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From: Michael Straight <straight@email.unc.edu>
Subject: Re: (urth) Mellow yellow pharmicon (remember?!)
Date: Thu, 26 Mar 1998 11:29:34 

[Posted from URTH, a mailing list about Gene Wolfe's New Sun and other works]

On Wed, 25 Mar 1998, Alice Turner wrote:

> >I wonder if there could be some difference attributable to Severian's
> >memory.
> Well, of course, but by itself that just doesn't seem quite enough for her
> powerful presence.
> Chris,
> >The autarch mentions he has a pharmacon *similar* to the alzabo, but not
> the
> >same. No doubt it was much more effective to bring hundreds of
> personalities
> >into another person.
> Yes, but Thecla's presence is very powerful long before Sev takes the
> pharmacon. For me, it's just a little something that I wish Wolfe had
> bothered to clear up. Oh, well, let's just call it the Claw's influence.

It depends on how the drug works.  And what it's like to have a memory
like Severian's.   And whether you can draw a sharp line between memory
and self.

If Severian's memory is more analogous to a perfect hard-drive, then I
agree that simply having Thecla's "files" on his hard drive would not be
sufficient to account for the way Severian seems to almost become

But imagine instead that it's more like what Larry Niven describes in
_World of Ptavvs_, where when a telepath reads a person's mind, the two
personalities struggle within the brain to deterine which is the "host"
and which is the "visitor," and if the visitor's personality is strong
enough, the brain may end up convinced that the visitor is actually it's
real, host, personality, even after the telepathic link is broken.  A poor
and totally unjust description of Niven, but it's the best I can do.  Read
the book instead, it's one of Niven's better ones, IMHO.

Anyway, imagine that having a perfect memory is not just having
information at hand, but having a greater degree of continuity with your
past self--since you can remember exactly how you felt when you were six,
and not just project back, you might even be able to get a sense of how
your six-year-old self would have thought/felt about current events.  

For Vodalus, et.  al., with their weaker version of the alzebo drug, they
spend a few minutes where their memories and personality become intermixed
with Thecla, but then the experience becomes a memory, subject to
degredation, only imperfectly recalled. 

For Severian, however, remembering the experience perfectly may be
indistinguishable from having the experience.  He doesn't just have
Thecla's files, he's got her "operating system," and he doesn't just have
it on a hard drive, accessible when he chooses, but always loaded in RAM. 

The autarch alzebo drug is stronger, so the autarchs never quite forget,
(or never quite stop having--is there a difference?) the experience of
communion with earlier autarchs.  


*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

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