Nothing Has Meaning: Insurgent Chapter 29

I’ve recently finally gotten on board with this Spotify thing. However, I decided against their deal to get three months of premium service for $0.99 if you sign up before the new year, figuring that I still didn’t use it that much, and the occasional ads aren’t that annoying. Until I learned that the ads are sometimes for other music on Spotify, and nothing ruins your day faster than your ambient electronic music being interrupted by fucking John Mayer.

Also, this is a long one.

Insurgent Chapter 29

I’d like to preface this post with a casual reminder that a book isn’t “bad” because its characters make bad decisions. Conversely, you could probably argue that all literature is basically about people making bad decisions, because otherwise how do you get conflict? The reason why I’m kicking off the post with this is just to be clear that when I spend this entire post complaining that this book is bad because Tris makes bad decisions, I mean in a way that shows utter contempt for the notion of human thought.

We last left Tris having turned herself over to the bad guys so they would stop killing most of her friends, giving them the one, very obvious thing they needed to be able to kill all of her friends, because she felt guilty or something maybe. You might be thinking that it would sound like Tris’s meaninglessly bad decisions have already peaked. Hell, even I thought this, because when I read Ariel’s chapter yesterday, I actually thought that this week she had accidentally written my chapter of Tris Continues To Make Bad Decisions. But lo. The bad decisions have not ended.

And as the chapter kicks off, they’re not even GOOD bad decisions.

I forgot my watch.

can't even gif

Oh, but if it were just that Tris forgot a watch.

See, in competently written books, bad decisions create conflict, conflict creates tension, and tension creates a reason to keep reading. Whereas in Insurgent, Tris makes so many bad decisions, they have ceased to have meaning.

Tris reminds us her reason for doing all of this, and as far as reasons go, it is about as diametrically opposed to reason as these things get.

Soon I will honor my parents by dying as they died.

She will honor her parents, who sacrificed their lives so their daughter could live, by turning herself in to the people murdering her friends. Except actually thinking (although Tris never, ever thinks) about what this would actually accomplish would probably be…

Obviously the latter. Currently the book is completely resting upon the assumption that the reader will not think that, and sympathize with a character who thinks that this is a brave, selfless, noble sacrifice. That will get every single person she ever loved murdered. There are a lot of things working against each other in this book.

Then Jeanine visits Tris’s cell with her Dauntless-traitor lackeys, who include (of course) Peter, which is where the chapter’s only rational – albeit completely unintentional – line appears:

How does Peter find himself in such a prestigious position, as Jeanine Matthews’s bodyguard? Where is the logic in that?

Oh, if only this book’s editor realized just how appropriate that line was.

“I’d like to know what time it is,” I say.
“Would you,” she says. “That’s interesting.”

This is not interesting. This is really, really far removed from interesting. Here is a list of things that are more interesting than this:

  • Spackle
  • Spackle that has dried slightly
  • Why there isn’t a question mark in Jeanine’s line of dialogue just now where she asks a question

I should have known she wouldn’t tell me. Every piece of information she receives factors into her strategy, and she won’t tell me what time it is unless she decides that providing the information is more useful than withholding it.

Look, try as hard as you goddamn like, Insurgent. You cannot make this interesting by writing a couple dozen words about why it’s interesting.

“I’m sure my Dauntless companions are disappointed,” she says, “that you have not tried to claw my eyes out yet.”
“That would be stupid.”

It gets worse.

“True. But in keeping with your ‘act first, think second’ behavioral trend.”

It gets worse.

“I’m sixteen.” I purse my lips. “I change.”

I don’t know what’s more boring: the lines of dialogue where the book is so on-the-nose about describing its characters it’s like it’s reading the book for me, or the ones where it’s completely off. How do you decide which is less unbearable? Do you flip a coin? Is that how this book got published?

Which is what I'm telling people now when they ask me what I thought about Divergent.
Which is what I’m telling people now when they ask me what I thought about Divergent.

Jeanine progresses the closest thing this book has to a plot.

She steps back and gestures toward the doorway. The last thing I want to do is walk out of this room and toward an uncertain destination

As opposed to the time Tris walked out of Dauntless HQ in the middle of the night to give herself up to Erudite for uncertain purposes, which she consciously chose to do.

Jeanine takes Tris to a room with a large metal table, a heart monitor, and a camera. Jeanine explains – in case you missed it during the last over 800 pages – that Tris is a special snowflake even amongst the special snowflakes.

“From your results I have determined that you are one of the strongest Divergent, which I say not to compliment you but to explain my purpose. If I am to develop a simulation that cannot be thwarted by the Divergent mind, I must study the strongest Divergent mind in order to shore up all weaknesses in the technology.” […] She smiles a little. “And then, at the conclusion of my study, you will be executed.”

Ok, but why? I mean, I wasn’t expecting a reason. I’ve long resigned myself to the reality that we’re dealing with an Evil For The Sake Of Evil villain here, and that Jeanine’s character is closer to the “Spackle that has dried slightly” end of the spectrum, but it takes a seriously boring villain for a threat of execution to sound totally phoned in. I know she’s supposed to be a dry scientist lacking personality and that’s her “thing”, but the book isn’t even trying to make that engaging. EVEN THE BOOK KNOWS THIS:

Jeanine has no reason to act out of malice.

THAT’S A REAL SENTENCE IN THE BOOK. It’s admitting that it’s boring and that it doesn’t care. Guys, I’m going to say something with utmost sincerity: Jeanine is the dullest villain we’ve ever read on the blog. Not even fucking Kate Winslet can keep from looking super bored playing her.

To the point where Kate Winslet can’t even describe her character in promotional clips without being super sarcastic.

Tris gets put back in her cell, until Peter picks her up to take her to some testing, and – I shit you not – even Peter’s getting bored of this crap:

“What, no snide comments?” I look up at him with mock surprise. “No ‘You’re an idiot for coming here; your brain must be deficient as well as Divergent’?”
“That really goes without saying, doesn’t it?”

But he’s still not above the series’ melodrama:

“Did they fix up your bullet wound?”
“Yeah,” he says. “Now you’ll need to find a different weakness to exploit. Too bad I’m fresh out of them.”

doctor who gif

Jeanine wants to scan Tris’s brain, and Tris asks for a contrived excuse for the reader to learn what’s going on if she can see the scans. After a short debate so boring I’m not going to bother summarizing it, Jeanine agrees.

Meanwhile, even Peter continues to think nothing in this book makes a hint of sense.

“I don’t know how you manage to always get what you want.”
“Yeah, because I wanted to get myself into a cell in Erudite headquarters. I wanted to be executed.” […]
“Didn’t you, though?” he says.

kermit good point

Tris’s super duper superbrain is scanned, and the book – which has spent hundreds of pages conflating genetic predisposition and personal choice – throws another inconsistent wrench in the works.

Jeanine taps her chin and stares for what feels like a long time.
Finally she says, “Someone instruct Ms. Prior as to what the prefrontal cortex does.” […]
“It’s responsible for organizing your thoughts and actions to attain your goals.”
“Correct,” Jeanine says. “Now someone tell me what they observe about Ms. Prior’s lateral prefrontal cortex.”
“It’s large, […] much larger than average,” […]
“In fact, it is one of the largest lateral prefrontal cortexes I’ve ever seen. Yet the orbitofrontal cortex is remarkably small. What do these two facts indicate?”
“The orbitofrontal cortex is the reward center of the brain. Those who exhibit reward-seeking behavior have a large orbitofrontal cortex,” someone says. “That means that Ms. Prior engages in very little reward-seeking behavior.”
“Not just that.” Jeanine smiles a little. […] “She is not reward motivated. Yet she is extremely good at directing her thoughts and actions toward her goals. This explains both her tendency toward harmful-but-selfless behavior and, perhaps, her ability to wriggle out of simulations.”

I’m just gonna go and…

it's science

I figured you guys hadn't seen this gif in a while

Pictured: Basically an actual subplot, somehow.

Jeanine and the other Erudite decide that based on this, they could make a Divergent-proof simulation serum that “suppress[es] some, but not all, of the activity in the prefrontal cortex”. Obviously. I get that this is fake book science, but was their big breakthrough just now that in order to control someone’s mind, you have to inhibit the part of their brain that does thoughts and actions? But what do I know? Let’s leave the great minds who invented mind control to work on that, and yet discard the other half of what they just learned, as good scientists do.

But that’s nothing compared to Tris’s big scientific breakthrough.

I did not know that my entire personality, my entire being, could be discarded as the byproduct of my anatomy . What if I really am just someone with a large prefrontal cortex… and nothing more?

I’m just gonna go and…

it's science

I figured you guys hadn't seen this gif in a while

Pictured: Basically an actual subplot, somehow.

Then Four/Tobias shows up, because why the fuck not.

i-have-no-idea-what-im-doing-science-dog
One more time.

[He is] Held at either arm by a Dauntless traitor, a gun aimed at the back of his skull. […]
“Tobias,” I say, and it sounds like a gasp. […]
I came here so that no one else would die. I came here to protect as many people as I could. And I care more about Tobias’s safety than anyone else’s. So why am I here, if he’s here? What’s the point?

Bitch, because you came here, everybody will die. You have protected zero people. Hell, you’ve actually protected a negative number of people. Ya fucked up loooooong before Tobias got here.

Tobias takes being a typical BBGT-style, always-knows-best, shitstain boyfriend to an absurdly finite conclusion in much the same way that Lou Reed took heavy metal to an absurdly finite conclusion with Metal Machine Music.

“You die, I die too.” Tobias looks over his shoulder at me. “I asked you not to do this. You made your decision. These are the repercussions.”

Because if a to-the-death vendetta doesn’t say true love, what does?

Tris angsts about Tobias surrendering himself too (although she has yet to realize that she has doomed everyone by turning herself in in the first place and angst over that, so fuck you, everyone who isn’t Tobias), crying that, “I think he came to die with me” (…he literally just said that?).

Meanwhile, Peter still thinks nothing Tris does makes sense.

“What will they do to him? The same thing they’re doing to me?”
“I don’t know.”
“Can you find out?” I wipe my cheeks with the heels of my hands, frustrated. “Can you at least find out if he’s all right?”
He says, “Why would I do that ? Why would I do anything for you?”

Peter closes the door on Tris, in much the same way that Insurgent has closed the door on any kind of emotional resonance.

gary-drum-fill

Seriously, what’s the point of any of this? Every characters’ motivation is either so nonexistent or nonsensical that nothing in this chapter has piqued my interest, and that’s quite a statement, because this chapter threw Tris sacrificing her life, Tris sacrificing her life for naught, the villains potentially finding a way to control everyone’s mind, and Tris and Four’s mortal peril at us. That shouldn’t feel like nothing, but given the irrational way we got here, it does.

Just like how I initially couldn’t wrap my head around the objectively nonsensical Faction System, I can’t wrap my head around the objectively nonsensical rationale behind why Tris gave herself up. Why did Tris come here? Why did Four also come here to seemingly die out of spite for love? Why is Jeanine supposed to be evil? Why has Tris not realized that the gave the villains the only thing they were missing? Why didn’t she realize that before she went to them? Why is Peter? I can’t even get more specific with that one. I literally don’t understand Peter, as a concept in this book.

This is where I have officially stopped caring about this book.

sound of music give a fuck

I’m not even laughing at how stupid it is anymore. I’m not even hate-reading it anymore. I’m not even sure “bored” is the right word anymore. As I read this, it just passes through me, like the ethereal nothingness it so resolutely strives to be. As I read this book – a book which somebody read and spent fucking $85 million making a movie of (if we can assume it matches the budget on the first one, let alone surpass) – highlighting wave after wave of Tris’s purposelessly bad decisions, meaningless twists, and inane reveals, I cannot even muster up so much as a “meh” at them. They barely even qualify as “bad” anymore; they just aren’t anything. The utter absurdity and constancy of Tris’s bad decisions and the nothingness of the characters they concern challenge the very notion of meaning itself, and I am forced to stare into this void and find that meaning doesn’t exist.

If art like Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In The Aeroplane Over The Sea” can ask, “How strange it is to be anything at all?”, and art like Albert Camus’s Myth of Sisyphus can ask, “What can a meaning outside my condition mean to me?”, then art like Insurgent is art that asks to negate meaning and being. Reading Insurgent is not merely like realizing nothing matters, but like finding there is no “nothing” and there is no “matters” because nothing ever has, ever will, or can so much as be.

Question of the day: What’s your favorite soup?

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0 comments

  1. A Reply

    Oh good heavens. You know when you make some oatmeal and you stop being hungry but you think “I’ll be hungry way before lunch if I don’t eat the full bowl” but it gets to be tepid and it’s so thick and bland you slog through it with absolutely no enthusiasm…

    Anyway, that’s what this book reminds me of.

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      • 22aer22 Reply

        All my emotions (or vague lack thereof) were completely summed up. My feelings actually feel like oatmeal.

        People keep telling me the third one will be more fun to make fun of…I hope so, because I don’t have fun writing about this one like I do with Beautiful Oblivion.

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  2. Dejah Reply

    I don’t always eat soup, but when I do, I prefer Campbell’s original chicken noodle.

    I’ve read all 3 books well before I found this blog, I’m following your coverage because you both are funny as hell and I enjoy the synopsis. But this is, what, midway through the book and Matthew seems to be losing steam. It’s like reading Insurgent is like traveling through the Swamps Of Sadness. Reading this post, when I got to the end I was thinking “No Matthew! Don’t sink into the swamp! You have to try, you have to care.”

    Then I saw the oatmeal comment and realized the Swamps of Sadness have too much emotionally driven substance for this book, and the Swamps of Oatmeal is a much better analogy.

    As for book three, I am highly anticipating your break down of it, but I can’t help feeling like you will both get a couple chapters in and it will be like that scene in Silver Linings Playbook when Bradley Cooper full on hurls the book he is reading out the attic window while yelling expletives.

    Long story short; Don’t give up the fight!

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  3. future venusian Reply

    Not exactly a soup, but I love me some Brunswick stew.

    Those strings of science gifs are amazing, btw. After reading your ending comments I kind of wonder if Roth was going for some kind of nihilist with this book, cuz if so she failed miserably. It’s not even interesting nihilism. It’s just…word sludge.

    And I really hate Tobias now. Please tell me he dies in the end.

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  4. Polly Reply

    I hate Tobias, he is a petty little shit who can’t stand it when his girlfriend has a thought of her own (although maybe that’s because Tris’s thoughts are so incredibly nonsensical, in fairness). Anyway I can’t stand sulking and he is one giant sulk all over.

    On the other hand – you are soup psychic! I am reading this whilst making potato and broccoli soup. It is awesome, although I would find it hard to pick a favourite soup. Don’t buy soup people, make it! It is cheap, easy and tastes so much better. Soup and insurgent rants over.

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      • Polly Reply

        Holy soup bats, yeah!

        1 onion
        1 head of broccoli
        1 large potato (like baking potato sized)
        750 ml vegetable stock
        Seasoning – I suggest garlic powder/granules, salt, pepper & thyme
        Optional protein: a small handful of mild pulses, like butter beans – use canned or pre-soaked as they won’t be cooking for long

        Chop & fry the onion until translucent. Add potato, stock and pulses (if you’re using them) and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the potato is soft (how long this takes depends on what size pieces you chopped the potato into, probably about 20 minutes). Add the broccoli and seasonings and simmer for another 5-10 minutes until the broccoli has softened. Blend with a stick blender or carefully transfer into a normal blender. Seriously, be careful, hot soup is like lava, only hotter. If you don’t have a blender you can mash it really well, whilst thinking about how you really should get a blender. Taste and season some more if you need to (nearly always needs more salt!). Eat whilst feeling proud of your culinary genius!

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