Civis Laputus Sum


Wolfe's comments from the Introduction to Storeys from the Old Hotel

"Civis Laputus Sum is one of my periodic semiserious hits at academics, who often seem to feel that the only good writer is a dead writer. I do it mostly to show that I'm not good yet, and because it's such fun to see tenured professors who've built whole careers on criticizing some poor bastard who had to hustle to make the rent bluster and huff when they're criticized a bit themselves."


Set in a future in which the surface of the Earth has been made uninhabitable by dense fog, the narrator Jeremy is a former literary academic; inhabitant of an aerial floating island, risen up from Philadephia, that contains two colleges, a library and a stadium. The sporting members of the community, the Blazers, have effectively taken charge, and almost all the books have been burnt -- whether as fuel, or because they were thought useless with no chance of ever returning to the surface, is not clear. Jeremy is part of a group that has memorized Moby-Dick, and plans to film a version of it during which he will kill Charles Stursa, a Blazer who has long been an enemy.


  • Presumably by "I'm not good yet" in his introductory comments, Wolfe means "I'm not dead yet".
  • The title is a reference to Paul of Tarsus's remark when arrested, "Civis Romanus sum" -- "I am a Roman citizen", which entitled him to various rights and privileges such as having to be taken to Rome to be tried. President Kennedy also used the phrase in his famous speech, saying that "Ich bin ein Berliner" was the modern equivalent.
  • 'Stursa' is an anagram of 'Tarsus'. Hard to believe that Wolfe is identifying the crass Blazer with St Paul, but it seems crude for this to be just an additional pointer to the Biblical story.
  • "Civis Laputus sum" on the other hand would mean "I am a citizen of Laputa", the floating island in Gulliver's Travels. Laputa is a sterile community of intellectuals who have little practical understanding.
  • The dense fog and vast rain forests are the result of an increase in greenhouse gases due to human activity.
  • The book-burning and book-memorizing people may be a reference to Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. The book-memorizers here are not like the pure heroes of that story.

Unresolved Questions

  • Surely it should actually be "Civis Laputanus Sum"?

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