Forum Posts

James Pepe
Apr 20, 2020
In Gene Wolfe
I was listening to your Hero as Werewolf episode today and your discussion caused me to have a thought and I wanted to share it with you guys and see what you thought about it. My thought was, what if the story is being told by the masters about the humans? Your discussion reminded me of something that I read a long time ago. It was supposedly an account of an early Christian ritual, written by a Roman (who I think later converted), named Minucius Felix. I was able to find the exact passage. Minucius writes, "A young baby is covered with flower, the object being to deceive the unwary. It is then served before the person to be admitted into their [i.e. the Christian's] rites. The recruit is urged to inflict blows onto it - they appear to be harmless because of the covering of flour. Thus the baby is killed with wounds that remain unseen and concealed. It is the blood of the infant - I shudder to mention it - it is this blood that they lick with thirsty lips; these are the limbs they distribute eagerly; this is the victim by which they seal their covenant; it is by complicity in this crime that they are pledged to mutual silence; there are their rites, more foul than all sacrileges combined." The Romans were so mystified by the early Christians, these people that think they eat their God and want the bodies of their slain kinsmen, they just had no idea what was going on with them. And you can see how an outsider who is already probably set against them, could report such a story as the one above. In the same way I could see the masters writing a story like The Hero as Werewolf about the humans as a propaganda piece against them. As you guys noted, Paul does not come off looking particularly good in the story and the masters are portrayed as being innocent victims. There are so many resonances in the passage above with the story (e.x. Paul pretending to be a baby to deceive the unwary, Paul killing people by breaking their necks, a wound that does not draw blood and can remain concealed, the talk about drinking blood and wanting to drink the blood of people who are diabetic, etc.) it seem to much to be a coincidence. If the story were partly inspired by this passage, or the persecution of the early Christians in general, the name Paul and the biblical allusion at the end of the story would make more sense as well. Looking forward to hearing what people think.
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James Pepe
Mar 09, 2020
In Elder Sign
I recently listened to your Randolph Carter episode and was hoping to ask you guys to talk a little bit more about the issue of authorial knowledge and character knowledge you brought up in the episode. You talked about how you didn't think that Lovecraft even knew what was down in the tomb and that the story suffered from that. In a certain sense I can understand this because if you, the author, don't know what is going on there is no way to describe it. Lovecraft, however, lives in this realm. His whole modus operandi is talking about horrible monsters that are beyond mortal ken. There must(?) be a real sense in which Lovecraft doesn't know what any of his deities really are. They are metaphysical impossibilities. And yet, this is what Lovecraft is known for, the indescribable, the ineffable. That being said, I think what my actual question is, why, in a case like this, is it important for the author's knowledge to surpass the characters knowledge. Wolfe, for example, knows more about the world than Severian does, but Wolfe's world is, fundamentally, understandable. It is divinely ordered and metaphysically (and scientifically, for that matter) explicable. Lovecraft's world, however, is not. But this is where the core, I think, of Lovecraft's horror lies. It lies in the fact that his world is fundamentally unknowable and beyond human comprehension, because if one truly unknowable thing exists, then everything is truly unknowable. Thus, Lovecraft is an interesting case because his stories depend on talking about something that really is not understandable by neither him, his characters, nor his readers. You guys also asked if there was ever a well done story in which both the author and the character had very little knowledge of what was going on. I think that Kafka's stories might fit this description. I don't think, for example, that Kafka knows why Gregor has turned into a big bug, but the story works nonetheless. In fact, I heard that Kafka would write his stories and then take them to people he thought were smarter than him and ask them to tell him what they were about. But in this, both Kafka and Lovecraft are alike. The point of Kafka's stories was the not knowing and the absurdity and existential horror that came out of that unknowability of what the hell was going on.
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James Pepe
Jan 15, 2019
In Gene Wolfe
Brandon's discussion of substance got me thinking about metaphysics and I thought of something that I think might work. If you guys are familiar with this already, I'm sorry for reexplaining it to you, but here is the quick and dirty version. Aristotle argued that the most basic metaphysical principles, of which all existing things were constituted, were form and matter. For Aristotle, form was the "that which makes a thing that which it is", that is to say, a dog is a dog because it has the form of a dog and a human is a human because it has the form of a human. Now, form doesn't mean shape, it's an immaterial metaphysical principle. Matter, on the other hand, is a lot like what we think of as matter. It is the material aspect of things. Matter is informed by forms and these two metaphysical principles work together to make things what they are. Now, Aristotle, and later St. Thomas, thought that both of these metaphysical aspects of created being were of equal importance. Take a human being, for example. Both Aristotle and Aquinas identify the human form as a special kind of form and thus call it the soul. Now, because one might tend to place more emphasis, when considering humans, on the mind, on our capacity for rational thought, which flows from our souls, because it is what separates us from all other animals. Or, one might tend to give too much emphasis to out material aspect because we are bodily creatures and everything we interact with is material. Both Aristotle and Aquinas, however, would think that both of this positions are incorrect. They would say that it is our very nature to be a unity of both the material (matter) and immaterial (form). Finally, as an aside, neither Aristotle nor Aquinas was a substance dualist because they thought that neither forms nor matter (in its uniformed state) were substances in themselves. Okay, so what has this to do with anything. Well, what if the Abos and the Shadow Children are supposed to be representatives of these two philosophical extremes? What I mean is, perhaps the Abos are meant to represent the person who puts too much emphasis on the material, and therefore, doesn't ever really know what they truly are, hence the constant shape shifting. They would be a personification of the existential axiom "potency precedes act" that we find in Sartre. The Shadow Children, on the other hand, would be representative of the other extreme, people who place too much emphasis on immaterial, that is to say, the mind. The Shadow Children say thought is all that matters, but this is patently false, actions matter, the fact that we have a body matters, and the care for it matters. This is why ethics exists as a science exists at all. This would, I think, place Sandwalker in the middle, perhaps as someone who has the proper relation to the different aspects of his metaphysical make up. We would see this represented by him interacting with the land in a proper and respectful way and in being able to become a Shadow friend. In other words he is able to live in both worlds well, and not become too far given over to one or the other of them. Anyway, I think there is probably a little more massaging of this idea to be done but I it seems like it might be a pretty good potential read of it. It would also map well onto the idea of this second section of the story being the Purgatorio of the book since it is in the Purgatorio that we see both of our metaphysical principals working most closely together. What I mean is, in the Purgatorio, we see people happily enduring physical mortifications in order to effect spiritual cleansing. This wouldn't make any damned sense unless the physical and the immaterial had some kind of relationship in the human person.
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James Pepe
Dec 16, 2018
In Gene Wolfe
I've been enjoying the theological discussions taking place in your most recent podcasts. I came to make two, hopefully not merely pedantic, points about what you have been talking about recently concerning baptism and the first sin of man. The first is that I was surprised you guys did not mention that baptism is explicitly a ritual involving the symbolic death of the participant. From the online catechism, " This sacrament is called Baptism, after the central rite by which it is carried out: to baptize (Greek baptizein) means to "plunge" or "immerse"; the "plunge" into the water symbolizes the catechumen's burial into Christ's death, from which he rises up by resurrection with him, as "a new creature." This is one of the reasons why baptisms are often done around Easter. Secondly, and, I think, more importantly, is that you guys said a number of times that the first sin of man was in desiring knowledge, but this isn't quite right. The small but important distinction to make is that Adam's sin was not in desiring knowledge, but in desiring knowledge in an improper way. The serpent tempted Eve not simply with knowledge, but knowledge that was like God's knowledge. The serpent says, "For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." So, the temptation here isn't in knowing good and evil, but in becoming "as gods". This is one of the reasons why I have so much trouble with the epigram to this story, especially the last line. Of the things mentioned in the quote, the desire to know is, I think, essentially different from the others because humans are, by nature, ordered towards knowledge, and to give that up a truly radical sacrifice. But I realize, just as I am typing this, that must be the point. Saints are fucking awesome.
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James Pepe
Oct 13, 2018
In Gene Wolfe
I recently listened to your latest episode and was somewhat surprised to hear you describe 5's view's on slavery as Aristotelian. While I can see why one might argue that, since Aristotle does talk about natural slaves, I thought it would be a better fit to describe 5's anthropology, and probably his morality, as Nietzschean. However, I think this is interestingly contrasted by his existential questioning, which I think would best be described as Kierkegaardian. I think Five is at the point in his existential thought that Kierkegaard would describe as needing to take the "leap of faith". Five can't seem to do this, however, and I think this is portrayed in his rejection of the humanities and his retreat into the sciences, the idea that, if he just looks hard enough, he can bootstrap himself out of his problem by his own sheer force of will. This would be where his Kierkegaardian leanings end and his Nietzschean tenancies begin.
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James Pepe
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