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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: Fri, 15 Jun 2001 09:27:32 

--- Michael Straight <straight@email.unc.edu> wrote:
> On Wed, 13 Jun 2001, Jerry Friedman wrote:
> > 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.
> I disagree on two grounds.
> 1.  I think this business of objective vs.
> subjective narration is an
> important theme of the Long/Short Sun books.  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.  In
> real life, we never know
> that.  We have to take it on faith that inner life
> inside other people's
> heads even exists; we can never observe it for
> ourselves.  There's a big
> difference between Wolfe telling us Silk thought
> such-and-such and Horn
> telling us Silk thought such-and-such.
> 2.  Contrary to your opinion, I think this ambiguity
> is much more
> aesthetically interesting (different tastes, I
> guess).

Right--sorry I didn't allow for that in my post.

> I thought it was
> quite striking that Wolfe seemed to begin the Long
> Sun series asking us to
> accept the existence of a God who enlightens Silk as
> an axiom.  Just when
> I'd started to take it for granted, Crane invited me
> to re-examine it
> (even if his explanation turns out not to be very
> plausible), which I
> thought was very interesting.  And then Horn shows
> up and throws the whole
> thing into question again--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.  Again, much more
> interesting.
> I've said before, I was quite moved by Silk's inner
> life, by the prayers
> he offers, particularly the progression, comparing
> the long prayers to the
> Nine he makes in prison with the similar long prayer
> to the Outsider.  So
> I was shocked when Horn revealed himself and I began
> to ponder how much of
> that Horn could really have known, how much was the
> way Silk wished to
> present himself to others, how much Horn's wishful
> thinking.  For me,
> pondering those issues gave me lots to think about
> after reading the books
> and upon re-reading them, and I think it makes the
> series much stronger,
> deeper, and more interesting.
> In a sense, I get to participate in the story.  If I
> believe in Silk's
> goodness and Silk's god (and I do!--in the context
> of the story, I mean),
> 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.

Part of the reason for my lack of interest in the
reliability of Wolfe's narrators is that this goes
back a hundred years, to Henry James (at least).  I
don't see much difference, for example, between the
editorial comments in TBotsS and those in _Ada_.  And
speaking of Nabokov, I don't see anything
metafictional in any of the __ Sun books that compares
to _Pale Fire_, which I strongly recommend to all
Lycophiles who haven't read it.

However, for those of you who like this sort of thing
(that means you too, Dan'l)--well, you're probably
aware of this but just haven't mentioned it--but I'll
remind you that in _TBotNS_ there's also a fictional
Wolfe who translates Severian's manuscript (and has
seen some of the era's few extant buildings).  That
adds yet another layer to the possible unreliability,
as the fictional Wolfe could be either mistranslating
(and he comments on the problems he has) or improving
the story.  Aren't we supposed to imagine something
similar in the Whorl books?

Cf., by the way, not only "The Last Thrilling Wonder
Story" but also _The Lord of the Rings_, in which
the fictional Tolkien explains some features of his
translation.  In fact, I find the questions of
translation more entertaining than those of
reliability.  Is the "high tongue" of Viron really
Spanish, or some not-yet-existent language that Wolfe
chooses to render as Spanish?  Why is there a k in

As for your real point--maybe I just missed the shock
of Horn's revealing himself and wondering what I was
supposed to doubt.  But for me, reading a story by
Horn isn't *that* different from reading a story by

Jerry Friedman

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