Reminded, by the loss, that I was really overdue for returning to this podcast, and I skipped a few of the detailed episodes on the novella and went ahead to the wrap-up novella, and jeeze, it's great to hear two people talking Wolfe. I most especially loved the ending of the episode, when each of you picked a passage whose prose you really liked to read aloud. So much of what is great about Wolfe is simply his amazing prose, and I think that we — and I definitely include myself here! — can get too wrapped up in the puzzles and allusions to always fully appreciate that. I really hope you do that again in future episodes on other works — maybe even make it a tradition for every longer work you discuss.
A few brief comments, and two longer comments.
• You describe David as important because he's the ancestor of Jesus. I'm trying to think of an appropriate analogy for how that sounds to a Jew. Perhaps this: it's like saying that the Declaration of Independence was really important because it formed the prototype for Elizabeth Candy Stanton's Declaration of Sentiments in Seneca Falls in 1848. I mean, it did; and that latter event was really also important; but to describe it that way tout court is just *bizarre*. At least from a Jewish point of view.
• At some point one of you (I'm sorry I forgot to note who!) says that we "may be living in a world with people with identical DNA some day", or words close to that. I have to point out: we already are! Identical twins have the same DNA. A fact which is good to remember when talking about what clones might mean: they exist! We know! And they're all very different people.
• You said, IMS serves, that Mr Million built the Maison de Chien. Isn't it possible that the first generation of clones was made into Mr Million on Earth, and then he was brought out to Sainte Croix by the second, who then was the one to build the Maison? We don't know (I think?), but that's what I sort of assumed. Is there a reason to think it's one way or the other?
Ok, two longer points.
First, on the name of the narrator. You talk about some of its significance, including (most importantly, perhaps!) that it's a fine joke. But I think that it has two levels of significance which I don't think you mentioned — which may have never been mentioned, but of course may well have been, I don't know. Anyway, they are:
1. It's a parallel to the situation with Aunt Jeanie & Veil: like V/AJ, Wolfe is not giving his name, misleading the reader (parallel to Number 5) into thinking that the author is someone else, and only later disclosing that it is, in fact, them.
2. It's another form of Proust reference! In A la recherche du temps perdu, Proust's narrator is a first person, who tends to avoid giving his name with the same sort of tricks that Number 5 uses ("I told him my name"). In Proust, I believe, he gives his name once, so it's not quite the same. And, of course, Proust's novel traces his life rather more closely than Wolfe's novella does his. But I would guess that this is what gave Wolfe the idea — like Proust, he'd use "I", like Proust, he wouldn't give his name — and then he left clues because, since the biographies are different, one wouldn't otherwise know.
Second, a question I don't recall ever seeing discussed. From Wolfe's comments it appears that he wrote the novella first as an independent work, and then later added the other two novellas to make a larger work (call it a novel, call it a collection, call it a series, it's still a work, albeit composed of smaller ones). But, in the original novella, why did he pair the issues of the clones (central to that story) with Veil's Hypothesis which, although it is central to the novel/collection considered as a whole, is clearly secondary to the novella? If he wasn't originally planning the other two, what role did it serve just in the first?
I claim that it's a thematic parallel. The issue with clones is what is the nature of identity: what is the nature of copying? Do the copies become original, or are they totally different people? Are they fated to reproduce what they copy? Well, that's the case with Veil's Hypothesis. Like the abos (maybe, potentially) copying the French colonists, and eventually killing them out, Number 5 copies his father — and kills & replaces him. And, perhaps, will do so so thoroughly he will forget — not literally, of course, but forget in the way that his father forgot: enough to torture another as he was tortured.
Maybe this is so obvious that no one else bothers to point it out. Maybe it's old news. Or maybe we're so used to thinking of the entire work that we forget that the novella was originally intended to (and does!) stand on its own. But it seems the connections, just in the context of this work, are worth noting. I always wondered why these two things were put in the same story. Until, thinking about your fine episode, I thought of this; and, like so much in Wolfe (most especially including Number 5's name!) it seems, in retrospect, utterly and completely obvious.
I'm delighted to be listening to this fabulous podcast again. So as not to feel too far behind, I'm going to skip, for now, the individual readings of parts of 5th Head, and move on to the Marc Aramini wrap-up, and then the 'A Story' episodes — particularly looking forward to those since it was always the most mysterious part of the novel to me, and I hope you can help me make sense of it!