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Date: Sat, 30 Mar 2002 06:41:37 -0800
Subject: Re: (urth) system of langauge
From: Jason Ingram 

I agree that examining the force of language in the Short Sun series 
would be extremely productive, but I would accentuate different 
elements.  My predisposition is towards a rhetorical rather than a 
semiotic analysis; I would emphasize a movement from the text outward to 
readers.  Before outlining what I mean by this, I want to go through 
parts of Marc's post to detail areas of agreement and disagreement.

> Let's assume for this case the minimal supernatural stuff has gone on:

I don't think this assumption is helpful, as it dismisses most of the 
story.  Retaining the semiotic analysis along with much of the plot 
seems more productive.  If we become too suspicious of the text, we 
could end up reducing the whole narrative to a Freudian melodrama (he 
isn't really Silk, he just identifies with Silk as a 'transitional 
object'; he doesn't really encounter inhumi, he's just worried about his 
ego boundaries; he doesn't actually ever leave Urth (or earth), he's 
just dreaming about a messianic figure who defeats the evil tyrant 
Typhon (or his father, who he wants to become--thus the identification 
with patera silk)).

> He assumes that man's identity, and then seeks to create a meaningful 
> assertion of his identity using prepackaged langauge that does not 
> belong to him:

This is an interesting way to look at Silk's gradual emergence from 
Horn's persona.  I've been meaning to chart the gradual shifts in 
Silkhorn's conversational style as he becomes more and more like Silk.  
This is difficult, since our initial view of Silk is mediated through 
Horn's writing.  Interesting irony, though: in TBOLS, we think we're 
reading Silk when we're really reading Horn's take on Silk; whereas in 
TBOSS we're reading what we think is Horn, but turns out to be Silk 
writing and speaking through Horn.

It seems like some sort of semiotic analysis is *necessary* to sort 
through the various personae, and the frame of a "language that is not 
one's own" would prove quite helpful to that end.

> the story of the search for Silk turns
> into a method and a process through which Silk can find himself again- 
> by
> telling the story.  He attempts to defer death for Horn as long as he 
> can (I
> am paralleling the drive for the end of plot with the Thanatos syndrome 
> of
> Freud here).  The plot exists for as long as he can stave back an 
> account of
> death from the text.  When Horn TRULY dies, he must face up to his own
> identity - and he needs the story as extended therapy.

I don't think Fraud's theory of the death drive helps much to sort this 
out; it seems to be more of a struggle for recognition.   Silk/Horn 
denies the recognition of others, continually maintaining his identity 
as Horn despite 'clear' evidence to the contrary.  Horn dies--his 
physical death in the lander is conceded in the text, I believe, long 
before the narrator gives up on being Horn--and yet maintains that he is 
Horn for some time.  Eventually, he recognizes himself and begins to 
mourn in earnest.  This sequence does more to critique Freud than to 
support him (at least, the Freud of "Mourning and Melancholia" and 
perhaps even of _Civilization  and its Discontents_).

Still, viewing the narrative as a process of therapy sheds valuable 
light on the story.  It also could provide an interesting twist on 
theories involving the "death of the author"-- cf. Foucault (the 'Silk 

[tangent: the projection of memories and habits from one body to another 
raises important questions about identity.  SF is a privileged site for 
thinking about such issues, and the theme of possession woven throughout 
the short sun and long sun series has long intrigued me.  For isntance: 
why can't Pas or anyone else download their personality into more than 
one vessel at a time?  If the 'soul/self' is singular in some way, then 
how could these personalities have been uploaded without expunging the 
soul/self from the original?]

> As a schema for how fantastic literature might apply to real life, I 
> find this
> particular picture kind of interesting.  It admits that language can be 
> stolen
> from its original context, abused, and misinterpreted; it also allows a
> construction of self-identity through an assumed plot for anyone 
> involved in
> that theft.

Language is always adapted and altered; struggles over proper 
representation and proper context create standards that, later, come to 
seem natural (perhaps akin to Bloom's "anxiety of influence").  
Narratives certainly do help us to make sense of who we are, and shape 
the use and development of technology.

I think individual therapy is less salient than other themes in TBOSS, 

the sense of wonder and mystery evoked by Wolfe's narrative form,
silk as role model (the content of his message, the form he uses to 
convince people, and his dynamic balance of love, eloquence, and prowess 
in battle),
the ethical relation to the Other evoked by the 'inhumi problem',
property relations and representations of ineffective components of 
social orders,
imagination (still quite muddled for me), and, perhaps most important 


These aspects of the books, I would argue, leave traces in attentive 

> Perhaps the Book of the Short Sun illustrates how a closed system of 
> language
> can still have a universal application even after it is (indeed, 
> especially
> after it is) stolen from its original context (in this case, from the 
> mouth of
> the real Horn).

Quibbles: I'm not sure how language can be a 'closed system' or how any 
context or origin can be pure (e.g. who or what is the "real" Horn, and 
how can we tell without changing that representation of the real?).

(Well, perhaps a self-caused being could have a pure origin, but that 
isn't sufficient to allow a pure context for interpretative access)

> In other words, the text presents a model for overcoming the particular
> constraints and limitations of a fantastic story in order to reapply it 
> in a
> useful way for a reader/analyst.  Which might be a nice way to justify 
> the
> study of fantastic literature in school.  Even though it's not real - 
> it can
> still be real.

A good way of putting it, though I still favor the centrifugal approach 
over the centripetal.  I balk at debunking Silk's eventual identity with 
Horn, but agree that an approach combining therapeutic, hermeneutic, and 
moments has considerable value.

Thanks for these insights, Marc


P.S. I agree that speculative fiction can be quite useful in the 
classroom, but I also fear that assigning any book makes it far less 
enjoyable, and subverts much that is valuable about reading the 
fantastic ("What do we need to know about astral projection for the 
midterm?"  "Will you grade us down if we argue in our paper that the 
protagonist isn't a tree?")


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