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From: "Jonathan Laidlow" <LAIDLOJM@hhs.bham.ac.uk>
Subject: (urth) thoughts on Nigel price's response
Date: Thu, 29 Apr 1999 16:36:41 GMT

Haven't time to give your comments the thought they deserve just yet, 
but I do need to clarify my own (and I know I'm right, so there!)

My post was an attempt at a general rebuff to those (like Borski) who 
try to produce a 'classic realist' interpretation of the Urth cycle 
where everything coheres and we get a clear picture of everything as 
if it were a 19th century realist novel. Classic realism is a rather 
outdated critical concept from the 70s which attempted a rather 
misguided critique of 19th century novels and attempted to refine the 
broad idea of 'realism'. Briefly put, Classic realism is texts which 
attempt in some way to 'capture' the 'essence' of reality in some 
way, to present an illusion to the reader. Yet texts such as these 
always in some way undermine themselves. Good example I used in my 
finals paper - Elizabeth Gaskell's 'Mary Barton' shows at great 
length the suffering of the industrial poor, yet in a crucial scene 
where the workers meet the industrialists, the omniscient narrator 
comments that if only each side could understand the other's position 
a little, then all could be resolved. They cannot, and tragedy 
ensues. Gaskell contradicts herself in that despite showing the 
suffering, she cannot identify the cause of the suffering in any real 
terms. Of course this is based on a materialist/Marxist reading, and 
falls down when you consider the market for the book, and the reading 
audience were all middle class- you don't alienate your readers if 
you can help it....

Anyway - I object to a 'realist' reading of Wolfe that attempts to 
decide what kind of android Jonas was, whether the navigator was 
Kennedy, or whether we can easily locate the position of Christianity 
in Urth's past. Not because this may not be possible, but that it 
misses the point. Wolfe surely was not trying to perpetrate 19th 
century 'illusionism' - to make us enter Sev's world and 'experience 
it'. The text demands an extra layer of reading beyond the realist 
level, into the figurative.

Of course Urth has continuity with Earth, but on a fictional level. 
Let us not make the mistake of viewing this as a viable potential 
future. Of course Urth has a degree of 'realism'. When Clute calls 
Wofle a 'modernist' we must remember that they were dismissing the 
old school of realist and 19th century novel (however misguided that 
may be) and attempting to forge a better kind of realism. Joyce's 
'Ulysses' is an attempt to truely capture just one day in Dublin, 
through a literary style that does not rely on attempting to  
present the illusion of reality, but by reminding us of it. The true 
connection between Earth and Urth is in its stories - the story of 
the silver knight on the moon - the story of a saviour - 
Frankenstein. Remember that Wolfe doesn't just use stories, he uses 
genres of stories - like the fantastic Dickens stuff in the beginning 
of 'Shadow'.

Of course Christianity figures in the texts - but whether it lies in 
Urth's past or future (remember- Wolfe is translating these texts - 
where did he get them?) does not matter to me. I like your reverse 
typology idea - its a fantastic way of describing Wolfe's use of 
Christian theology. I look forward to forcing you to elaborate. 

So can fictional worlds not show us valid, important, and 'real' 
moral choices? Of course they can. I never said that they couldn't. 
What I object to is the attempt to apply a false version of 'realism' 
to Wolfe. What critical purpose is achieved by deciding the class of 
mechanical being Jonas is? Isn't it enough that he is one?? 

I think what it comes down to is a way of reading that recognises the 
fictional nature of these texts - we are constantly reminded after 
all that much of the text is about story-telling - but still 
acknowledges their power and the importance of what they are saying. 
Of course there should be internal consistency (the fact that there 
isn't always is a further reminder of the metafictional nature of the 
texts) but the way that the whole Urth cycle works is that is not 
'realistic' in that Urth could be recreated from these novels, but 
the stories told map onto stories that we already know, and present 
an interesting reconfiguration.

And I still couldn't recognise Severian if I met him on the street.

Thats it - I have to leave work right now and go home

I'm sending this to Nigel and cross-posting to URTH - look forward to 
you all joining in....


Visit Ultan's Library - A Gene Wolfe web resource
Jonathan Laidlow
University of Birmingham, UK

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

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