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From: Jerry Friedman <jerry_friedman@yahoo.com>
Subject: RE: (whorl) Fallible Narrators and Even More Fallible Copyists: a Textual Con sideration of the "Book of Silk"
Date: Wed, 13 Jun 2001 14:59:18 

--- Dan'l Danehy-Oakes <ddanehy@siebel.com> wrote:

> > > -- presenting to us, in a fictive and
> cognitively "safe" 
> > > context, the problem of teasing out the
> historical facticity
> > > that lies behind the Gospels. 
> > I sort of agree.  I think Wolfe is clearly
> inspired by the way the
> > church receives the Gospels, but I think he's
> making broader points
> > that have wider applicability than just an
> apologetic framework for
> > considering the Gospels.
> Oddly enough, I wasn't thinking of this project as
> apologetic. 
> Rather, I was thinking of it as experiential --
> taking the 
> experience of having this manuscript, with a certain
> kind of 
> provenance, and just knowing that, however it may
> vary from the
> historical _fact_, it is in essence _true_.
> I agree that it has wider applicability than the
> Gospels; I suspect
> that this experience has two general applications:
> 1. A general approach to our reaction to ancient
> manuscripts -- to
>    our only real source of knowledge of the history
> of the world 
>    before the modernist project of factual accuracy.
> 2. A general approach to how religious persons
> approach their
>    sacred texts. It has, as noted, a very strong
> sense (to me at
>    least) of relation to Luke; but it might be
> applicable to the
>    Qu'ran or the Rig-Veda or God wot what all; the
> point being that
>    we have various "scriptures," documents which, to
> their 
>    respective communities of faith, describe the
> most important
>    events or facts or truths in the world, but which
> by their
>    very nature _cannot_ be backed up in any
> factitious way. I 
>    could as easily say "Oh -- is _this_ what it's
> like to 
>    believe the Book of Mormon, despite all the
> evidence against 
>    it?": but for all I know, there may be a member
> of the LDS
>    Church on this list, and the last thing I want to
> do is give offense.

If I may introduce my non-religious perspective--
people read novels for reasons quite different from
those they read the Gospels or Qur'an or Rig-Veda for.
In a novel, we look for literary merits such as
"fantasy, color, and pathos" (from "The Tale of the
Rose and the Nightingale...").

I can enjoy stories in which the fantasy is ambiguous
("Bezhin Meadow" by Turgenev, _A Case of Conscience_,
and I think lots of Lupines would like Nabokov's _Pale
Fire_).  But that doesn't work for me in the "Book of
the [Foo] Sun", as you called it.  If we imagine that
Severian was deluded when he had his epiphany on the
beach, that the Hierodules were lying to him, that
Silk wasn't enlightened, that our narrator couldn't
astrally project to other planets, then the stories
lose a good deal of fantasy and color with no
compensating gain that I can see.
> > > H'mmmm.  But then, I think the Gospels are
> incoherent unless 
> > > you assume that Jesus was divine. 
> > Here's where I think you're making the connection
> too closely. 
> > Wolfe may agree with you about the Gospels, but
> that doesn't
> > necessarily mean that he intends the Long
> Sun/Short Sun books
> > to be incoherent if you don't believe in the
> Outsider.
> I tend to agree while disagreeing. I believe that he
> tried to 
> write something that you could do a Crane on --
> explain everything
> away -- but to write it so that these explanations
> would sound
> contrived and improbable. I also believe he
> succeeded at this.

Whether skeptical explanations sound contrived and
improbable is important when evaluating putative
sacred texts (if that's something one is interested
in).  In the Long/Short Sun books, I think the
important thing is that that those explanations are
literarily pointless (unlike the ambiguity in _A Case
of Conscience_, which is a large part of the point).

It may be mildly amusing for us readers to note that
a fictional reader on New Viron is in much the same
position as a reader of the Gospels, but I don't think
that means we readers get anything out reacting the
same way as someone for whom the truth of the
narrative is important.

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