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From: "Dan'l Danehy-Oakes" <ddanehy@siebel.com>
Subject: RE: (whorl) Fallible Narrators and Even More Fallible Copyists:
Date: Fri, 15 Jun 2001 10:15:20 

Jerry Friedman wrote:

> 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_.  

I must disagree on theoretical grounds. The discourse of
SF uses rhetorical devices -- and the tactics of the 
unreliable narrator, the "editorial" comment, and 
metafictional devices generally _are_ rhetorical devices,
that is, tools in the rhetorical toolchest of the writer 
(at least, the writer of narrative) -- in a fundamentally
different way than does the discourse of MF*.

* MF: A term I've been using for some years, though I
  haven't had much call for it on this group. Just as
  the S in SF may refer to "Science" or "Speculative"
  [or "San" if you live in Northern California], so
  the M in MF refers ambiguously/ambivalently to 
  "mimetic" and "mundane," the latter _not_ intended
  as a faanish put-down term but as a descriptive term
  for "stuff that is about the 'real' world."

The writer of MF is ostensibly writing about the world that 
is the case. (Elided: not only the basic fact that all fiction 
is about fictive worlds, but the more problematic question of 
whether _any_ narrative can reasonably be called "non-
fiction.") This is true even of the MF writer who wanders into 
bizarre fantasy -- Kathy Acker, say, or William S. Burroughs. 
These writers are writing about (their?) subjective experience 
of the objectively-"real" world; even when they seem to be
saying that there is no objective reality, that is still 
their experience or description of the consensus(?) reality.

The writer of SF, by contrast, is explicitly writing about a 
fictive world, which exists in a kind of dialogue with the
world that is the case. Every detail of the SF writer's 
fictive world in some way comments-by-contrast upon the "real" 
world: even the parts that resemble the "real" world, by their 
presence, announce that (in the mind of _this_ writer) these 
things remain stable even when these other parts of reality 
are destabilized. The most explicit statement of this I can 
think of is the end of Wells' THE TIME MACHINE:

     And I have by me, for my comfort, two strange white 
     flowers - shrivelled now, and brown and flat and 
     brittle - to witness that even when mind and strength 
     had gone, gratitude and a mutual tenderness still 
     lived on in the heart of man.

So how do editorial comments, etc., work in SF? 

Simply: The discourse of MF creates a fictional series of events
among a fictional set of persons set in an ostensibly-real world. 
A wide range of rhetorical devices add subjective depth to the
fictional persons. The particular devices under discussion function
in MF to destabilize/cast doubt (primarily) on the events and 
(secondarily) on the character of the persons.

The discourse of SF creates a fictional series of events among
a fictional set of persons set in an explicitly-fictional world.
Those rhetorical devices which add subjective depth to MF function 
primarily to add "objective" depth to the fictional world of the
SF text, as do a host of additional rhetorical devices evolved
within the stfnal tradition. The particular devices under discussion
function in SF to destabilize/cast doubt on the discursive reality

More grossly: an MF writer, using metafiction and similar techniques, 
may be suggesting (for example) that we cannot have any objective 
knowledge of "reality;" an SF writer, using metafiction and similar
techniques, is commenting upon the "real" world by contrasting it 
with a hypothetical world, but problematizing the contrast by 
denying us (the sense that we have) any stable knowledge of the 
hypothetical world.

> And speaking of Nabokov, I don't see anything metafictional in
> any of the __ Sun books that compares to _Pale Fire_, 

I'm afraid I found it turgid. But I was a lot younger then; perhaps
I should give it another try.

> 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).  

Hadn't mentioned because I hadn't _thought_ about it. You're
quite right.

> 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.  

D'oh! And me a Tolkienologist. Well... to tell the truth, though,
I think Tolkien's intent is exactly opposed to Wolfe's; Wolfe,
as you note, casts doubt on his "translation" simply by _making_
it a translation; Tolkien seeks to grant his subcreation a greater
sense of historicity and "reality" by an apparently similar (but
functionally quite different) tactic.

> Why is there a k in "Duko"?

Because "Duo" would sound dumb?


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