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From: "Dan'l Danehy-Oakes" <ddanehy@siebel.com>
Subject: (whorl) Fallible Readers and Unreliable History
Date: Thu, 14 Jun 2001 11:08:57 

Summary: Anna June gets it, Adam doesn't, and Rostrum...

Quoth Adam:

> We "believe" in the accuracy of Horn's account because, as
> you wrote in an earlier post, it is a literary convention to
> accept a narrator as truthful and correct unless there is
> evidence that he/she is lying or misled.  And we "believe"
> in Silk's enlightenment because it makes for a better and
> more coherent book, in an aesthetic sense (this is not at
> all the same thing as your argument that the coherence of
> four separate accounts indicates the historicity of the
> Gospels).  

While I agree provisionally with you so far, I would note that 
one of the reasons I believe in the Gospels is that such belief, 
in my opinion, makes for a better and more coherent Universe --
at least, to the extent of my experiencing of it. Consider it a 
sort of existentialist jiujitsu: if I'm as radically free as 
all that, then I choose to live in a Universe where the Gospels 
are true, and I find that this converts the nausée of an 
inherently meaningless existence into joi. Some praise Sartre
and Camus and that log for their courage in resolutely facing 
the absurdity of life; I sneer at them for their rank silliness
in choosing to live life as if it were absurd.

More importantly, though:

> I doubt that either of these is the reason why a believer
> accepts the truth of the Gospels.  

Which is why, I'm afraid, you're still talking crossdiagonally 
to the point I'm actually shooting at.

The question is not why a believer accepts the truth of the 
Gospels, or why an unbeliever doesn't. That is a fundamental
choice. The question is this: no matter what stance one takes
vis-a-vis the divinity of Jesus, what access, if any, does an
informed and in-formed reading of the Gospels offer us to any
actual knowledge of events that went on in and around Jerusalem
in the first third-of-a-century AD? This question is actually
independent of the question of "belief."

Anna asks roughly the same question in a different way, 

> How are we, either as unbelievers or believers, to interpret 
> what actually happened when the Bible is insane? No offense 
> meant 

And none taken (at least on my part); I agree that trying to make 
a single linear sense of the Bible is not unlike going to a 
bookshelf where things have been put more-or-less haphazardly -- 
say, one of the bookshelves you find in rustic antique stores, 
covered with books bought at random -- then starting at one end of 
the shelf, and reading the books straight across -- and trying to 
read them as if they were a single multi-volume work. You might
encounter, in sequence, a condensed Gibbon, the autobiography of 
Richard Wagner, and the Chemical Rubber Company Handbook of 
Chemistry and Physics (34th edition). How do these flow into each 
other? Yet they are all "nonfiction," all descriptions at some
level of the same overarching reality.

Sorry. Got carried away there.

> ... it is self-contradictory - from Genesis 1 on! This is not
> questioned by the Catholic Church, either - Catholics are
> permitted to engage in Biblical criticism.

Two points:

1. The Catholic position is that the Bible is _not_ self-
contradictory, if read properly: that is, read as the record 
of a people's experience of and response to its God, rather 
than as history, biology, geology, archaeology, cosmology, etc.

2. Catholics are not merely permitted but encouraged to engage 
in Biblical criticism -- criticism meaning "an informed, 
intelligent, and questioning encounter with the text." In
this way Catholics may expect a better understanding of that
experience and response than they might get from a passively
literalist reading.

Need I say: I suspect that this is a proper position to take
wrt the Whorlbooks? That is:

1. The Whorlbooks are not self-contradictory if read properly:
that is, read as a record of Horn's and Silk's (fictional)
experiences and their response to those experiences, rather 
than as biography or history.

2. We, the readers, ought to engage these texts in an informed,
intelligent, and questioning way.

As this idea has been evolving in my head, I'm becoming more
convinced that the point here is not about what goes on in a 
_writer's_ head; it's about what goes on in a _reader's_ head.
One of the things I've loved about Wolfe since my first 
encounter with him (_tSotT_, and I still have my first printing,
nyaaaah) is the very deliberate way he forces the reader to
participate in the creation of the story; In the two Whorlish
Books, I think, he's taken the next step and made the reader's
participation in the story part of how the reader participates
in the story -- that is, these Books offer play for a thoughtful
reader to think about how she is participating in the creation 
of the story.

But I _still wonder if he's taken all too far...
("...but boy, could he play guitar")

Meanwhile, Adam again:

> I'll just say ... that contrary to what you imply above,
> there was indeed "deliberate suppression" of works regarded
> as heretical and anti-Christian 

Ummm... that is _not_ contradictory to what I imply, or at least
what I mean to imply (though clearly it is contradictory to what
you infer from what I wrote). I do not at all doubt that, after
the rise of the Church to political power, there was a deliberate
attempt to suppress "heretical and anti-Christian" texts; what I
was saying is that I don't think this attempt was quite as 
successful as you seem to be making out. If such "alternate" 
accounts had existed, I would expect that traces of them would
remain, if only in the form of the "quotations or discussions by 
Christian writers who were refuting them" you mention with respect
to later works.

On to Rostrum:

> I think this business of objective vs. subjective narration is
> an important theme of the Long/Short Sun books.  

I'd go further and say it's an important theme of _all_ Wolfe's
major work, at least from PEACE on.

> Wolfe is asking us to examine the assumptions we make when we read
> a story in third-person "omniwscient" voice; contrast them with the
> assumptions made when told a story from an individual's limited
> point of view; perhaps realize how unreal and artificial third
> person/omniscient views are when they describe what's going on
> inside other people's heads.  

Which raises the counter-question: how unreal and artificial does
something have to be to be inappropriate to a work of fiction, 
which describes a universe of discourse which is itself unreal and 
artificial. (This is only _more_ true of SF/F; it is always true 
of all fiction -- in which a postmodernist viewpoint would ask us 
to include all discourse, including the kind we call "non-fiction.")

> There's a big difference between Wolfe telling us Silk thought
> such-and-such and Horn telling us Silk thought such-and-such.

But is there? I wonder if this is one of the assumptions Wolfe is 
asking us to examine. Given the implied provenance of tBotLS, and
ignoring the question of n-generation copyist errors/alterations,
we have the Silk and the Horn who appear in the _Books_, and also 
the Silk and the Horn upon whom the characters in the _Books_ are
notionally based. So it would appear that the Silk and Horn who
appear in the _Books_ are a sort of second-order fiction, while the
Horn and Narr (and kids) who write the _Books_ are the first-order
fiction. Except, of course, that this reverses their remove from
_our_ reality: we have knowledge only of the "second-order" fictive
characters from the _Books_, and can only infer the "first-order"
characters; so which is farther removed from "reality"?

In either case: we have Wolfe telling us Silk thought such-and-such,
or we have Wolfe telling us that Horn tells us that Silk thought
such-and-such; and I am not entirely convinced that the difference
is quite as great as it looks at first. 

Narrative is not complete until someone reads it. When it is, a 
real person constructs imaginary events, scenery, persons, etc., 
in his or her head, on the basis of words on paper. Are the events
any more imaginary because the words fictively attribute themselves
to a fictional person? In either case, the (provisional) origin of
the words is a real person (i.e., Gene Wolfe); the question of our
trust in the fictional narrator is far less significant than (and,
ultimately, dependent upon) the question of our trust in the real 

In a sense, this is the same kind of game Wolfe's texts encourage
us to play in stories like "The Last Thrilling Wonder Story" and
even _PANDORA, by Holly Hollander_.

I distrust the word "deconstruct," but it seems exactly 
appropriate: Wolfe is undoing, in various ways, the construction
of the received relationships between the reader, the writer, and
the narrator (and Wolfe uses a wide array of narrators: the first-
person narrator; the first-person narrator whose name is Gene 
Wolfe; the impersonal third-person narrator; the third-person
narrator whose name is Gene Wolfe; the fictional third person

> it turns out Wolfe himself doesn't ask us to assume the existence
> of the Outsider for the story, he merely creates characters who
> believe it

...while at the same time, setting up the story so that you can only
disbelieve the Outsider's reality (in the Lupiverse) by presuming 
that Horn/the Narrator writes in extreme bad faith. To be

> moved by Silk's inner life, by the prayers he offers,

etc., is to receive a kind of shock when we realize that Horn
made it up. But how is this different from Wolfe making it up?
Either way, it's a fiction; either way, a writer has told us
imaginary events that move us. 

Finally, this: 

> If I believe in Silk's goodness and Silk's god ..., it's not just
> because Wolfe asked me to believe it so that he could tell me a
> story based on that assumption, but because he created characters
> who convinced me to believe in them and I've chosen to do so.

Or, in writer's-workshop terms (which are actually often very 
useful from a critical standpoint): Wolfe has come up with an 
interesting way to put into practice the age-old dictum, "Show,
don't tell." By having Horn _tell_ us how he feels about Silk,
Wolfe _shows_ us how Silk affects Horn; by receiving this, we
feel some sense of Silk's actual goodness.

The question, then, is why some readers find more-or-less the same
technic unconvincing when Horn's sons tell us how they feel about
the Narrator at the end of _Short_. I suspect this is for a couple
of reasons, of which not the least important is sheer metafictive
exhaustion. The revelation of Horn as the narrator of _Long_ comes
at the end of a long story which has (mostly) been free of overt
metafictive content; the Editors' comments at the end of _Short_
follow three volumes of overt metafictional tactics.


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