In Frank Herbert’s excellent Dune series, mention is often made of “the Butlerian Jihad”; this seems to have been a violent reaction against stroppy Skynet-like Artificial Intelligence, with the result that, in the present day of Dune, no AI is permitted – hence the Mentats, human beings trained to perform as supercomputers of cognition and memory. The name “Butlerian” is never explained but i assume the mover and shaker was a chap called Butler.

[A reader emailed me just now:

My understanding is that the Butler in question is the Samuel Butler of Erewhon fame, due to some discourse in said novel about the evolution of machines.]

It’s a pity Herbert’s books were so maimed in Lynch’s truncated film, and are labelled “Science Fiction”; i don’t like Science Fiction but i like the Dune books, because they are well written, powerfully imagined; strong meditations on human nature and politics. i especially like Herbert’s “humanist” emphasis – that his human beings are capable of surpassing the most powerful computer or machine. He’s also very intelligently plundered a variety of myths, his Kwisatz Haderach being i think a version of the Hasidic tzaddik ha-dor.

i also like the idea of a jihad against Judith Butler, Literary Theorist and false prophet. Courtesy of David Thompson, here’s a sample of Butlerian splendour:

Libidinal dependency and powerlessness is phantasmatically overcome by the installation of a boundary and, hence, a hypostacized centre which produces an idealized bodily ego; that integrity and unity is achieved through the ordering of a wayward motility or disaggregated sexuality not yet restrained by the boundaries of individuation.

To my disgust, this Butler was born in Cleveland, Ohio, thus dishonouring the home town of the Brothers Kurp and Hart Crane. As rejoinder to the shameful miasma of Butlerian prose here is one of Crane’s poems, ‘My Grandmother’s Love Letters’ – a poem about reading and unButlerian quietness; the quietness of mind one needs for a delicate and penetrating understanding. Crane was homosexual but as he reads his grandmother’s letters, he moves beyond such surface distinctions, to the great quietness where human beings can unfold to each other, what the heart says. As one of Ursula le Guin’s wizards says, to hear you must be silent.

There are no stars tonight

But those of memory.

Yet how much room for memory there is

In the loose girdle of soft rain.


There is even room enough

For the letters of my mother’s mother,


That have been pressed so long

Into a corner of the roof

That they are brown and soft,

And liable to melt as snow.


Over the greatness of such space

Steps must be gentle.

It is all hung by an invisible white hair.

It trembles as birch limbs webbing the air.


And I ask myself:


“Are your fingers long enough to play

Old keys that are but echoes:

Is the silence strong enough

To carry back the music to its source

And back to you again

As though to her?”


Yet I would lead my grandmother by the hand

Through much of what she would not understand;

And so I stumble. And the rain continues on the roof

With such a sound of gently pitying laughter.