FIND in
<--prev V21 next-->

From: "Alex David Groce" <adgroce@eos.ncsu.edu>
Subject: Re: (urth) Jaynes and Wolfe
Date: Thu, 29 Oct 1998 20:41:48 

alga said:
> Subject: (urth) Jaynes and Wolfe
> I think Mothman is really onto something here. Jaynes's book was published
> in 1979 in the US and caused the most tremendous furor--it was a real
> whoop-de-do. -Soldier of the Mist- was published in 1986. It seems to me
> absolutely impossible that Wolfe, in researching these books, should not
> have read it. And I do think that he borrowed what was useful to him from
> Jaynes's thesis, not only for the Soldier books but for the relationship
> between "gods" and men in BOTLS too--almost directly for the former. BOTLS
> (which I admire more structurally with each contemplation--especially since
> I don't think Wolfe was strong with structure up to that point) could be
> read as Wolfe's attempt to integrate Jaynes with his (Wolfe's) new knowledge
> of computers.

I think this is a very likely history--especially as Jaynes' hypothesis would
have fit in well with Wolfe's suspicions voiced here and there about the "real
existence" of the gods--it wouldn't fit precisely, but it would be an excellent
model to keep in mind in portraying fictionally the ancient world as Wolfe
(maybe) sees it.  How much new knowledge of computers is involved in Long Sun,
I'm not sure--it seems given Wolfe's general subtle but accurate technical
detail, he'd have known most of the concepts involved in BOTLS for a long time.
Mainframes, memory, & personality downloading are pretty old ideas...  &
actually Sillhoutte has some nice computer bits in it (the Overmonitor acts
like an old, cranky operating system, or an Infocom game...)

> BTW, I don't posit that Wolfe actually *bought* the Jaynes thesis, which has
> been pretty thoroughly scientifically pooh-poohed, but that it was awfully
> useful to him as a novelist. Similarly, Martin Bernays's -Black Athena-,
> which sent historians and archaeologists into fits of sarcasm and frothing
> at the mouth, might be very useful to a writer like Crowley in his Aegypt
> series.
> Here, picked almost randomly, are a couple of paragraphs from Jaynes:
> "The characters of the Iliad do not sit down and think out what to do. they
> have no conscious minds such as we say we have, and certainly no
> introspections. It is impossible for us with our subjectivity to appreciate
> what it was like. When Agamemnon, king of men, robs Achilles of his
> mistress, it is a god that grabs Achilles by his yellow hair  and warns him
> not to strike Agamemnon. It is a god who then rises out of the gray sea and
> consoles him in his tears of wrath on the beach by his black ships, a god
> who whispers low to Helen to sweep her heart with homesick longing, a god
> who hides Paris in a mist in front of the attacking Menelaus, a god who
> tells Glaucus to take bronze for gold, a god who leads he armies into
> battle, who speaks to each soldier at the turning points, who debates and
> tells Hector what he must do, who urges the soldiers on by casting them in
> spells or drawing mists over their visual fields. It is the gods who start
> quarrels among men that really cause the wars and then plan its
> strategy...In fact the gods take the place of consciousness."
> "Who were these gods that pushed men about like robots and sang epics
> through their lips? They were voices whose speech and directions could be
> heard as directly by the Iliadic heroes as voices are heard by certain
> epileptic and schizophrenic patients, or just as Joan of Arc heard her
> voices. The gods were organizations of the central nervous system and can be
> regarded as personae in the sense of poignant consistencies through time,
> amalgams of parental or admonitory images...The gods are what we now call
> hallucinations. Usually they are only seen and heard by the particular
> heroes they are speaking to...."

Definitely sounds like the Soldier books, although I do think Wolfe wants us to
at least two-thirds of the way buy into accepting that these deities are real.
Not just seem real, but are--similarly, although Wolfe doesn't "cheat" by
having the Hand of God nuke the bad guys or something (a la King), the Outsider
is plainly meant to be God, in the sense of the real God showing up as a
"character" in fiction.

> Etc. There's much more to it, on how crowds behave, for instance. Hey, kidz,
> there's an academic thesis for one of you in this! Note that Jaynsean
> material is entirely absent in everything Wolfe wrote prior to the Soldier
> books, and informs everything he has written since.
> Interesting, for instance, Silk's blind faith in his Outsider, Mint's bowing
> to the will of the god. Contrast with Hamlet's caution re the authenticity
> of the Ghost--which he actually saw. Hamlet is a modern man, Silk and Mint
> and Latro are archaic. (In my opinion, Wolfe is much, much better with the
> archaic than when he attempts to be modern, but that, O Best Beloved, is
> another story.) And Latro's and Auk's head wounds.
> Thanks, Mothman, this was fun.

Agreed.  I'll have to hunt down Jaynes--I half read part of it some time ago,
looking something up, but never actually finished it.  As to Wolfe,
archaic/modern, I'd agree but note that the "archaic" in Wolfe's sense isn't
exactly lacking from the "modern" world.  Chesterton's old statement that
assigning times and places to ideas is unwise; in the end that particular kinds
of thought are more popular at particular times and places says more about
those times & places than the ideas...  And Wolfe's "Hamlet"ism comes in that
he (usually) provides the reader an "out"--a way to say it wasn't a ghost at
all...  Latro's & Auk's wounds, Dr. Crane's hypothesis, etc.  It's clear which
"side" Wolfe is on, but he doesn't force that interpretation on the reader.  So
the Jaynes idea is the Dr. Crane hypothesis to explain everyone who sees a god
in Soldier...
	Probably why Wolfe's easier to digest that somebody like Lewis or
Chesterton for those who disagree with the theology, etc.

"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free." - John 8:32
Alex David Groce (adgroce@eos.ncsu.edu)
Senior (Computer Science/Multidisciplinary Studies in Technology & Fiction)
'98-99 NCSU AITP Student Chapter President
608 Charleston Road, Apt. 1E (919)-233-7366

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

<--prev V21 next-->