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From: Alex David Groce <Alex_Groce@gs246.sp.cs.cmu.edu>
Subject: (whorl) The Anatomy of Melancholy
Date: Thu, 31 Aug 2000 13:28:24 

>To speak very broadly indeed, which I think is sometimes necessary 
>with Wolfe, it does strike me that the tonus (as distinguished from the 
>intellectual doctrinal structuring) of Wolfe's major works is anything but 
>Christian. Except maybe in certain parts of the book we are now 
>considering, the melacholia is profound: _In Blue's Waters_ , and many of 
>the later stories, are acts of heroism (it seems) against a very deep 
>sadness, which Christians (and others) might put a term to. I myself would 
>tend to cod gnosticism here: it feels like the occlusion or bondage of the 
>blinding world, to me. 

There are certainly some gnostic-seeming elements, but I think the key
may be to realize that Wolfe (even more than, say, Flannery O'Connor,
who was often seen as writing despairing or fundamentally pessimistic
fiction despite her claims otherwise) is artistically interested in
Christ-crucified more than Christ-triumphant, even in the moments of
revelation and transcendence (as at the end of URTH) in his work.
Rereading "The Death of Doctor Island" brought this point home.  Wolfe
loves Chesterton but really there is a huge difference in their
artistic attitudes to Christianity: Chesterton can't bear to damn a
character, even if it (possibly) hurts the work to avoid it (THE BALL
AND THE CROSS, for example) while Wolfe emphasizes, especially in his
short fiction, the extreme -jeopardy- of creatures with free will.
The deep sadness in Wolfe's work is a result of this, and while it is
doctrinally bounded, that bound is probably beyond fictional
exploration, as being beyond time.  Wolfe's work is time-haunted in
the extreme--especially with Severian there is an equation between
approaching divinity and stopping time (and raising the dead); but
that approach is asymptotic within the fiction's scope.

"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." John 8:32
Alex David Groce (agroce+@cs.cmu.edu)
Ph.D. Student, Carnegie Mellon University - Computer Science Department
8112 Wean Hall (412)-268-3066

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