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Your thoughts on Postmodernism in The Book of the New Sun posted 19 July 2004 in Author Q & AYour thoughts on Postmodernism in The Book of the New Sun by Jernau Morat Gurgeh, Candidate

Hi Scott,

I just finished reading your interview in sffworld where you talk about some of your impressions as you were reading Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun. Like a lot of the tings you said in the interview, it got me thinking, and I have a couple of questions for you.

(I don't know a whole heck of a lot about postmodernism, beyond the basics, so if I get anything wrong or seem to have some misconceptions please forgive me, and if time allows, correct me.)

It has always seemed to me the Wolfe's narrators have an unusually strong influence on the reader's inderstanding of events, characters, and ideas in his stories. Severian, for one, lies, distorts, misunderstands, and wilfully misleads his audience to manipulate our view of him and his role in events. This reveals his motivation and personality to us in a complicated but, it seems to me, no less clear way than characters whose personality is explicitly described and demostrated by the real author of the story. Do you think that Wolfe is downplaying the importance of the individual by presenting Severian as a collection of perceptions and interactions? Or is he revealed, through his interactions and the way he tells the story, as a complete self?

Second, do you think Wolfe is consciously trying to attack the concrete and objective by telling the story the way he does, or is it a choice to give his narrator these characteristics that makes it appear this way?

Sorry to hear you got flamed for bringing up your questions, it's a shame and the death of thought. Note to myself...take care when challenging sacred cows.

Thanks,
Eric

ps...I just got my copy of TDtCB and so far I am really enjoying it! In just the prologue there were several images and bits of prose that completely floored me. Looking forward very much to the rest. view post


Your thoughts on Postmodernism in The Book of the New Sun posted 19 July 2004 in Author Q & AYour thoughts on Postmodernism in The Book of the New Sun by Cu'jara Cinmoi, Author of Prince of Nothing

The unreliable narrator enjoys a much longer history than post-modernism, but what makes Wolfe's manner of handling it post-modern is, on the one hand, the fact that Severian is also Chatelaine (I hope I'm getting her name right), and second, the lack of any clear rationale for so many of the things Severian narrates. Mysterious things are done for mysterious reasons, but no overarching rationale is ever provided. As a result you get all these episodic pieces that seem to fit together, but don't. This is a hallmark of po-mo, something I call 'cognitive baiting': the narrative is never 'clinched,' which is to say, it falls somewhere between a traditional story (where most things happen for identifiable reasons) and a travelogue (where things simply happen and are described). The reader continuously tries to cognize Severian's narration as a traditional story (because the markers are there), but is continually flummoxed. This leads to what I call the 'Minister's Black Veil' effect: a formally generated sense of mysterious profundity.

Like I said in the interview, I had a hard time reading this as more than an 'effect' in The Book of the New Sun. I thought it worked much better in The Soldier of the Mist. As for why Wolfe adopted this strategy, it seemed to me he was simply warming the old po-mo saws of decentred selves and originary repetitions.

All this is bound to sound far more critical than it's actually meant. Reading The Book of the New Sun remains one of the top reading experiences of my life. Just the fact that it engaged me at this level says a lot, I think.... view post


Your thoughts on Postmodernism in The Book of the New Sun posted 19 July 2004 in Author Q & AYour thoughts on Postmodernism in The Book of the New Sun by Aldarion, Sorcerer-of-Rank

Chateleine was Thecla's title, Scott <!-- s;) --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/icon_wink.gif" alt=";)" title="Wink" /><!-- s;) -->

Nice to see that I'm not the only one who enjoyed the narrative of the Soldier novels more than the New Sun ones. Makes me oh so eager to buy the third Soldier novel whenever Wolfe completes it (rumor is that he's working on it now, seeing as his latest novel, The Wizard, has already been turned in).

One thing about New Sun (and Wolfe's other major novels) that I noticed is that he does veer away from "orthodox" po-mo in his treatment of the Divine. I almost suspect that he uses many of the deceptive turns-of-phrases just to highlight his own take on the Divine (which is most certainly a Roman Catholic-oriented view). It seems as though there is a certain Truth that Severian and others just fail to understand. But that's more like an exception that proves the rule, with "proves" being used in both senses of the word and phrase <!-- s;) --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/icon_wink.gif" alt=";)" title="Wink" /><!-- s;) -->

By the way Scott, have you read The Knight? I think there's even more po-mo in its construction than even in the New Sun books. Certainly an interesting take on the Quest novel, that's for sure. view post


Your thoughts on Postmodernism in The Book of the New Sun posted 19 July 2004 in Author Q &amp; AYour thoughts on Postmodernism in The Book of the New Sun by Cu'jara Cinmoi, Author of Prince of Nothing

Thanks for the name! The Knight stareths at me even as I write, but from the bottom of a very big pile...

What did you make of Severian's characterization, Larry? view post


Your thoughts on Postmodernism in The Book of the New Sun posted 19 July 2004 in Author Q &amp; AYour thoughts on Postmodernism in The Book of the New Sun by Aldarion, Sorcerer-of-Rank

I've read Shadow and Claw four times now (and the others 2-3 times) and I'm still having difficulties trying to decide just what I exactly like and dislike about how Severian was drawn.

On one hand, I thought Wolfe did a great job of inverting the order of events (notice how Severian just only waits until the end of the series to detail some of the events between his raising to Journeyman and his "escape" from Matuchin Tower) to create multiple false images of Severian, but then I also felt that sometimes, even in his lies, Severian came across as being a bit too pat. Hard to specify examples as to why I feel so, but there's just something I feel I've overlooked.

And that feeling is part of the story. Wolfe just purposely wants us to consider our role in the story, our beliefs in ourselves as textual detectives, just to illustrate how incomplete and misleading we can be toward ourselves.

At least that's my take on it. Mind you, I'm not going to do what some have done and write Ph.D. dissertations on Meaning found in the New Sun novels. I have enough on my mind, preparing to retake the GRE in the near future for a re-entry next year to grad life, this time part-time in Counseling. <!-- s;) --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/icon_wink.gif" alt=";)" title="Wink" /><!-- s;) --> view post


Your thoughts on Postmodernism in The Book of the New Sun posted 19 July 2004 in Author Q &amp; AYour thoughts on Postmodernism in The Book of the New Sun by Cu'jara Cinmoi, Author of Prince of Nothing

And that feeling is part of the story. Wolfe just purposely wants us to consider our role in the story, our beliefs in ourselves as textual detectives, just to illustrate how incomplete and misleading we can be toward ourselves.


I've become very suspicious of this (which is the classic metafictional rationale), which is why I read it as cognitive baiting, a formal shortcut to generating the 'buzz' of profundity (the sense of something ineluctable hovering just beyond the fingertips of comprehension). A mechanical device employed for a conventional effect - part of which, you might argue, is giving grad students something to write about! Promiscuous signifiers are good for that...

I'd go with Humbert Humbert any day.

Do you think I'm being too harsh? Wolfe scares me otherwise...

scott/ view post


Your thoughts on Postmodernism in The Book of the New Sun posted 19 July 2004 in Author Q &amp; AYour thoughts on Postmodernism in The Book of the New Sun by Aldarion, Sorcerer-of-Rank

Too harsh? Not really.

Like you, I was exposed to the perniciousness of postmodernism (hell, even the way we spell it signifies something, remember?) when in grad school. I won't deny that I was attracted and still am to its reworking of traditional epistomological methods of examining texts and evidence. But I will grant that a lot of po-mo authors do come across like the Son in Aristophane's vicious satire of Socrates, The Clouds. So pretentious at times as to come across arguing that the sun really must be decentered because its effects just can't be universal or even Objectified.

I'm of two minds about postmodernism. It has provided some interesting insights into how we construct meanings, but I think some have carried it so far as to lose some touch with common cultural groundings. Maybe I'm just more at ease with the post-structralism of Foucault than I am with Derrida or Lacan. I'm 7 years removed from grad history and it's still a puzzle to me.

But as for employing po-mo techniques in fantasy/sci-fi, I'm all for it, just as long as the authors realize that they aren't reinventing the wheel. Sometimes a story is just a story and must be a story for it to be a story. If that makes any sense <!-- s;) --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/icon_wink.gif" alt=";)" title="Wink" /><!-- s;) --> I love language manipulation as much as anyone, but if an author can't tie story elements together to create something that holds meaning, it just isn't worth it for me. May explain why I have such a violently negative reaction to reading William Carlos Williams's poetry.

I do believe, however, that Wolfe is too much of a storyteller to fall completely into the trap of setting up puzzles within puzzles without no explanation or rationale. He comes periously close at times (Dr. Talos's Play near the end of Claw being a prime example), yet there's just enough context given for the educated reader to puzzle together a coherent understanding, even if it might be incomplete. But at first read, that play was just utterly confusing to me, even though I knew who Meshia was.

But one final thought: Maybe Wolfe was purposely wanting to short-circuit the process, letting us presume profoundity even when it's not solidly present. I just don't know.

Now if you can explain The Fifth Head of Cerberus or Peace to me sometime, I'll be a happy camper. Otherwise, I'll be re-reading them later this year. view post


Your thoughts on Postmodernism in The Book of the New Sun posted 19 July 2004 in Author Q &amp; AYour thoughts on Postmodernism in The Book of the New Sun by Jernau Morat Gurgeh, Candidate

It's somewhat frustrating to read this great conversation between you two. I feel like I lack the language to discuss this in the terms that you are discussing it. Nevertheless, I have opinions, oh yes, and am utterly fascinated. My (layman's) two cents will have to wait until after a meeting though...but I am now sure I'll be thinking about this instead of work.

One thought...Severian the narrator is already a multitude. Through the chronology of the story Severian evolves from being alone in his head, to being joined with Thecla (or the memory of Thecla as he saw her), to being joined with all the foremer Autarchs. But it's this final "Severian as legion" who is telling the story. On my second read, this realization colored my understanding and interpretations of the early parts of the story.

I feel like I need to get my loaner copy back and re-read it now. It will only be my third time.

Thanks for making me think. view post


Your thoughts on Postmodernism in The Book of the New Sun posted 19 July 2004 in Author Q &amp; AYour thoughts on Postmodernism in The Book of the New Sun by Aldarion, Sorcerer-of-Rank

Quote: &quot;Jernau Morat Gurgeh&quot;:3pckse9a
It's somewhat frustrating to read this great conversation between you two. I feel like I lack the language to discuss this in the terms that you are discussing it. Nevertheless, I have opinions, oh yes, and am utterly fascinated. My (layman's) two cents will have to wait until after a meeting though...but I am now sure I'll be thinking about this instead of work.

One thought...Severian the narrator is already a multitude. Through the chronology of the story Severian evolves from being alone in his head, to being joined with Thecla (or the memory of Thecla as he saw her), to being joined with all the foremer Autarchs. But it's this final "Severian as legion" who is telling the story. On my second read, this realization colored my understanding and interpretations of the early parts of the story.

I feel like I need to get my loaner copy back and re-read it now. It will only be my third time.

Thanks for making me think.[/quote:3pckse9a]

You're welcome! Scott and I have just been exposed to postmodernist techniques in our fields (philosophy for him, cultural history for myself), so I guess that explains the "high-faluting" talk we've been engaged in.

But something you said brings up a key point: Despite Severian having many personalities within (considering that the story is written about a dozen years after the events), why is it that it's only that one Central voice that seems to speak? What does that have to say about how Severian's relationships with those he meets?

By the way, have you read the other Sun novels? There's an interesting twist to this combination in the Short Sun series. view post


Your thoughts on Postmodernism in The Book of the New Sun posted 22 July 2004 in Author Q &amp; AYour thoughts on Postmodernism in The Book of the New Sun by Cu'jara Cinmoi, Author of Prince of Nothing

Has anyone read this interview with Gene Wolfe yet?

[url:18mmzy3o]http&#58;//mysite&#46;verizon&#46;net/~vze2tmhh/gwjbj3&#46;html[/url:18mmzy3o]

It certainly has me scratching my head... view post


Your thoughts on Postmodernism in The Book of the New Sun posted 23 July 2004 in Author Q &amp; AYour thoughts on Postmodernism in The Book of the New Sun by Aldarion, Sorcerer-of-Rank

I read it years ago. It's an old interview, from the early 1990s, with a Christian magazine, I believe. As such, I believe Wolfe is revealing quite a bit of the Catholic beliefs that he's used in his writing, at least in a symbolic sense.

But I can certainly see where parts of it are baffling. He certainly seems to be stumbling when trying to explain Christianity's social importance. I come close to agreeing with him and then he just seems to go off-track and I too am left scratching my head and wondering. view post


Your thoughts on Postmodernism in The Book of the New Sun posted 23 July 2004 in Author Q &amp; AYour thoughts on Postmodernism in The Book of the New Sun by Aldarion, Sorcerer-of-Rank

Also, now that I've glanced at OF and had to do some unpleasant work there: Did you find that link from a post made on OF yesterday?

Just curious, because I just had to close the topic because two people (both of whom I know are infamous for belittling others with contrary opinions) had strayed from that into comments of a somewhat personal nature. I hate it when people just can't stick to the original topic enough to avoid going into (or near, in this case, but threatening) ad hominem attacks.

But that's for another topic, yes? view post


Your thoughts on Postmodernism in The Book of the New Sun posted 23 July 2004 in Author Q &amp; AYour thoughts on Postmodernism in The Book of the New Sun by Cu'jara Cinmoi, Author of Prince of Nothing

Yeah, that's where I found it.

Ah, the good old ad hominem attack.

If life is about making the right decisions, and school is supposed to prepare you for life, then why o' why is no one taught anything about the rules of reasoning in school?

Afterall, it's only the art of sound decision-making (!!).

Makes you think, doesn't it? view post


Your thoughts on Postmodernism in The Book of the New Sun posted 23 July 2004 in Author Q &amp; AYour thoughts on Postmodernism in The Book of the New Sun by Aldarion, Sorcerer-of-Rank

If life is about making the right decisions, and school is supposed to prepare you for life, then why o' why is no one taught anything about the rules of reasoning in school?

Afterall, it's only the art of sound decision-making (!!).


If only that were truly the case *sigh*. I've learned, time and time again to my chagrin, that regardless of what I (or other teachers) taught about how to make good reasoning decisions, all too often, the students would rather listen to the world about them, where shows like Crossfire, Jerry Springer Show, and The O'Reilly Factor seem to send the message that yelling and insulting is the better way of making an argument.

Such a twisted world we live in. view post


Your thoughts on Postmodernism in The Book of the New Sun posted 23 July 2004 in Author Q &amp; AYour thoughts on Postmodernism in The Book of the New Sun by Replay, Auditor

If life is about making the right decisions, and school is supposed to prepare you for life, then why o' why is no one taught anything about the rules of reasoning in school?


Sounds good - as long they teach them the flaws of reasoning as well. view post


Your thoughts on Postmodernism in The Book of the New Sun posted 23 July 2004 in Author Q &amp; AYour thoughts on Postmodernism in The Book of the New Sun by Cu'jara Cinmoi, Author of Prince of Nothing

You task me, Replay! You task me! <!-- s:lol: --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/icon_lol.gif" alt=":lol:" title="Laughing" /><!-- s:lol: --> view post


Your thoughts on Postmodernism in The Book of the New Sun posted 24 July 2004 in Author Q &amp; AYour thoughts on Postmodernism in The Book of the New Sun by Aldarion, Sorcerer-of-Rank

About damn time someone tasked you - you've tasked me enough recently <!-- s;) --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/icon_wink.gif" alt=";)" title="Wink" /><!-- s;) --> view post


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