(urth) Ascians' Thematic Purppose (was ATTENDING DAEDALUS)

Chris rasputin_ at hotmail.com
Mon Jan 30 13:55:59 PST 2006

Well, let me be more clear about something. If Wolfe is calling anything to 
mind here with Correct Thought, it is unlikely to be *just* the phrases from 
the little red book or *just* something from 1984. That is not the way Wolfe 
works, especially in this particular series; the entire structure of BotNS 
relies on layers of overlapping allusions (which, incidentally, is something 
that I think Wright brings out fairly well). So we can expect a fusion of 
references, meant to recall all of them at once. When I made the original 
comment I took this to be obvious, so I was a little taken aback with 
Dan'l's objection: the connection to Mao's book does absolutely nothing to 
indicate that there is not also a nod to 1984, and furthermore the 
connection to Mao's book also does very little (by itself) to explain the 
particular features of the passage that are pertinent here.

But just to set something straight, someone directed me to an interview with 
Wolfe in which he addresses some of the points Dan'l makes (and looking at 
the archives, has been making for several years). The interview appears in 
"Across the Wounded Galaxies" - Amazon's search feature does work on this 

p. 251 "What I didn't anticipate was that nine-tenths of the readers and 
reviewers would look at the word 'Ascian' and say 'Oh, these guys are 

More importantly, on p. 241 (the bottom half of the page) Wolfe goes into 
detail making pretty much exactly the point that people attribute to him 
when they compare the Ascians to 1984; the only thing Wolfe does not do in 
that passage is mention the Ascians directly. But to paraphrase Hume, if any 
man wish to hold that (a) Wolfe has a view of language and control that he 
deliberately contrasts with Orwell, and that (b) that this view of language 
and control is presented in just this way in the BotNS, but yet still think 
that (c) the passage in BotNS has nothing to do with Orwell - then I must 
confess that I can reason with him no further.

Now with regard to the points about how the Ascian language works with 
regard to differences with Newspeak, I think that this is probably examining 
the issue a little too closely, mainly because if you attend to the 
mechanism of the Ascian language I am pretty sure that a linguist would tell 
you that the language wouldn't work at all. If you attend to the salient 
features as they pertain to the story, however, you do find that the Ascians 
attempt to eliminate incorrect thought by editing the vocabulary of an 
existing language - it's just that the 'existing language' is only taught to 
children, which they are supposed to discard later in life.

As a side note this is an interesting little additional detail that may or 
may not be deliberate, but that I have rarely seen commented on... If you 
follow one modern line of thought, children have brain structures that lend 
themselves naturally to the learning of natural language. 'Ascian' is not at 
all a natural language, as is pretty clear from what Dan'l already said. So 
the strange detail of how Ascians learn their language - sort of in two 
stages - may also be a nod to Chomsky.

>On 1/30/06, James Wynn <thewynns at earthlink.net> wrote:
> >
> > Even if Wolfe *did* intend the Ascians political structure and language 
> > be a reference to Maoism and Buck Rogers (and the connection, it must be
> > admitted, is only inferable -- I am not aware of any other references in
> > TBOTNS to Ming or Buck Rogers), yet that does not make the make the
> > analogy
> > to Newspeak invalid. Calling the Ascian language "a sort of Newspeak" 
> > not even imply that Wolfe intended a narrative connection to "1984".
>h'mmm. I guess the point, for me, is that Newspeak is
>both more and less radical than Correct Thought. More
>radical in that it attempts to limit the vocabulary (and to
>a lesser extent the grammar) of an existing language,
>so as to limit what the speakers can say and, by logical
>extension via the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, think.
>Correct Thought is more radical, however, in that it
>attempts to remove "language" in the usual sense from
>the plate entirely. If Correct Thought were implemented
>at the deep psychological level it would require to succeed
>(and we see from Loyal to the Group of Seventeen's
>utterances that it has _not_ succeeded), it would be
>no more a language than the hootings of chimps; it
>would cease to have any generative capacity at all.
>In Loyal to the Group of Seventeen, however, Wolfe
>demonstrates the cleverness and flexibility of the
>human language-organ in generating new meaning
>from what would seem a fixed set of possible
>utterances. It becomes necessary to create a new
>level of grammar where, rather than fitting words together
>to form sentences, preset sentences are fitted together
>to form ... I don't know what you'd call them, because
>the significance of each sentence is allowed to vary
>hugely with its context, in two senses: the circumstances
>of utterance and the preceding/following sentences.
>What Wolfe has done, albeit sketchily, is proposed a
>working language where no signifier has a well-defined
>signified. Really astonishing stuff.
>I do not fear Satan half so much as I fear those who fear him.
>                         -- St Teresa of Avila

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