entrevista a Gene Wolfe


O homem em pessoa também dá mindtrips.


LM: And since a lot of your work seems to deal with the nature of human perception itself—the difficulties of understanding what is going on around us—a straightforward approach would be inappropriate.

Wolfe: It’s the hackneyed notion: “The medium is the message.” As I work on a story, the subject matter often seems to become an appropriate means of telling it—the thing bites its tail, in a way—because subject and form aren’t reducible to a simple “this or that.” “That” and “this” are interacting throughout the story. That’s what I meant when I said I’m trying to show the way things really seem to me—my experience is that subjects and methods are always interacting in our daily lives. That’s realism, that’s the way things really are. It’s the other thing—the matter of fact assumption found in most fiction that the author and characters perceive everything around them clearly and objectively—that is unreal. I mean, you sit there and you think you’re seeing me and I sit here thinking I’m seeing you; but what we’re really reacting to are light patterns that have stimulated certain nerve endings in the retinas of our eyes—light patterns that are reflected from us. It’s this peculiar process of interaction between light waves, our retinas, and our brains that I call “seeing you” and you call “seeing me.” But change the mechanism in my eyes, change the nature of the light, and “you” and “me” become entirely different as far as we’re concerned. You think you’re hearing me directly at this moment but you’re actually hearing everything a little bit after I’ve said it because it requires a finite but measurable amount of time for my voice to reach you. Fiction that doesn’t acknowledge these sorts of interactions simply isn’t “realistic” in any sense I’d use that term.


LM: You exhibit not only a near encyclopedic knowledge of words and their origins but you obviously have a great feel for language and for inventing contexts in which different lingoes can be presented. And yet one theme which recurs in many of your works (and throughout The Book of the New Sun) is the limitations of words, the way language distorts perception and is used to manipulate others. Is this a paradox—or an occupational hazard?

Wolfe: Any writer who tries to press against the limits of prose, who’s trying to write something genuinely different from what’s come before, is constantly aware of these paradoxes about language’s power and its limitations. Because language is your medium, you become aware of the extent to which language controls and directs our thinking, the extent that we’re manipulated by words—and yet the extent to which words necessarily limit our attention and hence misrepresent the world around us. Orwell dealt with all this in 1984 much better than I’ve been able to when he said, in effect: Let me control the language and I will control peoples’ thoughts. Back in the 1930s the Japanese used to have actual “Thought Police,” who would come around and say to people, “What do you think about our expedition to China?” or something like that. And if they didn’t like what you replied, they’d put you under arrest. What Orwell was driving at, though, goes beyond that kind of obvious control mechanism; he was implying that if he could control the language, then he could make it so that you couldn’t even think about anything he didn’t want you to think about. My view is that this isn’t wholly true. One of the dumber things you see in the comic books occasionally is where, say, Spider Man falls off a building, looks down and sees a flag pole, and thinks to himself, “If I can just grab that flagpole, I’ll be okay.” Now nobody in those circumstances would actually be doing that—if you’re falling off a building, you don’t put that kind of thought into words, even though you’re somehow consciously aware of needing to grab that flagpole. You are thinking below the threshold of language, which suggests there is a pre verbal, sub level of thinking taking place without words. Orwell didn’t deal with this sub level of thinking, but the accuracy of his insights about the way authorities can manipulate people through words is evident in the world around us.


LM: This issue of memory is central to a lot of your work—Peace, The Fifth Head of Cerberus, each book of The Book of the New Sun, and a lot of your stories. Can you say anything about why you return to it so often?

Wolfe: Memory is all we have. The present is a knife’s edge, and the future doesn’t really exist (that’s why SF writers can set all these strange stories there, because it’s no place, it hasn’t come into being). So memory’s ability to reconnect us with the past, or some version of the past, is all we have. I’m including racial memory and instinct here (“instinct” is really just a form of racial memory). The baby bird holds onto the branch because of the racial memory of hundreds of generations of birds who have fallen off. Little kids always seem to know there are terrible things out there in the dark which might eat you, and that’s undoubtedly because of hundreds and hundreds of little kids who were living in caves when there were terrible things lurking out there in the dark. This whole business about memory is very complicated because we not only remember events but we can also recall earlier memories. I allude to this in The Book of the New Sun when I make the point that Severian not only remembers what’s happened but he remembers how he used to remember—so he can see the difference between the way he used to remember things and the way he remembers them now.

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