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From: Dan Parmenter <dan@lec.com>
Subject: (urth) More on Borges and Wolfe's literary bullying
Date: Wed, 26 Aug 1998 08:24:19 

From: CRCulver@aol.com

>Peace includes a great deal of Jorge Luis Borges' influence, and seeing it
>here can illuminate how it was later used in the Book of the New Sun.
>One Borgian influence I think is particularly strong is the labyrithine
>symbolism of Weer's house (which I'm assuming is part of his postmortem
>imagination and doesn't actually exist).

I haven't read PEACE yet, but Borges seems to permeate everything that
Wolfe writes, moreso I think even than his other big influences
(Kipling, Dickens, Jack Vance).  Seek out a copy of THE BOOK OF
IMAGINARY BEINGS and read the piece about the inhabitants of the
specula and the Yellow Emperor and tell me that this isn't essentially
a precis of the Book of the New Sun.  Interestingly enough, Wolfe
calls the book "second-rate Borges" and it is, though it's got some
dazzling parts.  I believe there are two versions in English.  I have
the one translated by the controversial Norman Thomas diGiovanni, who
despite working closely with Borges has come under a lot of criticism
recently for making questionable editorial changes.  After seeing a
photo of him, I even found myself thinking that he looked a bit like
Wolfe's description of Cyby, Ultan's apprentice which might make the
Borges/Ultan match even tighter.

One thing I've been thinking about a lot in the midst of my
Borges/Wolfe-reading phase is that when I read Borges, I feel smart.
When I read Wolfe, I often feel stupid, and only feel smart when I've
"solved" (in the Vironese sense?) one of his seemingly locked rooms.  

Which brings us to...

From: m.driussi@genie.com

>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.

I have a copy.  In a better world CASTLE OF THE OTTER would be
reworked to include this essential essay.  To make room, I would ditch
the endless pages of good reviews that Wolfe includes in OTTER.  I've
never understood their inclusion in the first place, it's almost as
if, at the time of writing he was still somewhat unsure of his own
talent and needed a bunch of good reviews all in one place to convince
that he was indeed.

There's at least one other really great piece in PLAN[E]T ENGINEERING,
a short poem about a British gunnery officer contemplating Flash
Gordon and Buck Rogers.  I should type it in, since I doubt anyone
will go and sell copies of obscure Wofle poems found on mailing

>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.

I recall the incredulity that I felt when I first read that, the sense
that if I had missed that, then I must be missing a great deal more.
And yet, when I feel as though I've made such connections myself, they
really do seem obvious, e.g. our recent discussion about Jonas as
Pinnochio/The Steadfast Tin Soldier.  I'm convinced that we are
essentially correct in this assessment and insofar as it seems
"obvious" in retrospect, it also suggests many more questions.

Another passage in OTTER presents his summary of the original
novella-sized version of what turned into BOTNS.  He sets up the
situation, outlines the various conflicts and then announces that he
has a solution, but that again, he'll leave that as an exercise for
the reader; however, the clues are not (IMHO) enough to solve the
problem that he presents.  It's maddening and again, leaves me feeling
like an idiot.

>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."

Here Alan Moore's mantra of "Everything means something, but not
everything means much" (wrt WATCHMEN, but I apply it generally to
literature "of this sort" i.e. multilayered, ambiguous, full of
strange clues, seemingly unrelated story tangents and unlikely cross
references) seems appropriate.  I think Wolfe does a good job of not
letting this stuff get in the way of his story even though one's
appreciation of what actually constitutes "the story" deepens as one
sees the grand design revealed.


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

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