Monday, March 03, 2008

Why you should read Gene Wolfe:

You should read Gene Wolfe because he does things to you. He plays tricks with you soul. Neat tricks.

I am currently reading the Soldier in the Mist series. In it, the soldier called “Latro” has suffered a head wound, losing his memory daily. His experience is thus compressed to day-sized chunks, and his memory is stored on scrolls that he writes at the end of each day. He takes part in the Persian War around 480 B.C.

So much for the plot.

What makes the book so interesting to me is the use of creative dislocation. This is a term I’ve just coined to refer to the way Wolfe makes the everyday, in this case the everyday of pre-classical Greece, mysterious. Latro is a foreigner with some knowledge of languages, and so hears Greek words not as names, fossilized in their meanings, but as descriptions. Thus Athens becomes Thought, the Spartans are the Rope Makers, the country of the Spartans is called The Silent Land., and so forth. Familiar geography that became crusted over in high school history text books becomes strange and unrecognizable, and therefore fantastic. Characters that one becomes accustomed to are forever new to Latro, and though he may have an inkling of who they are, he needs to meet them again every day. Loves are continually rediscovered.

Also, Latro can see the gods.

He sees the gods when no-one else can. This is because of his forgetfulness, or so the gods tell us in the story. I think it isn’t so much because of the forgetfulness, but because of the state of perpetual newness into which Latro is thrust. The whole world is full of gods, as Thales said, but most of us don’t notice because we are so used to it. Or, to put it in Aristotelian terms, all love of wisdom begins in wonder. Most of us don’t love wisdom because the world holds no wonder.

It’s good stuff. Not an easy read, but well worth the effort.