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From: Michael Straight <straight@email.unc.edu>
Subject: (urth) Forlesen Follow-up
Date: Thu, 15 Oct 1998 15:22:53 

I was out of town during the discussion of this story in late September
and just now have a chance to reply.

I thought Mr. Borski's lists of hell and computer imagery interesting, but
they didn't go anywhere.  They seemed like evidence in search of an
argument.  Is Forlesen in hell?  Is he a computer program?  If so, what's
the point?  How does that make more sense of the story or give it greater
meaning?  Can you go any farther down any of these trails? 

My own thought (and maybe this is all you were saying and I missed it) is
that these details are merely allusive.  Wolfe is trying to make us think
of a hellish, mechanized, inhuman society (and to make us consider to what
extent our own society is influenced by these forces).  I don't think
we're supposed to decode that Forlesen is "actually" damned or imprisoned
in a computer (except to the extent that we are meant to ask ourselves,
Are we damned?  Are we trapped in a computer?  Is there a meaning to all

Mantis, on the other hand, made the hair stand up on the back of my neck
with the list of how the yes/no answers match up with original nine
explainers.  No argument is necessary; it fits so well that it's obviously
right and in one swoop transformed the ending from confusing to strangely
satisfying.  (I can think of only two other online discussions that have
so allowed a story to retroactively explode in my brain.  Many thanks.) 
The novelist (Wolfe) is, of course, the one who says "maybe"!  And
we should therefore expect no more or less from "Forlesen" itself.  

It's also interesting that the Actor says 'yes'--do you think that is
meant to be the authentic 'yes' of the priest/theologian or does it refer
to the Hollywood ending, the possibly crowd-pleasing 'yes' of the the
National Hero?  It's easy to interpret it cynically, but I wonder if Wolfe
might be suggesting that performers have some insight (or some need to
believe) that is more like a priest than a novelist?

Prion, your observation that the story seems to occupy more than one day
is interesting and makes me want to go back and check and see what I
think.  To be honest, my first reaction is to wonder if that isn't a typo! 
It seems so central to the story that it be a single day, that Forlesen be
born, spend a day confusedly /in medias res/ and then die.

I think it would weaken the story considerably to imagine there are
mornings Forlesen wakes up knowing where he is (at least to the extent
that he'd been able to discover the day(s) before), remembering where he
goes to work, etc.  Unless, that is, there is some counterbalancing
significance to there being several days.  Do you see any? 

I think the spelling "ours" for time units is just an elegant way of
making a word that is easily recognized as a time period, but is different
from an hour.  Changing time to work on some kind of decimal system is a
common SF trope for a society organized around machines rather than
people.  240 ours/day not only sounds more decimal, but also creates the
feeling of a long, overworked day (I put in 240 hours today!) -- a
connotation that would be lost if you divided the day into 240 centons. 

Prion noted regarding "Emanuel Forlesen":
> First of all, it resembles the word "manual" so this might have added
> significance with the German word vorlesen (to read out), a manual
> readout, or something, of a computer. 

"Manual readout" sounds like a computer term, but judging from AltaVista,
it is more likely used in engineering when you have to go to a site to
read an instrument instead of having the data sent/recorded automatically.
So perhaps Emanuel Forlesen must discover/experience any meaning life may
have for himself, rather than having it reported to him.  (I think that
may be stretching too hard.  "God with us" is probably more significant.) 


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

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