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From: "Roy C. Lackey" <rclackey@stic.net>
Subject: (urth) Is Jonas a Man?
Date: Wed, 16 Jun 1999 02:22:17 

I wrote:

>>I think the all-too-human tendency to anthropomorphize is evident both
in Wolfe's writing about Jonas and our speculations about him.<<

    To which corncrake, Alex, alga, and Mitchell have each responded with
what amounts to variations on the same theme: that Wolfe sometimes writes
about non-humans, and in doing so portrays them as if they had human
characteristics, especially those characteristics which have more to do with
psyche than soma, and explores the ramifications of this humanization in his
fiction. Quite true; but, unless the definition of "anthropomorphize" has
been subverted in recent decades to mean something other than what it once
meant, I can only stand by my above statement, provincial or not. Wolfe's
"complex theology" -- whatever that may be -- has no effect on the way the
real world functions. Animals, cartoon characters, gods and machines,
whatever fanciful human attributes they may be imbued with, do not in fact
possess them.

    Hey, it's only a story!: I know that and have posted in that spirit. If
you want to label Wolfe's work as fantasy, then anything goes, and I
withdraw my reality quibbles.

    Some have gone even further, suggesting that Jonas, and other
non-humans, have what is commonly known as a "soul". My post contained no
theological reference, and, as I've said before, I don't want to get into a
theological debate, but it seems that some here insist upon viewing Wolfe's
work through the prism of religion. I cannot and will not deny that Wolfe's
work contains religious elements, and his Roman Catholicism is often
mentioned, but how could postulating Jonas a soul possibly be reconciled
with the tenets of the R.C. Church? I don't think it can; or any other
Christian church, for that matter. Just when did it happen? At the moment of
concep ..., er, rather, when he left the assembly line? On the draftsman's
table? When he put on a dead man's flesh? By his interactions with human
beings? When? Is he contaminated by "original sin"? Do androids go to
heaven? Did Jesus die for Jonas, too? Short of a papal bull mandating such
an unlikely belief, I just don't see any Catholic, practicing or otherwise,
accepting the notion that machines have souls. And it would be a pretty safe
bet that the Pope will never make such an edict. That dogma just won't hunt.

    I would think the religious-minded would have even more objections to
the idea of beings-not-of-God's-creation -- man-made -- having souls than I
have mentioned. That concept opens up a whole can of theological worms that
the R. C. Church could never swallow.

    In chapter XVIII of _Claw_ Sev says to Jonas: "You are a machine." Wolfe
pulls the rug out from under the reader here. Sev's portrayal of Jonas up to
this point has lead the reader to believe "him" a "man", or, more correctly,
a "human". Jonas is not. Wolfe, and other writers, use this technique in
writing for a variety of purposes, but once the reader becomes aware that
things are not in fact as they seemed to be, it's time to reassess the
situation. To fail to do so _is_ to miss the point. Once the reader realizes
that Quetzal is not a man, it would be foolish to continue to regard him as
one. However intriguing a character Quetzal or Jonas may be, they are not
even human, much less men. In the case of Mr. Million, the sequence is
reversed. The reader knows early on that he is not a man, and only learns
later that he used to be a man. Mr. Million is sympathetically portrayed;
Maitre is not. _Yet they are the same "person"_, one housed in metal, the
other in flesh. Is one better than the other? Did Mr. Million lose his
humanity while a man in pursuit of immortality, then regain it after
accomplishing (at least in part) his goal by pouring himself into a
computer? Not in my view.

    Whatever the cause of the anxiety Jonas exhibits after talking to the
KLS group in the antechamber, his personality undergoes another, and, I
think, more profound change after he gets zapped by the electrically-charged
whip. Electrical discharges are anathema to delicate electronic components.
The Claw partially heals the wounds on the flesh of his torso, but has no
effect on his "mental" problems. Surprise, surprise! Of course it doesn't.
It only works on creatures of flesh and blood -- even animals --  but
doesn't do a thing for machines, for his "CPU", so to speak.

    Is this just another of those cases where the Claw fails to heal? I
don't think so. Just as in some sense the Christ-like Sev _is_ the White
Fountain, _is_ the New Sun, _is_ the Conciliator, so is he the Claw. It is
only when an otherwise worthless thorn is anointed with his blood after
piercing his flesh that it becomes the holy relic it once was. Flesh and
blood -- the wafer and the wine. "In the beginning was the Logos" ... "and
the Logos was made flesh..." Transubstantiation -- but not for Jonas. Many
of the obstacles to communion with God concern the perils of the flesh,
perils to which ironmen are not subject, hardly an equitable playing field
for humans.

    Wolfe puts a human face on Jonas -- both literally and figuratively --
but it is only a veneer. Jonas is not a man.


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

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