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From: m.driussi@genie.com
Subject: (urth) Wolfe and readers
Date: Thu, 20 Aug 98 16:23:00 GMT


Re: "The Books in THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN," yes, that is an important
piece (collected in PLAN[E]T ENGINEERING, published by NESFA, and
rather hard to find), but to my mind it leads to an interesting new
topic (or rehash) on Wolfe and his readers.

To begin: "The Books in THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN" purports to reveal
certain quiet mysteries in TBOTNS in a very matter of fact sort of
way; like the Purloined Letter, the facts were in front of you (Every
Reader) the whole time; sadly, you were so flummuxed by the baroque
trappings of Urth you didn't even notice there was a mystery, let
alone begin an attempt to solve it.

There is a similar tidbit in CASTLE OF THE OTTER, where Wolfe starts
to sketch the connections linking Dorcas to Severian by way of the
cloisonne shop she worked in and the enameled pictures within the
holy book he fetched for Thecla--then Wolfe stops in order to leave
the task for you to do.

Predictably, the Wolfe-mask revealed in these two examples provokes
different reactions in different readers.

That Wolfe is a trickster can be agreed upon by all, I'm sure.  But
there are some readers who feel that the adversarial angle is very
strong--to these people, Wolfe is "cheating" in his fiction in order
to overawe the audience, and the Wolfe-mask shown above strikes them
as finally, conclusively, tipping the hand to reveal the fraud; to
show what a subjective, solipsistic sham all literary criticism is.
(Similar to the unmasking of the Wizard of Oz.)

Because it isn't nice to tell the Reader that she is stupid for
having missed something "so obvious" when it wasn't really "obvious"
at all.  And it isn't nice to invite people to interpret Rorschach
ink blots, extolling them to elaborate further and further, if your
goal (perhaps secret) is to trick and humiliate the participants by
revealing what the inkblots "really are."

It is mean behavior.  It is bullying.

Some readers might give a little more credit and say that Wolfe is
highlighting these two points (re: books and enamel) because these
are in fact the only two real points of craftmanship there are, and
because they are so dizzying it tricks you (Every Reader) into
thinking that the whole Urth Cycle must be full of similar wonders.

It is sly behavior.  It is bluffing.

But still--those readers who fall for this stuff are obviously dupes.
Wandering in the hopeless labyrinths of a mean and laughing Wolfe.


*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

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