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From: Alex David Groce <Alex_Groce@gs246.sp.cs.cmu.edu>
Subject: Re: (urth) Messianic
Date: Sat, 20 Nov 1999 15:46:16 

>I think my quarrel, if you can call it that, is with people who invert the
>plain meaning of a text without providing a cogent analysis which supports
>their view.  Interviews with Gene Wolfe are proof of nothing except the
>strings of words that came out of Gene Wolfe's mouth in the course of the
>interview.  If an author said "I wrote this book to be a masterpiece" are we
>therefore bound to accept his word above all of our critical faculties and
>declare it a masterpiece despite the self-evident qualities of said book?
>If Wolfe wrote TBOTNS to show how God works through suffering, then that
>might have been his intention (or his intention ex post facto;  I remember
>his original intention being to write a book about blackmail), but I would
>argue that in that case he has failed, because he has failed to provide
>within the text a through-line which connects the sufferings of the people
>of Urth with any divine power;  perhaps he was being too coy, or assumed
>that each reader would provide his or her own bridge to cross that river and
>so failed to provide one within the book itself (a mistake which he perhaps
>recognizes in Urth of the New Sun where he throws in a variety of broad
>hints which serve to muddy his own theological waters and make the book less
>interesting to boot).  My argument, therefore, is that if Wolfe did indeed
>have these intentions while writing the four books of TBOTNS, and, as I
>argue, failed in doing so, in the process of that failure created a superb
>work about the exact opposite -- perhaps that's where all the mirrors come

Well, you can interpret BOTNS in this manner, but I think you've failed to
provide an argument that convinces those who believe Wolfe succeeded in doing
what he set out to do that he in fact failed.  Obviously, of course, we haven't
succeeded in convincing you, but I at least don't claim that there is only one
"plain meaning" of BOTNS, or of any interesting Wolfe text for that matter.
Although Wolfe is, like Chesterton or Lewis, in some ways a Christian
apologist, he is almost infinitely more subtle about it.  Wolfe's created
worlds, like our real world, admit different interpretations--unlike some
writers with theological concerns who create worlds in which "faith" as such
is meaningless, as atheism or anger at God is untenable for a reasonable 
inhabitant, Wolfe's worlds always allow the "Dr. Crane hypothesis"--Silk's
enlightenment is a brain anuerism, the numerous points at which Severian's
story takes on a semblance of the Gospel narratives are purely coincidental,
and the inhabitants of Yesod are what Ori believe of them.  BUT, it is simply
a distortion of the "plain meaning of the text" to say that there are no
hints of a theological explanation that is describable as precisely "how God
works through suffering."  Those of us who find this in the text are in no way
guilty of ignoring the meaning of the book; that the other explanation is also
not utterly dismissed is what separates Wolfe's fiction from simple theodicy.
He is subtle and does not dismiss the problems of pain and destruction.  But to
claim that he doesn't succeed at all in BOTNS is to ignore much of the subtext
of the book--the read only the most obviously stated things, and with a willful
avoidance of what does not agree with one's philosophy.  I don't LIKE Thomas
Hardy's explanation of the universe, but I don't deny that he presents it well.
Wolfe had a lot of intentions in writing BOTNS, like any author--he succeeded
in some (a charcter with great costume potential, for instance), and failed
in others (I don't see a story about blackmail coming through at all).  But
to say he failed in this one is akin to saying that because I/you don't ACCEPT
Plato's philosophical arguments that he failed to even present them.

"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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