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January 12th, 2010

As the editor puns: "Peter & the Wolfe." (1) [Jan. 12th, 2010|09:48 am]
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Shadows of the New Sun: Wolfe on Writing / Writers on Wolfe edited by Peter Wright.

The unicorn spoke:
"Genetic engineering
made me. & magic."

I picked this up when I finished Shadow of the Torturer for New Year, New Sun, since I then lent the book to Jenny to read. I wanted to keep up the momentum of the project, so I was more than happy to dip into some of the Wolfe literary criticism I've been sitting on for a bit. In this case, it isn't so much lit crit as it is interviews with Gene Wolfe. Wolfe gives wild interviews; fully sardonic, the Wolf Himself. Every so often, someone musters up the courage to ask him a direct question about the text, & unlike so many authors he doesn't quibble or prevaricate. If he wants to, he answers. Straight up. Because that is the kind of wizard he is. He can show you the cards up his sleeve but it won't help you figure out how he did the trick. & when I say trick, I don't mean deception of obfuscation. He got you where he wanted you to go; the ambiguity & doubt & puzzles all come together with a click, leaving you wondering-- "how did he do that?"

Here are some of the things that caught my eye, that dawned on me. The first, I didn't grab a page number for-- I might just have put two & two together based on an off-handed comment. I mentioned taking note of the drowning motif; it seems clear to me now that this is linked to baptism. Not necessarily Christian or or Catholic baptism; or well, I think it could be argued that Wolfe might see dunking across the spectrum as a recapitulation of Christian baptism. Ontology recapitulates phylogeny, so to speak. Lets see, there is a list of early influences which includes Lovecraft & Tolkien of course, & Chesterton & engineering books, & caps off with Proust & Gunter Grass, & reminds me that I want to read Gormenghast (16). Then before you know it, Wolfe drops a bit of popular superstition that somehow I've avoided: if you plant a tree on a grave, & that tree dies, then the ghost in the grave is freed (41"). Suddenly, Peace is crystal clear, especially given the first line. Just a page latter in his interview, Gene Wolfe talks about meeting his characters, as has Alan Moore & Neil Gaiman (42). Well of course he does; he summoned them up, didn't he? Later, he flips from "conservative" sounding enshrinement of freedom to dissing the automobile & lauding mass transit (105). Nice knowing Gene Wolfe has reasonable sounding political opinions; I probably disagree with a lot of them but they aren't false polarizations. Not that that is surprising.

Later in that same interview (with James Jordan) he's asked about Severian's lameness (as in, Severian the Lame) & the limp of the hero in "Hero as Werwolf," putting them in a biblical context with comparison to Jacob. Well, I think that is stopping awfully short; you've got your Oedipus, you've got, well, a whole slew of injury to feet equating to a connection with the divine. Carlo Ginzburg talks about it in Ecstasies, going into Cinderella's lost slipper & gods whose statues are mysteriously wearing only one shoe...there is something happening here. Then there is the interview where buds one of his most beloved quotes, a thing I've said myself, & found happy agreement from Wofle: "Magical Realism is fantasy written by people who speak Spanish" (132). He follows it up with a few jokes about learning to pass as a normal person-- I'm doing so well, aren't I (146)? There is talk as to the nature of aliens-- the Cumean is an alien but not an inhumi, the Neighbors are not Hierodules (180). Fair enough, but I don't care so much: is Father Inre an inhumi? Are the aboriginals in Fifth Head of Cerebus? Are the Woldercon? Jordan also asks Wolfe if Blue & Green are one of several options: Urth, Lune, Ushas; all in different configurations (188). Oh quit it! I don't think it is any of those, ask if it is Sainte Anne & Sainte Croix, which is what I think they are. Oh, & while speaking to the recursion of The Book of the New Sun in the Borgesian library, he drops a figure as to the age of Urth-- just something off the tongue-- putting it at "over a million years of history." Maybe (195). Still, I'm going ot shorthand that when I think about how old Urth is. Also! Wolfe talks about the enemies of empire, citing Change, Wealth & War as the heralds of democracy & showing how they Chinese, English, & Russian aristocracies, while Stagnation, Poverty, & Peace bring stratification & nobility, pointing at the cattle & oil tycoons in Texas, calling their cattle brands their coats of arms (198). Super rich stuff.

I also took down a bunch of page numbers for use in the eventual discussion about Wolfe & Women, noting especially his comments on the Trivigaunte. I will save them for later, but in case you are curious: 52, 77, 111, 122, & 179.
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