Council

—Heretics of Dune

Humans have this deep desire to classify, to apply labels to everything. . . . We
lay claim to what we name. We assume an ownership that can be misleading and

—Reverend Mother Superior Darwi Odrade


Once you recognize these prejudgments, linguistic or otherwise, you can see their

This is why:

Above all else, the mentat must be a generalist, not a specialist. It is wise to have
decisions of great moment monitored by generalists. Experts and specialists
lead you quickly into chaos. They are a source of useless nit–picking, the
ferocious quibble over a comma. The mentat–generalist, on the other hand,
should bring to decision–making a healthy common sense. He must not cut
himself off from the broad sweep of what is happening in his universe. He must
maintain capable of saying: "There's no real mystery about this at the moment.
This is what we want now. It may prove wrong later, but we'll correct that when
we come to it." The mentat–generalist must understand that anything which we
can identify as our universe is merely part of larger phenomena. But the expert
looks backward; he looks into the narrow standards of his own specialty. The
generalist looks outward; he looks for living principles, knowing full well that
such principles change, that they develop. It is to the characteristics of change
itself that the mentat–generalist must look. There can be no permanent catalogue
of such change, no handbook or manual. You must look at it with as few
preconceptions as possible, asking yourself: "Now what is this thing doing?"

—The Mentat Handbook

—COD, p. 227

This is desire for presuppositionless thinking lies at the basis of Husserl's
phenomenology. Developed in the early twentieth century in response to a

Communicative Action in Frank Herbert's Dune

perceived crises in the sciences brought about in part by increasing specialization,
mathematical reduction and psychologization, Husserl's phenomenological method
is a rigorous approach to thinking that conditions thinking but does so without
systematizing or applying discrete, mathematical steps to thinking.

The mentat, while working in the medium of language, does not confuse or
concretize language (structure), speech (system), or action (desire).

I know a profound pattern humans deny with words even while their actions
affirm it. They say they seek security and quiet, conditions they call peace. Even
as they speak, they create seeds of turmoil and violence

—Leto II, the God Emperor

From language to speech to gesture, we find all forms of signification entangled in
power relationships. Herbert debunk's logocentrism by recognizing the magic force
of incantation and the deficient mental–rational force of concretization and
fragmentation in logic as well the mythical narratization of discourse.

In all major socializing forces you will find an underlying movement to gain and
maintain power through the use of words. From the witch doctor to priest to
bureaucrat it is all the same. A governed populace must be conditioned to accept
power–words as actual things, to confuse the symbolized system with the
tangible universe. In the maintenance of such a power structure, certain symbols
are kept out of the reach of common understanding—symbols such as those
dealing with economic manipulation or those which define the local interpretation
of sanity. Symbol–secrecy of is form leads to the development of fragmented
sub–languages, each being a signal that its users are accumulating some form of
power. With this insight into a power process, our Imperial Security Force must
be ever alert to the formation of sub–languages.

—Lecture to the Arrakeen War College by the Princess Irulan

—NOFHD, 25

Magic, myth and rationality co–exist in these power words. Only people have yet
to learn to understand that words communicate at several simultaneous levels.

You will learn the integrated communication methods as you complete the next
step in your mental education. This is a gestalten function which will overlay data
paths in your awareness, resolving complexities and masses of input from the
mentat index–catalogue techniques which you have already mastered. Your initial
problem will be the breaking tensions arising from the divergent assembly of
minutiae/data on specialized subjects. Be warned. Without mentat overlay
integration, you can be immersed in the Babel Problem, which is the label we give

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to the omnipresent dangers of achieving wrong combinations from accurate

—The Mentat Handbook

—Children of Dune

By "diaphanous rhetoric" I mean several things. First, modes of consciousness
function rhetorically and interpenetrate. Second, verbal and nonverbal
communication interpenetrate

The main idea based on the discussions above, is that mythical, magical and
rational structures of consciousness may be employed as the rhetorical force that
motivates a statement. For example, if you, as a speaker (sender), want to short–
circuit an audience's (receiver) ability to reason or consider rationally a
proposition, you rely on magical and mythical rhetoric to guide your use of words.
You chant—incantation ("no new taxes," "the evil ones"). You rely on mythical
images (as Clinton drew upon the mythos of Kennedy). These methods have been
used by politicians for centuries to ensure their victory by persuading audiences to
their cause without the audience ever being aware of what that cause may be.
How else can one explain Hitler or Stalin? The popular economic argument does
not—quite simply—go to the magical heart or mythical imagination of the matter.
How does Leto II maintain his Fish Speaker army in God Emperor of Dune? By
incantation and ritual—Siaynoq. What is important to note is that these forms of
rhetoric are not only based on structures of human consciousness but that they
can be used simultaneously, one through the other—diaphanously. As such, we
must abandon the linear model of communication for a multileveled, multivalent
and multisemic model.

Magic Rhetoric

When the magical dimension of communication is ignored, or worse, when we
pretend that magic does not exist—that magic is no more than illusion or slight–
of–hand—we are at the mercy of a force that may work on us at unconscious
levels. This is the power behind the Bene Gesserit use of The Voice:

You are controlled by that which you are unaware and by that which you deny

—O'Reilly, 1981, 51

Mythic Rhetoric

When the mythical dimension of communication is ignored, or worse, when we
pretend that myths are legends that the foolish ancients lived by, we are at the
mercy of the best story–teller. The is the power behind modern techno–science:

Communicative Action in Frank Herbert's Dune

A man must recognize the myth in which he is living because he is a creation of his

—Frank Herbert

—The Sparks Have Flown, in Maker of Dune, 109

Mental–Rational Rhetoric

When the mental dimension of communication is ignored, however, we fall prey to
the powerful invisible rhetoric of myth and magic.

In all major socializing forces you will find an underlying movement to gain and
maintain power through the use of words. From witch doctor to priest to
bureaucrat it is all the same. A governed populace must be conditioned to accept
power–words as actual things, to confuse the symbolized system with the
tangible universe. In the maintenance of such a power structure, certain symbols
are kept out of the reach of common understanding—symbols such as those
dealing with economic manipulation or those which define the local interpretation
of sanity. Symbol–secrecy of this form leads to the development of fragmented
sub–languages, each being a signal that its users are accumulating some form of
power. With this insight into a power process, our Imperial Security Force must
be ever alert to the formation of sub–languages.

—Lecture to the Arrakeen War College by The Princess Irulan

—Children of Dune

Integral Rhetoric

When consciousness is attuned and integrated we open ourselves to the polysemy
and multivalency of rhetoric as diaphanous and transparent.

The universe is just there; that's the only way a Fedaykin can view it and remain
the master of his senses. The universe neither threatens nor promises. It holds
things beyond our sway: the fall of a meteor, the eruption of a spiceblow, growing
old and dying. These are the realities of this universe and they must be faced
regardless of how you feel about them. You cannot fend off such realities with
words. They will come at you in their own wordless way and then, then you will
understand what is meant by "life and death." Understanding this, you will be
filled with joy.

—Muad'Dib to his Fedaykin

—Children of Dune

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