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Attending Daedalus: Gene Wolfe, Artifice and the Reader

PETER WRIGHT
Volume: 29
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vjhb9
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  • Book Info
    Attending Daedalus
    Book Description:

    This new study of the fiction of Gene Wolfe, one of the most influential contemporary American science fiction writers, offers a major reinterpretation of Gene Wolfe’s four-volume The Book of the New Sun and its sequel The Urth of the New Sun. After exposing the concealed story at the heart of Wolfe’s magnum opus, Wright adopts a variety of approaches to establish that Wolfe is the designer of an intricate textual labyrinth intended to extend his thematic preoccupations with subjectivity, the unreliability of memory, the manipulation of individuals by social and political systems, and the psychological potency of myth, faith and symbolism into the reading experience.

    eISBN: 978-1-84631-261-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. A Note on Editions
    (pp. xiii-xiii)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiv-xvi)
  7. Part I Initiations
    • 1. ‘Silhouette’: An Introduction to Gene Wolfe
      (pp. 3-22)

      In the revised edition ofThe Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, John Clute describes Gene Wolfe as ‘quite possibly the most important writer’ working in the science fiction (SF) field.¹ From Clute’s assured tone, the reader could be forgiven for accepting this comment as the conclusion of a dynamic critical debate. It is, however, nothing of the sort. While Wolfe has received considerable acclaim for his stylistic versatility, his ability to produce detailed and credible fictional worlds, and his skill at characterisation, he remains one of the most neglected and misunderstood writers of contemporary science fiction and fantasy.

      As this bio-bibliographical...

    • 2. ‘Trip, Trap’: Psychology and Thematic Coherence
      (pp. 23-36)

      From the beginning of his professional writing career, Gene Wolfe has expressed a fascination for a number of interrelated psychological phenomena that are significant to an understanding of his oeuvre. These phenomena include the subjective perception of ontological reality; the reconstruction of perceived reality from memory; the psychological manipulation of the individual within economic, political and spiritual systems; the relationship between internal fantasy and external reality; and the psychological potency of myth, faith and symbolism.

      Michael Bishop observes that, as a consequence of this ‘persistent interest’ in psychology, Wolfe

      often produces stories with open-ended conclusions, characters who are neither wholly...

    • 3. ‘In the House of Gingerbread’: Interpretative Games and the Psychology of Reader Response
      (pp. 37-48)

      Wolfe’s concern with psychology is not solely restricted to the thematic exploration of subjectivity, memory, manipulation and deception through the experiences of his fictional characters. He is also mindful of the psychology of the reader, and makes a concerted effort to establish parallels between the reader’s reception of his work and the trials of his sensuously misguided, externally controlled protagonists.¹ In order to compel the reader to endure his particular perception of life, Wolfe utilises, either singly or in combination, four artful strategies: the employment of unreliable first-person narrators, the introduction of ambiguity and ellipsis, the inclusion of intertextual references,...

    • 4. ‘The God and His Man’: Critical Responses to The Urth Cycle
      (pp. 49-66)

      Currently the most complex work in Wolfe’s oeuvre, The Urth Cycle is located on the immensely ancient world of Urth. Millions upon millions of years of human civilisation have left the planet one vast relic, its geology having long succumbed to layer after layer of archaeological remains. Commercial mines sunk into these strata yield fragments of mysterious, lost ages: ruins, bones, obscure relics with forgotten purposes, and countless indeterminate artefacts. Languishing beneath a sun grown old and red and massive, Urth is dying: its winters are becoming protracted, the stars remain visible throughout the day, and its peoples live among...

  8. Part II Investigations:: The Urth Cycle
    • 5. ‘The Toy Theatre’: Uncovering the Story of The Urth Cycle
      (pp. 69-85)

      Uniting Wolfe’s recurrent interests in manipulation and psychology, the story of The Urth Cycle describes a human race caught in two complex processes: that of an external cosmological conspiracy masterminded by the Hierogrammates, and that of its own psychological need for lenitive myths.

      Wolfe directs the reader to this conclusion through the adhibition of theatrical metaphors. As Joe Sanders remarks, ‘the relation of audience ... to performance is a recurring motif in Wolfe’s fiction’² (appearing in texts as diverse as ‘The Toy Theatre’ [1971], ‘The Eyeflash Miracles’ [1976], ‘Seven American Nights’ [1978],Free Live Free[1986] andThe Book of...

    • 6. ‘The Last Thrilling Wonder Story’? Intergeneric Operations
      (pp. 86-103)

      Designed in part to substantiate Wolfe’s definition of science fantasy as ‘a science fiction story told with the outlook, the flavour of fantasy’,¹ The Urth Cycle is a slyly deceptive conflation of these two frequently discrete genres. While this definition is ambiguous, it seems to suggest that Wolfe is hybridising fantasy’s employment of a magical force (as described by Ann Swinfen), which is closed to rational or pseudo-rational explanation, with science fiction’s appeal to the rational (observed by, for example, Warren W. Wagar).²

      Brian Attebery remarks on the integration of the genres’ contrary rational and non-rational discourses when he posits:...

    • 7. ‘How the Whip Came Back’: Directing Reader Response
      (pp. 104-125)

      Having attempted to convince the reader that his pentalogy is a nonrational fantasy, Wolfe complicates his literary game by deploying three motifs which can serve to deactivate interpretative enquiry: a first-person narrator, the autobiographical form, and the structure of the monomythic cycle. If the reader is familiar with these paradigms, he or she may not apprehend the subtle subversions that Wolfe works on their conventions and may, accordingly, be drawn further from the story shaping the action of the novel.

      Wolfe’s employment of a first-person narrator expedites the reader’s trust in the veracity of the document, and in the credibility...

    • 8. ‘Cues’: The Function of Unfamiliar Diction
      (pp. 126-144)

      The casual reader’s potential to grasp the story of The Urth Cycle is reduced further by Wolfe’s deployment of esoteric nouns. However, the inclusion of obscure diction is not solely a method for obfuscating the narrative’s subtext. Rather, its introduction establishes a shifting kaleidoscope of adumbration and revelation which confronts the reader with the problem of determining when Wolfe’s vocabulary serves to reveal and develop the pentalogy’s themes and when it functions deflectively.

      InThe Castle of the Otter, Wolfe admits that he has no fondness for ‘gibberish’ (by which he means neologisms), and his use of archaisms is, fundamentally,...

    • 9. ‘There Are Doors’: Memory and Textual Structure
      (pp. 145-165)

      The deflective effect of Wolfe’s allusive diction is an essential element in the textual memory system that the author constructs using the dramatic action of his pentalogy. By recognising how Wolfe structures The Urth Cycle to produce this memory system, and by understanding how it functions, the reader learns how the text is designed to aid the recollection of its plot and of a range of extraliterary and intertextual information. Accordingly, the reader will also appreciate how the plot’s patterning can oppose the recall of the novel’s thematic nuances, how Wolfe creates a text planned (with perhaps little concern for...

    • 10. ‘A Solar Labyrinth’: Metafictional Devices and Textual Complexity
      (pp. 166-182)

      By changing generic codes, subverting traditional literary conventions, employing an unreliable narrator and exploiting the deflective effect of unfamiliar diction, Wolfe creates a text organised specifically to be understood, or at least appreciated, only by those readers who are willing to question their own literary assumptions, pause, reflect and reread.

      As a result, The Urth Cycle shares its systematised oracularity with the parable stories, which were constructed ‘with the express purpose of concealing a mystery that was to be understood only by insiders’.¹ In effect, Wolfe is behaving in the manner of Mark’s Christ, who explains to his disciples:

      To...

  9. Part III Conclusions
    • 11. ‘The Map’: The Multi-volume Novels and Metafictional Cartography
      (pp. 185-206)

      Since the publication ofThe Citadel of the Autarch, Wolfe has attempted to guide his reader to the interpretation of The Urth Cycle offered in the preceding section by providing a series of parallels and clues to the narrative’s hidden subtexts in his subsequent fiction. Although this process began whenThe Book of the New Sunwas still in its draft stages with the dramatisation of a simple reception theory in ‘The God and His Man’, and continued with ‘A Solar Labyrinth’, it was not until the appearance ofSoldier of the Mistin 1986 that Wolfe’s intentions became clear....

  10. Notes
    (pp. 207-220)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 221-232)
  12. Index
    (pp. 233-237)