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From: Michael Andre-Driussi <mantis@sirius.com>
Subject: (urth) preliminary notes for PEACE
Date: Tue, 17 Oct 2000 13:54:15 

Let's see, now where was I . . . ?

(I first tried to send this on Sep. 28th; since then I've been chatting a
bit with Dan'l Danehy-Oakes, mostly about the frametale [in AD 2277; so
yes, Alex, we've been thinking along the lines you have], and Roy Lackey,
mostly about the historical timeline from 1904 to 1975 or so.  All of which
should soon be showing up around here.)

A few important touchstones for my view of PEACE.

Obviously this is a book about books, and we could list all of the books
mentioned, alluded to, read from, et cetera.  But I would like to mention
only a few:

only for the way that characters all tell stories, but how their stories
are nested within one another, and how their stories often play off one
another.  This is a hugh part of PEACE, and then there are the little
details, like the Persian Room in the memory mansion, and the
story-fragment of "ben Yahya and the marid," which is quite important.

Fairy Tales collected by Andrew Lang: the smorgasbord approach, with
stories from all sorts of different cultures, yet all having that quirky
"fairy tale logic" which darts here and there.  (I've been reading fairy
tales lately, and wow, are they wild and savage!)

SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE by Kurt Vonnegut: the "unstuck in time" idea; the
blurring of memory and active re-enactment, of fact and fantasy.  The first
time I read PEACE I thought of it as S5 crossed with Faulkner--I didn't
ever really grasp that Den might be dead; and in fact, while I recognize
all the "grave tree" pointers, having just re-read the novel I find myself
questioning the whole "Dead Den" aspect anew: in this context, what is
"dead," anyway?  (More on this, whenever I talk about the frametale and the
house of the ax.)

Enough of that for now.  On to another touchstone.

Julius Smart is called by Den the central character of the book; the
section devoted to him is titled "The Alchemist," and Smart tells part of
the tale of Mr. Tilly, who had the power to transform ordinary people into
circus freaks (the conclusion of this tale is supplied by the banker,
Stewart Blaine, in section four).  Smart later develops the method of
transforming potatoes into a pseudo-citrus beverage that makes him
unbelievably rich (gold).  How large a part does "alchemy" play in the
novel?  (Also note: the section is physically central to the novel, so
there is no doubt that Den is having his little pun.)

This is what I told to Dan'l Danehy-Oakes:

>"Alchemy: . . . It was essentially a symbolic process involving the
>endeavour to make gold, regarded as the symbol of illumination and
>salvation. The four stages of the process were signified by different
>colours, as follows" (Cirlot, THE DICTIONARY OF SYMBOLS, hereafter in
>table form)
>1) Black (guilt, origin, latent forces)
>2) White (minor work, first transmutation, quicksilver)
>3) Red (sulphur, passion)
>4) Gold

Just looking at this sequence brought to mind the five sections of the novel:

1) "Alden Dennis Weer"--which is shaped by the injury of Bobby Black.
2) "Olivia"--which is about the courtship of Olivia, shaped by the white egg.
3) "The Alchemist"--which is about Julius Smart and involves murderous
4) "Gold"--which is about the Gold family, and the buried gold.
5) "The President"--which is about Den as president.

So then I continued:

>Well "Black" at the guilty beginning (Bobby), and "Gold" at the fourth
>step (Lou), that looks like a pretty close fit at least at those two
>If it holds out, then maybe the fifth stage is the assaying of the gold;
>that is, the looking back on the whole thing from the ghostly point of
>view.  In his own way, Den the President is a result of a process, like
>the Philosopher King who was to be produced by Plato's _Republic_, and
>like Severian the Great by his education in the world: and we come to see
>that he is a false one (the gold is fake).
>To be fair, there are other systems of dividing the alchemical process
>that use seven stages and non-color descriptions.  But because of the
>Black/Gold congruence I have been haunted by this four stage, four color
>one for some time now, without carrying the investigation any further.


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