On Wings of Song Themes
by Thomas M. Disch

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On Wings of Song Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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Disch bases his judgment on aesthetics; to understand Disch's work one must first understand that he is aesthetically motivated — that the music of his prose, the images he describes, and the plots he dramatizes are formed in part by what Disch deems beautiful and what he deems ugly. The most overt discussion of aesthetics among his novels is On Wings of Song.

On Wings of Song has the fantastic motif of "flying" and is set in the near future, both traits that seem science fictional. Yet, if one were to remove the "flying" motif from the novel, it would remain largely intact, and its future setting is too much like the present to be convincingly futuristic. In fact. On Wings of Song is not about science, nor is it a speculation about the future; it is about growing up in an amoral society that is contemporary, with fantastic twists that are symbolic. The multitude of references to literature and music and other arts that fill much of the space in On Wings of Song puts off some critics; Disch appears to be merely showing off. Indeed, Disch is showing off; his novels are filled with tricks and twists, making his prose exuberant and exciting, but he is not "merely" showing off; On Wings of Song is about the human spirit, about people seeking to be more than they are — artists, writers, and composers are, in the context of the novel, people who can help others become more than they are.

On Wings of Song presents its readers with most of Disch's ambitions and the problems he presents to critics. The novel's scope is large; Disch satirizes humanity. In Disch's novel the universe is utterly indifferent to mankind; no God intervenes in humanity's affairs to help people. People seek a oneness with the universe by becoming "fairies," the mechanically disembodied spirits of those who "fly." Any mechanism that has a repetitiously cyclical motion, such as a fan, is attractive to the "fairies," who join in the motions in an ecstatic loss of the sense of self. The rotation of the Earth provides the greatest ecstasy. Flight thus resembles a religious experience; people gain a feeling of being something greater than themselves and a kind of spiritual euphoria. "Fairies" lose their humanity, their ability to think, and the ability to appreciate anything except the supposed cyclical rhythms of the universe. Whatever ecstasy their experience brings them is purchased at the cost of individuality and their ability to understand the universe. Weinreb does not "fly," but he achieves more than the "fairies."