(urth) fifth head owlet- wolf

Gerry Quinn gerry at bindweed.com
Thu Apr 11 04:30:04 PDT 2013

From: Marc Aramini

> And yes, Wolfe does kind of repeat the same imagery over and over, his 
> symbolism
>  is not a one off.  SandWALKER'S feet always dropping down to the ground, 
> described
>  as sure footed, dropping down from a high to a low place.  He is 
> described by his feet
> at least four times, possibly more.  How many other characters have their 
> feet even
>  mentioned?  His character is associated with feet.  Do feet every play a 
> role in the
>  action?  YES, in two pivotal scenes, they do.

Maybe abos feet are more significant because their hands don't work so well. 
He's the viewpoint character throughout; it's not unnatural that most foot 
references are to him.  And you've elsewhere cited references to the legs of 

But that's not really the point.  Assume Sandwalker's feet have some 
significance to be determined.  We know they are similar to human feet, as 
he thinks of the French landing party as men like him, only clothed.  Do you 
not think this is somewhat antithetical to the notion that Sandwalker is 
somehow a tree, or a maggot?

It seems to me that you are invoking a huge multiverse of interpretations 
and symbols, imbuing just about every word or phrase with deep hidden 
meanings.  And these 'meanings' are largely contradictory - which means 
surely, that most of them at least must be incorrect.  The whole is 
justified with appeals to Wolfe's crypticism - but this is circular, because 
Wolfe is not at all as cryptic as some people make out if the more bizarre 
interpretations are excluded.

I would say in Wolfe there is typically a surface narrative, and a secret 
history (as with most science fiction).  On top of this there is a symbolic 
structure not intended to be taken as literal truth for the most part, 
except that he often adds a fourth 'theological' level in which the symbolic 
structure can 'leak' to some degree into the first two levels (though I do 
not think this level is yet present in 5HOC).  Added to the mix are stories 
told by characters, and characters who sometimes use metaphor.

When I say 'symbolic' I mean all stuff that is not part of the 'hard 
physical reality' of the narrative, with or without external references; so, 
for example, it includes 5HOC as a thought experiment in colonisation etc.

The problem with some kinds of interpretation, to my mind, is that the 
'symbolic leakage' I alluded to encourages people to look for it everywhere, 
and with this kind of stuff false positives are easy to find.  The 
subversion of realism only works when realism is permitted to support it. 
Reify symbols and allusions everywhere, and the whole thing collapses into a 
sludge where everything means everything and therefore nothing means 
anything.  We ask the question to ask the question.  Never works.

So if you want to show that abos are trees, or that feet are the key, or 
whatever, fine, but you have to distinguish what levels you mean it on and 
show how it works in a consistent interpretational structure.  If you think 
feet are important, you have to show how they work with trees or maggots. 
It's not enough to say that because of a few words or phrases *with natural 
interpretations* here and there, all those things are true at once and 
somehow nobody in the story notices.

Anyway, that is what I think.

- Gerry Quinn

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