Wolfenheimer:  Gene Wolfe’s Showing How to Use Text to Counter Bombs that had Already Dropped

In Oppenheimer, Oppenheimer, as well as the other scientists at work at the Los Alamos laboratory, face a situation they were not expecting when they signed up, one that puts them in a situation that if the bombs they are working on are actually used, they could feel very guilty.  Many of them are Jewish, and they signed on expecting the bombs would be used against the Nazis. If used against them, people who are after all murdering them in mass, no guilt.  But the Nazis are defeated while their project is still ongoing, yet the project doesn’t slow down one bit. The target will instead be the Japanese.  They won’t be targeting military targets, but cities, places people vacation to.  This is a different thing altogether. 

The film helps ameliorate guilt by Truman’s telling Oppenheimer that in terms of earned guilt, all they did was develop the bomb, implying that the one who should feel the full weight is the one who had decision as to whether or not they would be used–and that wasn’t the scientists, but rather him, the president.  He chose to do so, and not one bomb, but two.  One, to show they could do it; the other to show they could do so again and again and again. 

Severian is something of an Oppenheimer in that he brings about the “bomb,” a sun, a “device,” like the bomb Oppenheimer developed, that is atomic–the sun is of course fuelled by nuclear reactions–that will annihilate Urth.  With him, with his literal input, Urth will end up “Ushas,” but not after most of the current inhabitants are wide-scale murdered.  A Truman-type authoritarian figure is also in this text–the autarch–and he also helps ameliorate guilt by convincing Severian that there was no alternative for Urth.  Like how the use of the atomic bombs ostensibly was for the quick termination of WW2, without Severian bringing Ushas, the only future for Urth is a bleak one, an eventual descent to ice and death.  All other options for revival rather than death have been tried, informs the autarch.  We can’t doubt him, wonder why Severian doesn’t test him more as to how he really knows all options have been tried, because the autarch has been established in the text as the one guy you really could trust.  He had a smile that was so unadulterated by deceit, that was so sincere, it actually drew Severian back, because he wasn’t sure he ever had encountered such before.  We are told:  “He had smiled, and because there had been nothing but friendship in his smile it had frightened me” (Shadow and Claw 10).  When Severian is actually on mission to apply himself to the test that could bring a new sun to “revive” Urth, another Truman figure does one more thing to ameliorate any guilt he might feel.  Tzadkiel stages a gladiator fight on his ship.  One side will defend Urth, the other will fight for the new sun.  The fight is even, and Tzadkiel will honour the outcome.  No one can say Urth wasn’t given a fighting chance. 

I think this is the way with Wolfe. That is, I think in most of Wolfe’s texts we have situations where a main protagonist could feel very guilty for something they have done, or something they are involved in, but the text works strongly to ameliorate the guilt. It is possible to me, even, that this is part of the purpose of creating these works in the first place.  They may be machines into which Wolfe projects guilt he may feel in real life, where, at the finish, the guilt comes out minimized or eradicated.  Or, they may serve like the therapist you go to whom you confess all guilt, but who argues you’re being silly; being way too hard on yourself.  And thereafter you go about feeling quite a bit better, for awhile at least.  For Wolfe, that might have meant until he felt compelled to write another book.

Severian expresses guilt about several things.  He feels guilt about betraying the torturer’s guild, but the text supplies commentary that it may have been outside his hands.  He’s a young man put in the company of a very beautiful exultant, a dream of a woman.  The other torturers so suspect he won’t be able to resist her, they take means to counter the effect of her charms.  “Have him meanwhile visit prostitutes, and often!”  If he helped her out, at the cost of the torturer’s guild’s esteem, the fault is with those governing him.  They didn’t do enough.  Severian ends up feeling guilty about being a torturer.  But in the conversation with Dorcas in which he tries to defend the guild but ends up gauging that she’s right, that as a torturer he is a monster, no counter is offered to his arguments as to why the guild remains necessary.  He just seems to want to relent to her, maybe even to punish her, via his relenting.  He rapes Jolenta, but assures us that Jolenta was a willing partner–and it is possible Wolfe created a world where Severian wasn’t wrong in this, making it so that Severian did actually more ravage than rape her.  He feels he destroyed Thecla’s future, denied her marriage, children, and he actually probably did, for he acknowledges that there were plenty of times he could have run off with her if he had wanted–it would have been so easy!–but at the point he was still too loyal to the guild to consider doing so seriously.  But, again, he’s still a child here, more or less, and the fierce attachment to the guild would be expected.  It, the ostensible “brotherhood,” was serving as the Mother he barely had, and he wasn’t yet prepped to transition on.  But nevertheless the text supplies the consideration that if you are indeed unfair to one person in your life, you can make amends by not being so to someone else who resembles that person.  You can re-stage the encounter, and do it right this time.  And so, rather than kill her as directed, Severian frees Cyriaca, the next desperately-caught-out women he has intimate relations with in the text. (It might be worth noting that Wolfe however again begins by denying a “princess” her freedom, leaving her, in dismay, to her dark fate, in his next popular work, Wizard Knight. Wolfe’s perpetrating protagonist, Able, ameliorates his guilt over this via what he is subsequently able to off her in this one, but, still, Wolfe isn’t all a clean-up act but also a repeater in the business of dropping emotional bombs. )

Silk re-stages an event early in his life where he felt guilty, where he likely experienced terrible rejection over it.  By invading Blood’s mansion, that is, he’s re-staging the invasion of a house he and three others did as boys, that made his mother furious at him; “how hurt and dismayed” (Litany of the Long Sun 4) she had been.  But this time, he’s on a mission to save the whorl.  If only somehow he could overwrite this version of breaking-and-entering onto the initial one, and he’d be gravy!  Gone, an earlier wound!  Horn leaves his middle-aged wife for a teenage girl, but a great god–the Mother–more or less dictates the transfer (who would dare resist her?).  Horn rapes her, but it’s after she sings her song, which according to Seawrack, the teenage girl, works on the brain of its listeners’ so that conscious control of one’s actions is lost; after singing the song, they should be expected to attack, and attack violently, as Horn, as, again, any other male in his situation, would.  Hence if Horn ever worried much about what he did to her, if he felt worried he’d lose all composure and perhaps suicide at self-hate, he could lean more weight to her side of the argument.  “She had a point,” he might say to himself, “more than I previously was willing to credit, owing to my pride at being a self-possessed adult.”  Like how the doctor island in “The Death of Dr. Island” keeps a separate hemisphere “Nicholas” available in Nicholas’s brain in case the “Nicholas” located in the other hemisphere disappoints, Horn, thanks to Seawrack’s input, can keep alive two versions explaining his actions: one, the default and preferred, but the other, a more than expedient back-up. 

In Home Fires Skip finds the person his wife has declared she had the most antipathy towards–her mother–and foists her back onto her when she lands back on Earth to recover from her heinous head wounds.  The head-wounded receives upon her arrival, quite the head trip!  Suppressed initially, she eventually unleashes her rage at him for doing so, but Skip points out that when she actually saw her mother, her actual feelings were revealed, for she met her with enthusiasm; her body spoke then, and it, responding enthusiastically–the bloody thing actually rushed to her! betrayer!–knew the score.  Hence Skip was showing not less but greater fidelity to his wife by resurrecting her mother.  Skip’s wife, Chelle, would have to some day meet her subconscious, because it’s of a different and truer mind, ostensibly.  Skip abandons his middle-aged companion, someone he was mostly married to, had formed a Brangelina bond with (“SkipandSusan” 16), for decades, for a young woman in her early twenties.  But in this text this young woman is someone he was still married to.  So not really. 

In Pirate Freedom Chris sells a seized boat-load of black slaves.  The money he’d make from the sale would make the father-figure of the text, the one who’s approval he desperately desires, Captain Burt, gloat over him; he’d be his favourite, forever.  Chris is from our time, feels like and is meant to be our contemporary, so he’s not excused like most people help ameliorate Wolfe’s guilt any time treatment of women comes up as a topic in Wolfe’s text–“he’s simply a man of his generation; he had no choice.  Don’t be so hard on the guy!”–is.  But Wolfe has crafted a situation where there really is no alternative for Chris.  He offers maybe fifteen excuses for what he did, a slough of them, like a liar would, but in fact there is no artifice at work in him: with the world Wolfe provided him with, there actually is no freedom he can grant them; they’re either sold and maybe die, or simply die–that’s the complete tale of the turns of fate available.  Chris is a pirate, and he doesn’t want to hide the fact that when he orders an attack, they engage in everything heinous you can imagine.  But Chris is not only doing this.  He is not only saying, me, culpable.  He is not only performing as the adult who would not spare either himself or the reader but rather come clean on everything; being brutal, but honest.  But actually also duplicitously using it as a delivery device for his own virtue.  For the pirates only do the vile things they do because they are proven to be most effective in getting what they want–namely, gold.  If other means were as effective, they would have used them.  Even kindness, ostensibly. They are not those who need to be told, like Wizard Knight‘s Able is, that as effective a means as violence was to get little boy Ve to cooperate with him and not give notice to the outlaws of his presence, that kindness might have served even better (14).  These men are professionals.  Who aren’t professionals?  Well, the Spanish they are invading, who are sadists and little more, that’s who. Chris and his gang spearhead the termination of an empire, something grand if not always glorious.  But if any guilt at this, it’s ameliorated by the empire being staged as simply one that has degenerated from once-glorious form.  It’s now lead by merchants, merchants with influence at the capital, rather than stoic military men–those who have now found themselves castrated of power.  If someone murdered it, maybe even murdered it without the excuse of some legitimate virtue but out of bald malice, well, no doubt it’s better off dead.  This way of justifying the victimization of the “weak”–were they actually socially useful at this point, or in need to be culled so something refreshed, like in Pirate Freedom the rise of Admiral Nelson is, could occur in its place?–also underlies Chris’s excuse for not focusing much anger on priests who molest children.  Children who fight back, even minimally, scare off the priests, every time, he argues.  Do we, our precarious civilization, really need weak kids to fortify it?  Certainly he argues that girls who need protecting need actual boys around to do so, not sheep.  “But they have to be real boys, not sheep” (22), he says.  Maybe he is implicitly suggesting, these priests are, rather, doing us a favour–showing us the proper way to deal with those who don’t function well, who won’t end up people we’ll depend on to keep our society going, an inverse take on the virtue of operating tough to maintain societal functionality of that at work in Wolfe’s much earlier “Death of Dr. Island.”  It also lends justification to Home Fires‘ Skip’s assertion that “third world” countries should be left to rot, or perhaps even, given the reference to them as “vultures,” violently attacked.  Dependent as they are on nations that actually function, how much assistance are they to the fight against aliens? he asks.  Specifically he says:

How much help is the third world giving the human race against the Os?  The Europeans are fighting, even though we spy on them and they on us.  The Greater Eastasians are fighting, too, while spying on the NAU and the EU—perhaps because the NAU and the EU spy on them.  The SAU’s fighting itself, and so is bound to win, and lose. 

As for the rest … We think of their people as poor and hungry, and so they are.  The governments that have robbed them of everything are waiting now to despoil us.  Those governments are poor and hungry, too.  As poor, and as hungry, as so many vultures.” (Home Fires 7)

Because the equivalent of the United Nations in the book, the NAU, “always sides with the third world” (114), it is made to seem as much in requirement of being disposed as the Spanish empire is in Pirate Freedom.  Like the Spanish empire, it… the misguided “parent,” exalts the “bad,” that is, the weak “child,” the sheep, at the expense of the proven buck, standing right before it and ready to assist.  “I was more fit. Why didn’t daddy and mommy prefer me!?”

Horn brings back home the entity that once almost killed his wife’s precious son Sinew, the inhumu Jahlee, and as an ostensible “gift” to her, an event that might recall for the Wolfe’ reader Peace‘s Alden Weer’s bringing dead animals he dug up from his yard back to his mom as “gifts.”  She is furious at him.  “How could you?”  “WTF is wrong with you!”  He is able to meet her eyes, so he functions, at least here… bravely?  Possibly.  But even as he says that he will demonstrate that he is an adult by eventually not ducking his wife but being forthright with her… about his infidelity, and other things, like the hundreds of new children his infidelity created, and even as he is here demonstrating exactly this, he returns to her in the body of the being his wife worships more than anyone else–Silk.  He meets her eyes, that is, at a time when his wife would be most likely to feel a need to water down the fire of her fury.  “My husband also succeeded, made my dreams come true, brought back my precious Silk, not just brought about my most-feared fate, a doubling-down of an experience that almost wrecked me.”  “How do I in good faith scream at my no-good, cheating, maybe even wife-murder-intending, gaslighting husband, if he’s actually right now more the guy who died to bring back the saviour I would suffer through anything to be in his presence again?” 

Horn does almost nothing for Mucor.  Her adult fate hasn’t been to come close to what the women she is taking care of absolutely insisted for themselves–to find themselves not forever children of a corrosive, self-centred deity, but independent of her, partnered and bearers of children.  She doesn’t get to spurn people trying to own her to achieve her own desires, like they did.  Horn leaves her alone to serve the mayteras until she’s middle-aged, making her compare in her sad state to the middle-aged servant of Shadow and Claw‘s Ultan, even as he will eventually take on another woman of about her age as his travel companion.  But he declares that the Outsider, the ostensibly most minor but in truth the most powerful god, is most drawn to those who are most forlorn.  You don’t help someone sick who is being victimized/taken advantage of by people you don’t want to confront, like Silk is in regards to Maytera Rose (Silk feared nothing more than confronting Rose; her sniffs were atomic bombs to him: “Maytera [Rose] sniffed.  It was at once a devastating and a confounding sniff, the sniff of a destroyer of cities and a confronter of governments; Blood winced, and she enjoyed it so much that she sniffed again [Epiphany of the Long Sun 10].)?  Well, God will do it for you, almost guaranteed, so no worries. Horn-Silk in fact so desires to please the mayteras that he will obtain an eye from a young girl, so that they can finally see well.  This sounds about the most depraved thing imaginable (mind you, his prompting her to prepare to strip before him as just punishment for her spying on him while he bathed, is pretty bad too), taking advantage of a young girl’s desperate desire to earn the appreciation of a mother who abandoned her by supplying her with her organs.  And he’s not getting the eye so the mayteras aren’t as dependent on Mucor to remain by their side for a lifetime of never-ending service, he’s not freeing them to cleverly facilitate the freeing of her, but so that he’s got an ace up his sleeve if, when he dies, some authority tries to hold him account for his life’s sinning.  “I understand you might have problems with me, god, but how many others hanging around in mainframe returned sight to a desperate, blind old woman?”  But the text works hard to argue that this is something the child chose to do. Unlike as with Severian and his falling for Thecla, there is here no blame displaced onto the adults around who really should have known better.  This child, at least–very conveniently for Horn-Silk–knows her mind!  Using Pirate Freedom‘s understanding of children, like boys who have it in them to fight off molesters, she’s not a sheep, but a girl, an actual high-grade of person, who stands up for herself. Plus, the text makes sure… Wolfe makes sure, the mayteras return to their once-abandoned daughter.  “Let’s shore up that block-against-guilt, maybe a bit more.”

Silk has business dealings with his wife’s father, a father who sold his daughter to be used as a sex-slave.  Silk justifies doing so, involving himself with him, because the deeper wrong is perpetrated by his wife, who has disowned and hates her father for his being a beast.  Despite all, you have to love your mom and dad, he says. 

“I have. I made it a point to, because I knew Hyacinth’s father was a head clerk; she hates him, yet she will always be his daughter.  I located him, and while we were talking about reforming the Fisc he said that the devils are in the details.

Silk chuckled, cheered by the memory.  (Epiphany of the Long Sun 14)

Able, in Wizard Knight, is excited to tell us that Baron Beel, who also is forcing his daughter, Idnn, into the hands of a molester for his own personal gain, ends up in the end killing a powerful giant, the “biggest Son of Angr anyone ever saw!” (epigraph).  “The man wasn’t only a dilettante, a man once of the gentry but on the quick fall to, what? a common merchant, but a knight, a man’s man! Hurray!”  But Able also has blood on his hands, as he was offered a chance to save her and instead took advantage of the vulnerable position her desperate plee to him put her in, to make her feel more alone than ever.  “Fat chance, spoiled princess!”  “Spoiled girl deserves to become spoiled goods!  That’s my say on the matter!  Harrumph!”  Good thing the text forces some other knight, Garvaon, to carry “guilt” for the remainder of the text (if there’s any equivalent to atomic bomb in Wizard Knight it is the absurd, outsize weight of “guilt” carried by the unfortunate someone who sneakily ended the life of King Gilling, which sits in the second half of the text like a crater a mile-wide), and for doing something that leaves both men off the hook: ending the life of her husband, Gilling.  Fortunate thing, too, that when Idnn becomes “Queen Idnn,” she performs her role in such a way that it would be made to seem beneath her to bring up things from the past–she has simply a duty to perform, given war is at hand; she is now, Duty.  No mention from her, that is, over why it was that a knight… a capable one, but not an amazing one, indeed proved capable of saving her, when a much greater knight, Able, deemed it impossible.  Beneath her to ask.  For “agreeing” to not bring up the past, the text does nothing subsequently with her but heap praise.  Whereas previously, spoiled princess, now she’s never not dignified queen.  It’s like those mobsters in Goodfellas who embrace the new kid in their ranks who could have sold them down the river, but didn’t.  “Kid, for swallowing our own guilt into yourself, you too are a goodfella!”  Parties all-around.

Robert Jay Lifton, the great psychohistorian, has argued that scientists, at least on the German side in WW2, used to create doubles of themselves.  They’d be of split psyches, of ones who’d contrive terrible means to hurt and kill, and others who’d go home and have dinner with the family.  Oppenheimer doesn’t demonstrate this psychic doubling–we’re shown integrated people–but another current show that features a man on trial, does. Apple TV’s Crowded Room stages the argument that if a person is under control of one of their alters when they commit a crime, the person is not themselves at fault for what they did.  Severian wouldn’t be at fault if he’d struck and killed the Autarch when alone with him in his aircraft, after the Autarch showed no sympathy for dispatching Thecla so insouciantly to torturer and death, because Thecla would have been the one who did it—owing to his being ill, she had control at that time.  If Chenille had killed the old sailor as sacrifice when her followers resisted doing so, she wouldn’t have been guilty of murder because she wasn’t in charge of her psyche then, Scylla was. 

Many Wolfe’ characters speak of having voices in their heads; appear very closely to suffer from disassociated identity disorder.  Auk for example says that as much as loves Maytera Mint, his mother-replacement, sometimes her voice is so strong in his head he thinks of killing her “outside” self so that perhaps the one she’s left inside him will vanish (Silk argues he’d never actually do this, but perhaps only because he himself is worried of its subconscious draw for him as well–something defiantly violent is at work in some layer of his hidden mind with his eating a juicy tomato right in the presence of the vile, dismay-arousing, maytera Rose).  Diane, from “The Death of Dr. Island,” argues that it wouldn’t matter if her “outside” parents were near or far from her, caged in prison for their actions towards her or allowed to remain loose, because they exist always within; “they are inside me,” she says.  She has an outsize “death drive,” ostensibly has one, but is it her or an alter of hers, one that takes on her parents’ point of view, that insists on throwing her into situations where she’ll be hurt and maybe killed, to sabotage everything good happening in her life, to make her not, as they say in the text, “function”–the disease of character the doctor of the island is counting on to help revive the world-saviour, Ignacius?  Is she herself driving her psyche, or being driven, and not by Freudian drives, like the death drive actually referred to in the text, but by other personalities? 

In Marc Aramini’s exploration of Wizard Knight he argues that the action actually all takes place within a mother’s womb, where not a babble of real personalities, the multiple ones the text provides us with, but only two reside–the “bower,” if you will, of Art and his twin, Ben.  If you think about all these books and stories where Wolfe posits “twins,” one of whom is “bad” and the other, “good,” as of beings, personalities, held within one mind, you’d be witness to a device, a creative mechanism, which could serve to ameliorate that one mind’s guilt.  In Sorcerer’s House you wouldn’t then have two actual brothers, one of whom once drowned puppies and who currently treats women abhorrently/is bent on punishing them (George mistreats his wife perennially, but also physically assaults a female police officer first moment he arrives in town), and the other someone who subconsciously returns to his birthplace maybe mostly to forgive his mother so she might be relieved of any guilt she feels at abandoning her children when they were very young, but rather one mind who has forged a “bad self” so the other one can feel they perpetrated no crime at all, and so does not deserve being alienated from/rejected by those whom they still depend on.  The greater mind that contains Silk also contrived Blood–one mother’s boy defends the manse while the other makes a matricidal attack against it.  The greater mind that contrived innocent Able (he serves as the independent detective, ferreting out who really killed Gilling) also contrived the “guilty” knight Garvoan.  The greater mind that contrived Sinew–who is father-disloyal–also contrived Krait, who is father-loyal, though the purpose here for the one mind would be along the lines of the Doctor Island replacing one Nicholas “son” for a Nicholas that functions better in Horn’s memory.  

Even as it is not overtly staged this way in Wolfe’s texts, another possibility available to the psyche to explore as a measure of defence so to not be crippled by guilt, is not to create alters where one alter carries the guilt so the other is innocent of it, but to erase the guilty person entirely, make it no longer available.  In this case too if you punish the current person for a past crime, you’re punishing an innocent babe, for that person, the guilty one, ain’t there.  This is the situation before us in at least two of Wolfe’s stories.  Latro has done something to a Great Mother Greek goddess, to Demeter, that she deemed inexcusable, a terrible, terrible insult (I suspect it’s nothing more than not obeying her, doing his own thing, the same thing that Able tried to do–challenge her, speak for himself–with the Dark Mother before him, with Parka, for which she too punished him in an outsized way meant to last a lifetime.) Latro forgets everything he was or did, each day.  It makes it hard, as he admits in Soldier of Sidon, to give yourself credit for having done anything, for it’s almost some other “self”–yesterday’s, or maybe the yesterday before yesterday’s–who really did it, but it also makes you innocent of anything corrupt.  “Sorry, that wasn’t me; that was yesterday’s me, who isn’t me, because I have no memory of who he is and what he did.”  In Borrowed Man and Interlibrary Loan the hero, the clone, Ern, laments that he can’t even say he’s ever had sex, because it was the author he was a book-copy of, who was actually experienced.  He’s not guilty of anything, because he’s never done anything.  (FYI, Home Fires has a resurrected mother who is sought out for assassination, but not for something she did, but something the body she is now contained within did, the inverse situation Horn-Silk finds himself at then of Return to the Whorl, when being in Silk’s body rather than his own spares Horn most of Nettle’s fury.)

Severian’s psyche does a different trick. Ern at one point argues that he has a subconscious which is sure a genius, because it’s way smarter than he is; Severian possesses something similar, a genius subconscious that hides from its conscious all the stuff it is not prepared to handle, because many of the desires he has that would arose a sense of guilt or a crippling sense of punishment if experienced consciously, are never allowed to percolate out of his subconscious.  What it traps out of awareness, it traps, good.  Was he, the conscious Severian, ever aware that he desperately wanted to leave the torturer’s guild and explore a fate for himself that pleased himself rather than his masters?  Not consciously, but his subconscious allows him to know that he did, but, very smartly, only after the freedom was granted him outside his deliberately acting to achieve it.  (Wolfe’s pirates do what they do only because they serve the end-goal, because this makes them seem somewhat innocent of actions that would incriminate them. Contra them, Wolfe’s conscious Severian is innocent of end-goal, doesn’t have it–achieve freedom, whatever the cost — in mind, because it allows him to seem boyishly naïve.)  Was he ever aware that he desired power as much as, say, Vodalus and Baldanders and Agia did?  Not consciously, but his subconscious lets him know he most certainly did, that he actually the-whole-time did, but only just when it seems there’s no way out from drinking in the “magic potion” that’ll grant total power to him, for everything being in motion and so close to fruition. (The other well-known-film about Oppenheimer, the documentary, The Day after Trinity, argues that sometimes you can get caught in a bureaucracy where everything is set and in place, has a powerful momentum, and so only someone of iron will, an outsize exceptional person, larger even than Oppenheimer himself, can resist it.) 

Ern isn’t worried about death so much as he is about actually having earned the fate that seems eventually due him, being thrown into a fire, being incinerated (another self of his, another copy, killed himself at the shame of being exiled by the lady who employed him–Adah–and at having the chief librarian who cast him aside, deeming him worth no more than be sold as a cheap book), being murdered.  This to some extent is Oppenheimer’s worry too. If he ends up with all the rest of us being roasted in an atomic fire, is it an apt fate for the Bringer of Death? Ern abates the harmful affect of this thought by shedding himself of the young women he sought to have sex with and trying to fix himself, forever, to a same-aged woman.  He would be rid of “fancies,” and show commitment, for once.  (In Urth Severian tries the same thing as well, and perhaps for the same selfish motive, when he admits his way was to abandon all women he’d ever cared about, and decides to right ways by fixing himself forever to Gurnie).  Oppenheimer partly argues that the inquisition that was set up to exile Oppenheimer during the 1950s, actually served him in that it provided a chance for punishment.  His wife accuses him of masochistic surrender, of using the trial for an opportunity to feel less guilty.  I will always wonder if the reason Wolfe finished his life penning book after book where the protagonist he would be living through starts off so throughly castrated (two as a slave, another where he is someone caught in a Gothic Eastern-European country without a passport, another where he is a criminal without any prestige or money, another where he is a woman-man who stayed home, feathering the nest, while his wife did military) was some sort of masochistic self-application as well.  Not a creation of splits where, not you, but rather someone else, is really guilty.  But a way of framing oneself so that, well, yes, you may have done some things, some things really maybe awfully bad, but hasn’t life proved so hard, been such an unfair burden, already, that further punishment would be beyond the point?  I’m thinking of some mental defence that also provides some great opportunity for rebuke, like how Ern is able to back off Adah when she seeks to once-again destroy him, by arguing, more or less, that his life is so much of suffering he’d actually welcome her killing him… and besides, if she wants to destroy him, she’ll have to deal with the even-scarier-than-her blind head librarian first, who of course has no specific interest in him per se, but certainly very much at least as something she, not anyone else, has the ultimate right to speak for. ( In Wolfe’s works, if you have a terrifying mother coming after you, an Adah or a maytera Rose or an Echidna, the best defence is always somehow to ally yourself with someone who suggests her own terrifying mother to her.  Adah we are told for example had terrible difficulties with her own mother, had to leave her for good to have any chance of a life, so the aged blind-librarian was possibly intended by Wolfe to recall her, and I’m somewhat certain that the reason Wizard Knight‘s Garsecg is convinced Able is the one to destroy a mother-dragon the size of a mountain has something to do with his somehow being suggestive of that dragon’s mother.  [The idea has textual support from other texts; it might require a bit of reader’ latitude to see it, but Sorcerer’s House has a terrible werewolf “mother” in charge of a host of underling werewolves, defeated only once the hero brings his own mother, a more aged mother, into battle with him; also Severian might be seen as linked to the other unwelcome visitor Casdoe has to welcome at her door, the alzabo, so a confusion of guest and predator, and Severian himself has arrived from the same town that Casdoe’s mother lived in, making him perhaps feel a bit like her envoy, the envoy discharged by her mother in punishment of her daughter’s breaking away from her.]  Able is a bit of a Mordred-figure, a being but a part of a larger female, like Seawrack at first is, who at the beginning of his foray into Mythgarthr is told who he is to be by a witch, by Parka, and immediately after is directed towards his goal(s) by a “witch,” the devious aelf-queen, Disiri.)

What Wolfe might have been testing in his last number of novels is the consideration that if you somehow imagine yourself severed of your balls (bombs away!), rather than a man who is a lifetime of accrued sin, you’d become the small child a mother bear continues to fight all for. (This is a turnabout from Pirate Freedom‘s Chris’s take on what to do with small kids who can’t fight, but it remains emphatically there nonetheless.) Appropriately, Wolfe seems to be tucking into his life, at the end of his life, text as scissors, perhaps because he wanted nothing to do with something as OP and suggestively penile for the job, as a hammer.

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