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From: Alex David Groce <Alex_Groce@gs246.sp.cs.cmu.edu>
Subject: Re: (urth) modernism
Date: Tue, 26 Oct 1999 18:54:45 


To be sure, Wolfe's concern with memory and perception is a very modernist
idea, and BOTNS (and all of Wolfe's fiction) is highly concerned with not
just the stories told but the manner in which they are told--Wolfe, despite
being "difficult" for SF, however, eschews the particular quirks of form that
are most often associated with modernism by people who took Modernism 101 as
a survey Lit. course and think "Modernism = ULYSSES or THE SOUND AND THE FURY"
(modernist poetry I'm side-stepping here).

Alga mentions how everyone takes ULYSSES as "the" modernist novel because it is
the first (often only) one most people tackle.  THE SOUND AND THE FURY is the
other most likely candidate, as far as I can tell, in American courses in 
Modernism 101.  Both of these are difficult in part because of part that do
not parse as the normal declarative sentences of the novel.  Proust and Wolfe
do odd things with the structure of what is related to us, in what order, and
"how" as in who tells it and why, and may seem difficult at the sentence level
because they like complex sentence structures, but they are, for want of a 
better metric, usually possible to diagram (Proust here, for me, and 
apparently for Wolfe, is the English translations, and in fact C. K. 
Scott-Moncrieff doesn't always produce a "good" English sentence, but that's 
another matter).

It is certainly possible to be a Modernist and a science fiction writer, and
because of these concerns it is where Wolfe is probably best categorized.
But, for purposes of analysis, I actually think that how little he uses the
tools commonly associated with modernism is interesting.  

In other words, Severian's strange memory affects what he reports to us, but
does not affect _how he reports it_ in the same manner than Quentin's 
posthumous time-derangement or Benji's retardation does what they report.  
Severian uses pretty standard 1st-person narrative tools to convey to us even
very strange perceptions (like Proust, he tends to wrap anything really odd
up in a nest of metaphors--the metaphors, and not a distortion of syntax or
semantics, convey the alien experience).

You also said:

> I have not read Borges, but he sounds modernist.

For the love of God, go grab FICCIONES or one of the other collections (I
guess LABYRINTHS is in print) or, if you're feeling good, the new collected
stories, and devour away!  It's a true crime that Borges never received the
Nobel, especially considering some of the people who did (Bertrand Russell,
for instance--a fine mathematician, interesting if wrong philosopher, but
really not a particularly great writer).  And Borges makes Wolfe better and
Wolfe makes Borges better.


So, alga, when (if ever) are you going to explain to us how Wolfe's possibly
a racist?

"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." John 8:32
Alex David Groce (agroce+@cs.cmu.edu)
Ph.D. Student, Carnegie Mellon University - Computer Science Department
8112 Wean Hall (412)-268-3066

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

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