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From: "Peter T. Cash" <PTCash@ibm.net>
Subject: (urth) Excessive Exegesis and Forlesen
Date: Fri, 16 Oct 1998 00:07:46 

Rostrum said:

>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

I couldn't agree more. I think that the search for "hidden meanings" must
have a stopping point, or it distracts you from the life of the story. It's
regrettable that Wolfe himself has made comments that encourage this kind of
overly exhaustive exegesis, that encourage approaching his work as though it
were a code that must be broken. When I read Wolfe, I let the story flow
over me. He makes me almost-remember things, makes me see things I almost
recognize, makes me see the outlines of ideas and references I almost
understand. I _like_ this ambiguity. I know I'm missing stuff that others
enjoy finding...but I really don't care. (Of course, I must confess that
often when I'm done reading, I wonder, "Now what the hell was that really
about?". I never figure it out...but it doesn't bother me...much.)

I think that there _are_ some Wolfe works that not only contain puzzles, but
where the puzzle is the point. For example, one is bound to wonder how many
nights are _really_ contained in "Seven American Nights". That's a question
central to the story. Paradoxically, I don't think there's a right answer to
this question (despite the fact that I once argued vociferously with alga
about precisely this). I think that what's important about this kind of
literary puzzle isn't finding the "right" answer, but looking at it from
different aspects, and seeing how many _different_ good answers you can
find. I guess I think that this story is more like a kaleidoscope (a little
psychedelic allusion here) than a puzzle. You look through the tube, and the
pattern fascinates you; you are convinced it is _the_ pattern, the truth.
Then the pattern shifts, and you see a new one--and fall in love with it.

As for Forlesen, I think that the theme of memory (or forgetfulness) is an
important one in this story. Like Latro, Forlesen can't remember the day
before; he can't remember if there _was_ a day before this one, and he can't
remember who he is. (We are told that Forlesen remembers his name, but not
even what a human looks like.) I would say that the name "Emanuel" is
indicative of divinity, and that it may be that Wolfe wants to remind us
that we are divine creatures who are at risk of losing their link to God if
we forget ourselves. Then we are truly in Hell.

Sgt. Rock

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

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