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From: Nigel Price <NigelPrice1@compuserve.com>
Subject: (urth) Report on the Gene Wolfe Symposium
Date: Mon, 28 Aug 2000 11:15:51 

Grateful thanks to Jonathan Laidlow for organising, and to the English
Department of the University of Birmingham for hosting, Saturday's Gene
Wolfe Symposium. It was a fascinating day, and it was great to meet some of
the British-based members of the Urth and Whorl lists.

The morning was devoted to the Book of the New Sun, and, not having
finished writing up my paper (some lame excuse about holidays and visitors
from the States) I mumbled and stumbled my way through my notes on a
proposed explanation of the Urth cycle in terms of a combination of topical
satire and allusive neo-platonic hierarchies. (Alga, you asked ages and
ages ago if you could have a copy of my paper when it was finished. Yes, of
course you can - I should be very interested in your comments. All I've got
to do is finish writing the wretched thing first! I'll send you a copy as
soon as it's done, but don't hold your breath!)

Plenty of constructive discussion on that, and then on to a paper from
James Russell on the strategies which Gene Wolfe employs in the Urth cycle
to convey the strangeness of his post-historic world. Some fascinating
analysis, particularly on the use of arbitrary and apparently illogical
systems of categorisation to describe society and natural phenomena as a
means of depicting alien patterns of thought and cultural assumptions.

After a buffet lunch, we had a helpful update from Peter Wright, on the
current state of the publishing of Lupine literary criticism - more
encouraging than I had expected - followed by a few tantalisingly brief
glimpses of Peter's own forthcoming book on Wolfe, which I am very much
looking forward to reading.

Peter then went on to read us his paper on post-colonialism in The Fifth
Head of Cerberus. An overtly political interpretation of the book, Peter
explored not only the contrast between the stifling immutability of Number
Five's cloned family and the shape-changing mimicry of the native Annese,
but also the political and sociological implications of cultural imitation,
as the colonised both flatter and satirise their colonisers by adopting
their ways and values. In this reading, such imitation leads to the
inevitable corruption of the colonised, a snare only avoided by a mutual
willingness to embrace cultural and racial hybridity. This hybridity is
represented in Fifth Head by the ambiguous figure of Marsch-Trenchard,
whose eventual imprisonment reprents the failure of the colonial society of
St Croix and St Anne to accept this option.

(Did I get all that right?  Other attendees correct me, please!)

After further discussion, Jonathan Laidlow read the last paper of the day,
Nick Gevers' exploration of the spiritual plight of the chems in the Long
and Short Sun book. Nick helpfully categorises the different types of
artificial life in these stories, and examines their tragic limitations as
soulless beings. Despite their aspirations to humanity and even godhood,
they remain inferior to human beings, and stay trapped in their mechanical
and electronic existence, even as most are forced to remain on the failing
Whorl when the human colonists finally leave for Blue and Green.

(Is that a fair summary, Nick?)

A final round of discussion of Nick's ideas took us to the end of the
afternoon, leaving us with no time for the day's last programmed item, a
proposed discussion of Wolfe's mysterious short story "A Solar Labyrinth".
A shame, because I would have liked to have heard what everyone had to say.

Of course, even after so much discussion, some important Lupine mysteries
remained. How do you pronounce "Gevers"? (Or "Andre-Driussi", for that
matter.) What does Robert Borski do for a living? Will we ever get to read
"Soldier of Sidon"? And what music does Gene Wolfe listen to while
pedalling his exercise bike in his basement at six o'clock in the morning?
(Peter Wright has introduced him to the gentle lyricism of Iron Maiden -
frightening thought - and confirms that GW listens to a lot of folk music.
I'd always imagined that he listened to Country, a guess which was
partially confirmed by Those-In-The-Know, but what else does he play on the
lupine hi-fi?)

It was an excellent day, and I look forward both to reading the published
papers, and to next year's event...


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

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