FIND in
<--prev V30 next-->

From: "Dan'l Danehy-Oakes" <ddanehy@siebel.com>
Subject: (urth) Grounded in the text?
Date: Wed, 6 Dec 2000 13:42:42 

Adam Stephanides wrote:

> Much of what you say I agree with, or need more time to digest.  But
> here's an initial response, to keep the dialogue going while it's 
> fresh in my mind:

What he said.

> I'm not sure what you mean here; you seem to be implying a contrast
> between "the story" and "the way in which the story is told" 

No; I'm more interested in the contrast between "telling a story" and
"making points by playing with the readers' heads." Wolfe does in fact
play with readers' heads; but it seems to me that this is in service 
of the story, rather than the other way around. (Generally.)

> I think that Wolfe's concern to "deconstruct" the act of
> narration, which you touch upon below, makes him a radical writer,
> although he's not as flashy as some self-consciously pomo writers (and
> although he sometimes affects an aggressively antimodernist,
> we-don't-need-no-steenking-critics stance).  I think PEACE in particular
> is a very radical, even experimental novel.

Oddly, I don't want to argue this point: but see below. 

I also question whether Wolfe is so much deconstructing as 
reconstructing the act of narration, by (for example) insisting on 
a particular time and place of narration that affect the manner and 
content of the narration. This is not a particularly radical 
gesture; in fact, it's a standard pulp trope. H.P. Lovecraft used 
it (badly) all the time ("They are right outside the door..." or 
"Ia! Ia! Shub-Niggurath, the Goat with a Thousand Young..." or "That 
hideous, three-lobed eye..."). I even ran across it in the Nero 
Wolfe novel I reread last night ("The Second Confession"), though I 
shan't explain because it involves the solution of a mystery, and
those who reveal the ending of mystery novels get a fully deserved,
one-way ride to Hell.

You might even say that he uses it in radical ways, and I might 
agree; but then, as I said, I think he uses radical tools to 
conservative ends. I'll even grant "radically conservative," 
radical in the same way that the Gospel is radical.

> > And, yeah, at first glance,
> > tBotNS looks like a save-the-world story, when it's actually more of a
> > bildungsroman -- "The Making of the Messiah, Parts 1-4" rather than an
> > actual
> > gospel account, which we then get in URTH.
> And I don't think this example really supports your point.  There's a
> great deal in tBotNS whose relevance to the bidungsroman story is
> tangential or unclear.

Unclear I'll grant. Tangential? Perhaps -- but tangential to whom? 
Not, I imagine, to Severian. Tangentiality resolves to unclarity-to-us.

> > Which novel? There are some I haven't completely worked out, but none of
> > them have completely failed to make any sense to me.
> CASTLEVIEW (I had expected that would be obvious).  And I'd love to hear
> what you make of it.

This is the one GW novel about which I can say almost nothing; I've read 
it only once, several years ago. I don't recall it being especially obtuse 
-- not, certainly, compared to PEACE or 5HC -- but I read it under 
somewhat unfavorable conditions (a redeye flight, and immediately following
PANDORA) and may have missed its obtuseosity completely.

> > I
> > remember all the speculation here about "Suzanne Delage"; on rereading
> > that story a month or two ago, I came away firmly convinced that it was
> > just about what it says it's about, the circumstances surrounding an
> > event that the narrator simply cannot remember because it fails to fit
> > into the context of his life. Because he can't remember it, he can't
> > really tell us anything about it, and so we cannot know what it is. End
> > of story.
> A digression here: you apparently believe that the narrator did know
> Suzanne Delage, as do I (am I right?); whereas what the story says it's
> about is the reasons why he didn't know Suzanne Delage.

That isn't quite what I said. I said that something happened which the 
narrator is incapable of remembering, because it doesn't fit into the 
rest of his life. He perceives not-meeting Suzanne as some kind of hole 
in his experience; such a hole may be indicative of the unrememberable, 
though what exactly he can't remember may not be an encounter with her.
I suspect it _is_, but would not care to mount an argument to demonstrate 

> > I agree with this; I think it's another way of approaching the same
> > thing I am saying: that PEACE is not about the surface events of Weer's
> > life so much as it is about the process of
> > recollection/reliving/reconstruction/falsification (mix 'em and match
> > 'em, kids! The first one's always free!) by which those events are
> > related.
> Which, to return to an earlier point, is not something a "very
> conservative writer" would be likely to do; in fact, it's exactly the
> sort of thing the modernist authors of the early twentieth century were
> preoccupied by.  Nor is it generally the sort of thing people mean when
> they talk about "putting the story first."

This is the "see below" above.

You seem to be pointing at a kind of "experimental" that was very 
experimental indeed in the 1920s, and that most of the pomos would 
sniff at as mere "modernism." And it is indeed putting the story 
first: but the story being put first is not necessarily the story 
that the reader immediately thinks it is. The process by which some 
events are related is every bit as legitimate a "subject" for a 
story as the process by which they occurred. 

Another way of taking this: the _Thousand Nights and a Night_ is 
about the process by which Scheherazade tells a series of stories; 
further, some of those stories are themselves about the telling of 
stories. I do not think I am calling Wolfe terribly radical if I 
suggest he may have adopted this as a model, particularly given 
the "Nights" references in the novel. We might argue from there 
that PEACE is not precisely a novel, and I won't debate that 
point; perhaps it isn't.

>  I think one key to the whole shebang is the question of whom
> > Weer [thinks he] is writing to; at one point he addresses his readers
> > as "ladies." (Olivia?)
> If you're referring to the spot on p. 14 of the Harper & Row edition
> ("Ladies, this was not what I wanted"), Weer is referring here not to
> his readers, but to the women at Weer's birthday party, who apparently
> have mentally intruded on his visit to Van Ness.

That is the passage (it's on p13 of my Berkley ed'n), but is in a 
paragraph set off by slugs, between a "birthday party" passage and 
a "Doctor Van Ness's office" passage. The ladies at the party have 
just been discussing the falsification of the Indian treaty.

The paragraph in full:

	One moment, please. Let me stand and walk to the window;
	let me put this broken elm branch -- shaped as though it 
	were meant to be the antler of a wooden deer, such a deer
	as might be found, possibly, under one of the largest
	outdoor Christmas trees -- upon the fire. Ladies, this 
	was not what I wanted. Ladies, I wish to know only if in
	my condition I should exercise or remain still; because
	if the answer is that I must exercise I will go looking
	for my scout knife.

Now, I could be wrong, but it seems to me pretty darned clear that 
this is Weer in the porch of his memory-house, addressing -- well, 
three possibilities. 

1. He is addressing his hypothetical readers.
2. He is addressing the ladies (Sherry, the nurse, etc.) in the
   doctor's office.
3. He is addressing the ladies at the party.

But of these three, only the first is fully coherent; the third 
involves a level of incoherency where he simply cannot distinguish
between the porch and the party. I suppose this is no worse than a
marginal reading, but I see no special value in a marginal reading 
when a fully coherent one is available. (Unless, of course, you 
want to argue for "all of the above" and maybe others.)

> > Is there anyone on this list who seriously maintains that he is 
> > _not_ dead?
> I don't recall anybody saying that Weer is definitely not dead, but
> several people have discussed the Chinese Pillow reading as one
> possibility.  And mantis has, iirc, dropped some hints that Weer 
> may not be dead (which I hope he will eventually flesh out).

So do I; but I think the evidence that Weer is dead is overwhelming, 
and will stand with that until and unless.

> > I don't see any particular evidence of Weer's lying, except perhaps to
> > himself, defensively. I'm not eliminating it as a possibility, mind, but
> I'd like to see where you think he's lying and why.
> > 
> I don't think that Weer has been definitively shown to be lying, which
> is why I put in  that "perhaps."  The best candidate for his lying is
> his account to Dan of the coldhouse prank, which I discussed in my
> earlier post.

My apologies; I should have said "lying in his account," as opposed to
lying to one or more of the people in his account. This makes a great
deal of difference.

> > > But I'm skeptical that "recreating" can be
> > > the master key to building "a coherent and consistent model," as you
> > > seem to be suggesting, at least one which is grounded in the text.
> > 
> > Okay, here's a bogey model.

[...model postponed...]

> That's why I put in the clause about being grounded in the text.  I
> don't think that this model is, although I've discussed this before and
> I don't expect you to agree with me.

Point by point.

> > Weer is dead, to begin with. 

I hope I don't have to show that this is grounded? Perhaps not proven, 
but certainly grounded.

> >                               In the grave 

I demur on "in the grave." The "freed by the fall of the tree" bit can
be interpreted as saying he is no longer in the grave; however, I did
not mean it as physical location.

> >                                         he is undergoing a process by
> > which he goes, or is led, through his life,

That he is in some sense going through his life is clear. "Is led" is
more questionable; it leads back to my speculation on the doctors, and
possibly others, as psychopomps. Certainly the words and actions of the
doctors seem to spark many of Weer's trips down memory lane; the only
real speculation here is that it is done deliberately.

> >                                             given the opportunity to
> > change his mind (a la the Chinese Pillow; but cf also "Its a Wonderful
> > Life"... H'mm, this paragraph is taking on a holiday theme...), "repent
> > of" his former decisions, and so achieve Peace.

Grounded, to begin with, in the title. A reading that doesn't make sense
of the title is (imo) not particularly interesting. As for "changing his
mind," I don't necessarily mean that he gets to change what actually 
happened, but at least he has the opportunity -- whether or not he takes
it -- to reevaluate his attitude toward it: thus the "repentance" angle. 
(I am still working with variations on the "purgatory" model, if that 
wasn't clear.) 

> > Two additional speculations help:
> > 1. This may be an iterative process, and we may be seeing only one
> >    loop (or part of one)

This obviously is pure speculation; primarily it's a way of accounting 
for the semicoherent opening and closing, but I can't really call it
"grounded" in the text.

> > 2. Weer may not be (almost certainly is not) aware of the nature of
> >    the process.

Grounding by negatives: granting per argumentam the major premise, there 
is nothing in the text that would suggest that Weer _is_ aware of it.


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

<--prev V30 next-->