April 3rd, 2011

olympian

WeerWolfe. (37)

The Long and the Short of It: More Essays on the Fiction of Gene Wolfe by Robert Borski.

Strange: Babbie the Hus!
I'd forgotten about him,
Apocalypse Beast.

There isn’t a lot of academic thought about Gene Wolfe’s work, but there ought to be. Borski labors in the same salt mines where Andre-Dru? & Peter W. work, & I’m thankful to him for it. I share their sentiments; Gene Wolfe is a writer whose work demands that the reader put their nose to the grindstone. I’d previously read Robert Borski’s Solar Labyrinths & found it somewhat wanting—a number of the theses (thread in hand, traversing the maze) I thought were reaching a little far. As I recall, it was more gematria than literary criticism. Mister Borski makes a self-effacing comment to that end as well, however, which assuages a great deal of guilt (85). I’ll forgive a lot when the author doesn’t take themselves too seriously. There is also the fact that The Long & the Short of It is a superior volume, rendering up all kinds of fascinating observations. On a few subjects, I still think Borski over-reaches…but in an ambitious way, not in a madcap sort of way. There are two major concerns with litcrit; the fear that the analyzer isn’t really taking the text seriously, & the flip side—that they might be taking the text too seriously. Borski steers clear of both, & when he goes off the deep end, I’m willing to indulge him.

The Long & the Short of It starts off strong, with Borski diving into The Fifth Head of Cerebus, which I think stands as a monumental success in Wolfe’s oeuvre. Starting off strong, he mentions in passing that the “lame foot” motif is popular in Wolfe’s work, owing in large part to Wolfe’s childhood battle with polio (4). This thread weaves in & out of Wolfe’s corpus, & Borski chases it till you can take it for granted—though I find it very rewarding (17-18, 60, 73). Carlo Ginzburg wrote very illuminatingly on the “lame foot” in pre-Christian Europe in his book Ecstasies & now I can’t help but attach a great deal of meaning to it; no mere quirk of narrative, if you ask me. That is just scratching the surface! Borski goes on to delve into the identity of “the lady in pink” mentioned in the text, joining the subject to the idea of Number Five’s “missing” sister, & a quest through dubious paternities that unites scattered elements in two different novellas in The Fifth Head of Cerebus. Some of his conclusions are those that the community of Wolfe readers has come to take as canon—the name of Number Five being notable among them-- & some are things I’ve only privately thought to myself, such as the lieutenant known only as Maitre’s identity: he’s clearly David, Number Five’s brother, if you ask me (35, 9, 15). Similarly, Mister Borski gives the name the shadow children give themselves when there is just one present—Wolf—a great deal of weight, as do I (14). Borski then identifies the “scars” of the alien aborigines, using them as an identifying mark throughout the text (8, 50). Given my contention—that the abos are the same thing as the inhumi are the same thing as the Woldercon—I am looking forward to using it as a guidepost on my next re-reading of the related primary sources.

I also found Robert Borski’s idea that Mister Wolfe’s novel Peace is a text which bears fruit when read with an alchemical rubric a rather fascinating one. When he began to discuss Olive’s suitors as an aspect of the chemical wedding, I was intrigued, but when he went through the chapters, viewing them as aspects in the purification of the Philosophers stone—nigredo, albedo, &c—I was floored (23, 27). I think Peace may well be The Book of Gold in Master Ultan’s library. I am less convinced by Borski’s use of Faust to decipher Peace, though I will agree that Weer’s strange afterlife is a fractal pattern, turning ever inward on itself (26). An antiphon to Clive Staples Lewis’s “further up & futher in!” onion-heaven, perhaps? Chapter Four, “Wolves in the Fold,” is also a wonderful piece of scholarship. Borski chases the white Wolfes through the corridor’s of Gene Wolfe’s collected works, digging out a number of the author’s self-insertions. Here, Borski’s attraction to etymology serves him well—of course Ouen is Gene, how could I have missed it (36)? Robert Borski has a fondness for referring to many aspects of Gene Wolfe’s work as “lupine,” but here he shows his pedigree. He spends a great deal of time speculating that Latro, eponymous hero of that series, is a werewolf (37). I disagree, but I will certainly agree that he is a wereWolfe, & that there is kinship between the two.

There is a brief interlude later in the book about sexuality called “Marschian Sexuality”—an topic of Gene Wolfe’s that I think most people shy away from. Myself included. Gene Wolfe doesn’t flinch from reality, from the dismal underbelly—rape exists in Wolfe’s stories, & sometimes features in it. So too does child molestation. Not in a prurient fashion but rather—well, these things are real, & exist in our world. Gene Wolfe simply acknowledges that they would exist in a plausible fantasy world as well, as uncomfortable a truth as that may be. Not to lump all gender issues into the same category, but I’d also argue that “In Looking-Glass Castle” isn’t a “feminism gone awry” tale so much as a “world gone awry” tale, as many of Mister Wolfe’s are, that happens to be feminist (91). I will also say here that there is a flaw in The Long & the Short of It that really bothers me, that really sticks in my craw—Borski casually tosses off the word “tranny” at one point, & I’m not okay with that (57). The term is a slur, & just as you’d flinch writing any other slur—we’re not talking about Huck Finn here, but a critical work—I was taken aback reading it here. For shame.

Robert Borski ends this collection of essays with a rather long one called “Penumbrae of the Short Sun,” which goes into the myriad puzzles scattered throughout Gene Wolfe’s Book of the Short Sun. I have to confess—I’ve only read it once, & it was immediately following The Book of the Long Sun. I’m due a re-read of both, come to think of it. Borski makes a number of conjectures regarding the scattered fragments of godhead throughout the dramatis personae, & well. I’m not sure I agree, but given the fact that possession is treated almost like a game of checkers by the gods of the Whorl, I can’t discount them. I will say that I’m not swayed by his contention that Pas nee Typhon was one of the Neighbors, though the name “Windcloud” is suspicious (107). Thinking about it, however, led me to entertain the notion that the Neighbors may be the gods of Mainframe after the fact—doesn’t Pas plan to “Lord” over Blue (110)? Of course, we’d have to fiddle with time travel to make that fit…but that is par for the course. Just a notion. I was also unmoved by the theory that The Mother was Scylla—to me, the humanoid form of The Mother was just the same as the winking bioluminescence on the tip of a deep sea angler fish—though when Borski brought up the “great fish” in The Book of the Long Sun, I reconsidered somewhat (111, 135, 117). Still, I think The Mother more likely shares a patronage with Abaia, & that the Godlings (like Pig) share a common root with Baldanders in The Book of the New Sun. Speaking of Pig—Mister Borski’s notion that Pig attacked Silk is an interesting one, as I previously ascribed to the theory that Silk had committed suicide & left it there (125-127). These are all things I’ll have to keep my eye on when I re-read the latter parts of The Solar Cycle. I have to tell you, I’m grateful for the excuse to do so.