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From: Michael Straight <straight@email.unc.edu>
Subject: Re: (whorl) Fallible Narrators and Even More Fallible Copyists: a
Date: Mon, 11 Jun 2001 09:10:41 

On Sun, 10 Jun 2001, Dan'l Danehy-Oakes wrote:

> Now, I didn't really get that kind of shock out of the revelation 
> that "I, Horn, wrote this years later, with some help." What I 
> _did_ get out of it was a weird sense that Wolfe had patterned 
> this whole thing somehow after model the Catholic church
> uses to describe the formation of the (written) Gospels.

I didn't get into that specifically, but, yes, this is exactly what I had
in mind too.

One of my favorite parallels:  Luke and Acts are thought to have been
written by the same person (arguably, "Luke").  Luke is all third person,
and Acts is almost entirely third person until about 2/3 of the way
through (in the fourth part if you divided the two books into four parts)
the narrator suddenly says, "and then we got ready to leave for
Macedonia" (Acts 16:10).

> Now, when Rostrum writes, "Perhaps Wolfe is being a gentleman; he
> doesn't insist that you accept the existence of God in order to 
> enjoy his story," I disagree rather vehemently; to deny Silk's 
> enlightenment is to make the whole LONG SUN (and, by transference, 
> SHORT) fall apart, meaningless and incoherent. 

I strongly disagree.  Horn believes that Silk was enlightened, and perhaps
Silk believed it.  But I don't think Silk's story is completely incoherent
or unexplainable without it.  It's certainly possible Silk simply had some
sort of moment of inspiration in which he decided he ought to try to save
the manteion (or decided that the Outsider wanted him to save the
manteion).   People point to Silk having received otherwise unavailable
knowledge from his enligtenment, but its nothing Horn would not have known
at the time he wrote the story.  It's not like Horn even uses this as
"proof" that Silk was enlightened, so it wouldn't necessarily have been
bad faith if he just added those parts because he believed Silk must have
had some sort of revelation.   

Did Jesus really predict the fall of Jerusalem, or is that something the
gospel writers added in later?  

Now I agree that the most satisfying reading of Silk's story involves
trusting Horn and his descendents and accepting Silk's enlightenment, but
I still say that Wolfe (1) doesn't cheat by saying "yes, it's true, I know
because I'm omniscient" (interviews excluded) and (2) still gives you a
good, if more tragic story should you choose to think Silk and Horn were

But then I'm the guy who thinks "Westwind" may be a sinister story.

> Still, I agree that "[t]here is a sense in which telling a story 
> from a third-person, omniscient viewpoint is cheating." 
> There is. And there is another sense in which all stories are
> told from that viewpoint, even those told by a limited and
> unreliable first-person narrator. The reader (well, all but the
> most childlike and passive reader) sits outside the universe of 
> discourse and, if not omniscient, is at least outside the 
> viewpoint of the narrator, judging it. Without that basic fact, 
> the concept of an unreliable narrator would be entirely 
> meaningless.

Sure that happens, but I'm not sure that means it's a good idea.  I'm not
sure, but I have the suspicion that allowing ourselves to really believe
in that feeling of having an outside, objective viewpoint is the source of
many evils.  "Unreliable narrator" may in fact be a meaningless, or at
least tautologous concept.  Or rather, it's the idea of a completely
reliable narrator that is a fallacy.

> Again: "We never know the world that way."
> No, we don't. But somehow we _conceive_ the world that way. We have
> a sense that there is a single, coherent reality, even if our own
> limited knowledge can never get at it. 

This is a good point.  We're always telling ourselves 3rd-person
omniscient stories about the world.  Is that a mistake?  I don't know.


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