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From: "Jonathan Laidlow" <LAIDLOJM@hhs.bham.ac.uk>
Subject: (urth) Realism, Thoughts, apologies,
Date: Fri, 30 Apr 1999 10:49:58 GMT

Well, what a pickle I've obviously got myself in....

First - let me apologise for portions of my second post of yesterday, 
written in reply to my good friend Nigel. Our discussion got 
interesting and we decided to carry it over into Urth. Unfortunately 
as I was in a rush I didn't edit it for public consumption but just 
sent on a copy. Whadda mistakada make-a (in best Manuel voice)

I also tend to punctuate like my master and nemesis, Tristram Shandy. 
I apologise again.

So first off, I must apologise to Robert Borski for taking his name 
in vein and mis-representing him as a 'classic realist'. This came 
from a discussion Nigel and I were having where I stated that I 
disagreed with attempts to forge links between different works by 
Wolfe, such as BotNS and Fifth Head of Cerberus, which poor Robert 
has suggested. My belief is that unless the link is necessary to the 
story, or stated explicitly in the text, then it does not seem valid 
to me. I prefer thinking that Wolfe has certain thematic conceits 
which he reuses, but I'm prepared to wait and see if Blue and Green 
are St Croix and St Anne. So my use of his surname and a sweeping 
generalisation was not so much an attack on Robert, but a reminder to 
Nigel of our discussion.

Now to Roy. 
I apologise on behalf of academics everywhere - I never intended to 
pigeonhole you or tar you with a broad brush. Unfortunately I did, 
and must apologise, as I now realise that you are the originator of 
the whole Jonas/Sidero/android classification thread. I think what I 
wanted to do was try to draw you to  a point and explain to me what 
it adds to our reading of the Urth cycle when we know what kind of 
android he is - David's suggestion that he is the tin man is 
fascinating - I just wanted to prompt the discussion onwards a 
Similarly Potto's comment about Wolfe's 'subtle game of clues' leads 
me to ask, what do the clues about Jonas tell us about the larger 

Now to classic realism - this was just a bad paragraph attempting to 
explain to Nigel what I meant when I dismissed the 'realism' of 
BotNS. Let me attempt one more explanation: Wolfe's fiction does not 
just work on a realist level. Of course it does have elements of 
realism, and of course it is fantastically internally consistent 
(Potto's subtle clues). It also tells a powerful and (I think) 
important story which contains many of the Wolfean knots which we all 
love to unravel.

But the narrative form is not that of a realist novel. A realist 
novel, without going into the admittedly hideous academic debates 
which I would agree to despise with you, is one which has an 
all-powerful narrating voice outside the action, which makes the 
fictional world seem real, and consistent, and authoritative.
Sev's narrative style does not allow this - we get all of our 
glimpses of Urth through him. We cannot see Urth first-hand, only 
through Severian's words. And words are notoriously elusive and 
allusive, as we all well know. Even the Book of the Long Sun, which 
seems to take the realist narrative form all the way through, is 
finally revealed to be the work of Horn. There is no safe place for 
us to stand back and take a broad view of Urth, for we are constantly 
reliant on Sev. So Wolfe loves unreliable narrators.

My example from Gaskell was admittedly vague, but it shows another of 
the flaws of this kind of realist narrative - no narrator can create 
a whole world for you - there are always little slips. Clever authors 
note this and compensate in some way.

Now if often seems that in teasing out the complexities of the Urth 
cycle we lose sight of the big story, the narrative that works on 
multiple levels - of storytelling and allusion. 

So to conclude - please continue exploring the minutiae of the text, 
but let me know how it relates to everything else. Surely Jonas' 
use of human body parts to rebuild himself is a further reflection of 
the Frankenstein story (in addition to Baldanders).

As for the religious elements. Well they're there in the text, and 
they are as difficult to decipher as everything else. If we 
concentrate on what's there and how it works with religious stories, 
then surely we can bypass any believers/non-believers arguments.

And Ori - your Mohammed thing sounds intriguing. More please!


If we shadows have offended, 
    Think but this, and all is mended, 
    That you have but slumber'd here 
    While these visions did appear. 
    And this weak and idle theme, 
    No more yielding but a dream, 
    Gentles, do not reprehend: 
    if you pardon, we will mend: 
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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