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From: "Dan'l Danehy-Oakes" <ddanehy@siebel.com>
Subject: Re: (urth) PEACE: is Weer's biography knowable? (long)
Date: Mon, 4 Dec 2000 10:15:52 

A Monday morning meditation inspired by Adam's post and the various
replies thereunto. I may ramble.

I'm inclined to agree with & even to insist upon the following basic points:

1. That Gene Wolfe did in fact have a "real" and (more or less) coherent 
   biography of ADW in mind when he wrote PEACE;
2. That PEACE does not give us the clues to accurately, reliably, and
   consistently reconstruct that biography.

On the cover of my (oldish, trade pb) copy of 5HC, there's a quote from 
Ursula K. Le Guin describing the contents as (quoted from memory and
wrong except in gist) an example in writing of the uncertainty principle. I
would say that PEACE far more deserves this.

The question is, assuming that all this uncertainty is not arbitrary (which
would by implication predicate of its author a kind of meanness vis-a-vis 
his readers that I simply do not see as likely in the case of GW), what kind

of readerly (rather than writerly) model can we build that accounts for it?
In other words: How does or would Wolfe's ideal reader imagine (image-in) 

Adam wrote, "PEACE has not become more comprehensible to me as a result 
of this discussion.  On the contrary, it has made me realize that 
understanding the book is far more difficult than I had thought." While I
agree with him at a certain level, I suggest that the level is one which
uses an impoverished -- or, rather, insufficiently enriched -- meaning for
the word "comprehensible." 

First, I suggest that the uncertainty must make sense at a higher level, 
that it must in fact follow deterministic (at least statistically 
deterministic) rules, which are if not discoverable at least deductible.

Second, I suggest that the book contains everything necessary for a useful 
reading. This is important; it is, I think, the difference between calling
Wolfe a sadistic and manipulative writer and calling him a tricksy but
skilled and fair writer. This is, incidentally, a analogous to fundamental 
principle for Catholic readings of the Bible -- the Catholic take is that 
the canonical Scriptures "contain faithfully everything which God wants us
to know for our salvation." That is, it contains all that is necessary, and
these necessary things are discoverable and comprehensible, but does not 
mean that all of Scripture is literally factual. If we find, in our reading 
of Scripture, that it contradicts itself or the physical-factual world, 
then we may reasonably conclude that our reading is itself flawed -- most 
probably because it attempts to answer the wrong questions. Thus, for 
example, most Catholic "Bible scholars" will say that the book of Job does 
not consist of biographical facts about a real man named Job, but that the 
book is nonetheless true -- in fact it is a theodicy, an extended meditation

on the problem of evil, among other things. 

Wolfe, a very convinced Catholic convert, may reasonably be expected to take

a similar view toward his writings. (Remember; "Scripture" literally means 
"that which is written." All written works are at root Scriptural; all 
writings read properly reveal or even betray truth about him or her who 
writes them.) Again, where we find uncertainty and/or contradiction, we are 
probably reading in a way that asks the text the wrong questions.

Returning to Adam's original post, I find this nugget: "it is not even clear

what status Weer is claiming for the 'past' sections of the text.  To what 
extent is he recollecting the past and to what extent is he reliving it?"

Three points.

First, I think we may immediately conclude that we are not expected to 
discover a (single/consistent/reliable) status for "the 'past' sections."
"What is the status of the 'past' sections" is not among the most useful
questions to ask.

Second, I think the word "past" clearly does belong in quotes, as Adam puts
them, because it assumes a linearity of time. More on this later.

Second, Adam left out at least two other possibilities.
     1. Recollecting the past.
     2. Reliving the past.
     3. Recreating the past.
     4. Lying about the past.
Further, the boundaries between these are rather hazy, forming a continuum
rather than four distinct possibilities. I take these as working
"Recollecting" the past means attempting in memory to recall the facts,
actions, and details of a single "real" past as accurately as possible.
means travelling in some sense to the past and passing through those moments
again. "Recreating" the past means moving into past moments and changing
events. And lying about the past is the direct contrary of "recollecting."

The idea that Den actively lies to us is probably the dullest choice. 

The idea of straightforward recollection is only slightly more interesting;
this were the general case, we would have very little in the way of mystery.

Indeed, if I could ignore all the ellipses, elisions, and contradictions in 
Den's story, I would have to conclude that PEACE consisted of the somewhat-
incoherent ramblings of a not particularly interesting person.

The idea that he is reliving the past gets more interesting. How? And to
end? (Is it his own idea or is it being "done to" him -- i.e., is he agent

"Recreating" is by far the most interesting; it probably covers more mental 
"territory" than any of the other three, from Den mentally asking himself
would have happened if he had done something differently, to "Purgatory" as
sort of mental "holodeck" where he can actually experiment with such things,

to actually travelling back in time and doing it over. In addition, it may
that the explicit facts, events, and details do not change, but Den's 
understanding of them changes -- he does the same things but for different 
reasons, or simply is allowed to observe himself doing them and understand
he can the meaning of what he did and what happened afterward and why. 

I particularly like looking at "recreating" the past because it fits in 
thematically with that damn Chinese pillow story that seems like a minor
episode but keeps confronting you everywhere you turn in PEACE.

In summary, then: I think we cannot build a usefully coherent and consistent
chronology of Weer's life. I think the book actively forbids it. On the
hand, I think we can build a usefully coherent and consistent model of the
book which accounts for the incoherency and inconsistency of Weer's account.

Again and again: PEACE is not the story of Weer's life; it is the story of
Weer telling his story.


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

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