FIND in
<--prev V28 next-->

From: Michael Andre-Driussi <mantis@sirius.com>
Subject: (urth) Ziggurat--several readings, including my own
Date: Sun, 30 Jan 2000 11:48:13 


Speaking of guesses, I guess a lot of the various readings have to do with
two key elements:

1) How Emory is perceived by reader (as basically heroic; as basically
villanous; as mouthpiece for Wolfe; etc.)

2) How the ending is perceived (as basically happy; as basically creepy; as
basically tragic)

So the "Cry Sexist" crowd, including but not limited to Dozois (tip of the
hat to Alex David Groce for reminding us of that factoid), and Ken
Houghton, and others: it seems they see it as "mouthpiece" and "happy for
the John Normanoids, including Gene Wolfe, but tragic for the more

I will call this thing they decry the "Cave-man-ifesto."  Since in the end
it looks like "Me strong Tarzan, you weak slave" stuff.  The Cavemanifesto
meets a certain crude political position that cannibalism, insanity, and
incest cannot: one can reasonably say, "There are people like that, people
who propose or dream of that as a eutopia."  Then there is the assigning of
Wolfe to that category of people, because if the ending is "happy," then
Wolfe must be agreeing to it; if it is a "tragic" ending, then it is a bit
harder (but of course nothing is impossible <g>).

One of the twirling tigers actually compared "The Ziggurat" to Heinlein's
(controversial) FARNHAM'S FREEHOLD.  This seemed out of the blue for a long
while to me (and I had already read FF years before), but in trying to
puzzle it out, I formulated the Cavemanifesto mentioned above.  (For those
not familiar with FF, for our purposes it is basically about a Competant
Man (tm) who is shunted to another dimension along with family and friends;
in the strange new world they find themselves in, social mores and
conventions no longer hold--the wife/mother leaves with the teenage son to
form their own microsociety, the Competant Man mates with the college girl,
and everything for Competant Man works out in the end as a cross between
Biblical Patriarchism and Frontier Life in the Old West.  Unambiguous happy
ending: new young bride, new babies, hearth, home, and rifle.)

(These elements were not what make FF controversial, I don't think--FF is
inflammatory for racial issues.)

I don't mean to make any of these readings sound monolithic; I don't think
they were.  And as is often the case, as more details emerged, there was
more divergence of opinion even among those who had been on the same
"side."  But the tigers seemed founded upon a bedrock of "Cry Sexist."

On to my own reading.

As I've said before, it was and remains largely unformed.  I didn't notice
anything about the wife, so I guess that brands me right there; but there
were other little details that seemed so strange--so dreamy, or surreal, or
partaking of dream-logic.  Yet still on the edge of realism.  And that an
engineer was having this frankly science fictional experience (rather like
an ERB novel) added to the sense of a dream being dreamed by Emory (sf
being the dreamstuff of engineers).

FWIW, I thought that Emory's reaction to his son's death was
acceptable--that wasn't one of the surreal bits for me.  (I don't know if I
voiced this disagreement at the time or only thought of muddying the
waters.  It did really bug me for a while, but I also wanted to see where
things were going before I derailed it.)

I didn't read the ending as happy.  I thought it was chilling; and I
thought that Wolfe had not intended a happy ending (that is: I didn't think
I was reading between the lines, seeing something Wolfe had not intended,
like a consequence he was not aware of, etc.  Such is usually the hubris of
any reader, whether said reader thinks she is reading what the author wrote
or what the author let slip).  I saw the suggestion of incest, but didn't
follow it very far; I saw the child-bride of Tarzan thing, and that was
spooky, but I didn't follow it back to "A Solar Labyrinth."  I didn't make
the leap to "Dial Em-4-Murderer," but the creepiness, the spookiness, the
weird confusion/association of daughters and aliens, all that was
groundwork preparing my mind for the notion.  I thought of it as being like
CASTLEVIEW, but with "A Cabin on the Coast" (certainties of UFO-fairies)
removed, crossed with PEACE: a rebus?

(CASTLEVIEW ends [and begins?] with a mock-combat human sacrifice that
seems necessary for the seasons to change.  I read this as creepy, not as
something that Wolfe thinks should be immitated in the real world; but
truly something that was done long ago for countless chiliads.)

So when "Max Del" came along it fit with some of my pre-existing notions,
another tool for looking at the text as not-entirely-realistic.  Like any
"pure" form, its single set solution is its largest weakness.  I don't
recall how the artifact in the lake was interpreted by "Max Del" theory
(downed dirigible?); I don't know that it came up.

I remember the other readings because they were all so much more developed
than my own.  Even more than the usual case: I'm just the messenger.

Maybe the inclusion of insanity, pedophilia, and quasi-incest into the mix
took some of the wind from the "Cry Sexist" group, since these things are
all strong taboos which cannot have political standings today, thus making
it trickier to pin the tale on the Wolfe.  It is much more likely that
things quieted down because the majority of the tigers had just moved on to
other things (but whoever wrote that "Publisher's Weekly" review is clearly
a member in fact or by inclination).


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

<--prev V28 next-->