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From: William Ansley <wansley@warwick.net>
Subject: Re: (urth) Grounded in the text?
Date: Fri, 8 Dec 2000 00:03:52 

At 1:42 PM -0800 12/6/00, Dan'l Danehy-Oakes wrote:
>Adam Stephanides wrote:


>  >  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.)

I can't let this pass without comment. I am sure I won't change your 
mind Dan'l, but as far as I am concerned, the only reasonable choice 
from your list of who Weer could be addressing when he says "ladies" 
in the passage you quote above is number 3. I really have no idea 
what you mean when you say choice number 1 is the most 'coherent.'

We have a book written by a dead man who doesn't know he is dead, and 
who seems to believe that he can send his mind back into the past to 
earlier parts of his life and yet doesn't seem to think that this is 
at all unusual. (Here I a describing what it seems to me that Weer 
believes is happening to him rather than what is "really" happening 
to him, assuming that what is really happening in the context of 
_Peace_ can ever be determined.) When he does send his mind back into 
the past, it has a strong tendency to bounce around, as the past 
events he encounters recall other past events ("Billy Pilgrim has 
come unstuck in time.") Various parts of what seems to be the past 
blend together with each other and also with what seems to be the 
present. I am not sure using coherency as the basis for analysis make 

 From the beginning of the book to the passage you quote, Weer's "time 
travels" seem to go like this. (I have the Orb paperback edition of 
_Peace_ handy and I will have to use page numbers from it. The 
passage you quote above from page 13 of the Berkley edition spans 
pages 13 and 14 in the Orb edition.)

Page  Time/Place
----  ----------
1     Weer's house in the present
3     Dr. Van Ness's waiting room (Weer is about 40-45?)
4     Weer's childhood home at the time of his 5th birthday party
6-7   Weer returns to his house in the present
8     Back to Weer's 5th birthday
10    Weer's childhood home at some unspecified time in the kitchen
       listening to Hannah
12    Dr. Van Ness's office, seemingly at the same time as on p. 3
13    Back to the birthday party
13-14 The quoted passage in Weer's house, back in the present

I have not done justice to the intricate structure of this first 
brief part of the book. There are two or three short passages I have 
left out where Weer's attention returns to the "present," as if he is 
just reminiscing about his past.  But the idea that we are just 
reading reminiscences seems to be contradicted when the Weer in the 
past talks as if he is a visitor from the future.

But, leaving all this aside, I think there is textual evidence that 
Weer is addressing the ladies at his fifth birthday party. On p. 5 we 
see this: "There is a white Pekinese as big as a spaniel at her feet, 
and it snarls when anyone comes too near. (Laugh, ladies, but 
Ming-Sno will bite.)" It is not clear who made this remark (perhaps 
Weer is recalling something his Aunt Olivia said), but it is 
obviously addressed to the ladies at Weer's 5th birthday party. It 
seems clear to me that when Were echoes the word "ladies" later he is 
referring to the same group of people.

When Weer does address his readers in _Peace_ he talks directly to 
us, most of the time implicitly, but on p. 83, directly. "(Have you 
never thought as you read that months may lie between any pair of 
words?)" I find _Peace_ much more coherent if Weer always addresses 
his readers consistently, rather than sometimes deciding to address 
them in the third person and as if they are all female.

You say that my interpretation (and Adam's) "involves a level of 
incoherency [on Weer's part] where he simply cannot distinguish 
between the porch and the party." Obviously, I disagree. In my view, 
Weer's mind has just returned from his 5th birthday party back to the 
"present" and he is addressing the people he has just (in effect) 
left, quite as he or I (or perhaps even you) might make a remark to 
someone who has just left the room, even if we are sure he or she 
cannot hear us any longer.

I am sure that this was a lengthy (and boring) exercise in futility, 
but when I tell someone he is dead wrong, I like to try to explain 

William Ansley

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

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