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From: "Jim Henley" <jlhenley@erols.com>
Subject: RE: (urth) Re: Digest urth.v028.n079
Date: Sun, 7 Nov 1999 22:37:29 

> -----Original Message-----
> From: urth-errors@lists.best.com [mailto:urth-errors@lists.best.com]On
> Behalf Of Jeremy Crampton
> ><<<<I really can't think of any instances (other than
> >things that are just odd--who said what on page #1)
> >where Severian outright lies.>>>>>>>>
> Aren't we forgetting to distinguish between Severian's lies to us, the
> privileged reader, and his lies to the other characters? The
> number of lies
> and deceptions in this latter category is fairly significant.

Which tells us little about his reliability as a narrator, assuming that we
really are _distinguishing_ between the two types of lies.

> But even while confessing, he makes further lies.

Zat so? [Continued . . . ]

> Lies to the reader:
> p. 2 perfection of his memory
> p. 3 again, claims perfect memory

Only a lie if a) it's not true, and b) he knows it's not true. Aside from
the Roche/Drotte thing, there's been little to demonstrate a) and nothing,
IIRC, to demonstrate b).

> p. 4 "I had almost died that day". In fact, he did die, but does
> not reveal
> the full truth at this point. [Later dives for his skull in vol 5].

Since he didn't know. Remember, BotNS was completed "by Sev" before the
events of URTH ever happened. In this sense URTH can't even really be
called "vol 5." It's volume 2.

> p. 9 (chap 2) another claim about his memory

Which falls afoul of the same problems as the earlier ones when it comes to
proving that Sev "lies."

> p. 9 "I have never known my father or mother" but later in
> chapter possibly
> remembers his mother (p. 15 lying in a cell on his back he hears a woman
> crying)

I'm sorry, this is merely a simulacrim of evidence, despite the reassuring
specificity of page numbers. Here's what the passage of page 15 actually
says. The context is that Sev is narrating his "near-death" experience in
Gyoll. He is not actually in a cell at all, he is in the water
_hallucinating_ that he is in a cell.

	"Yet he could not see far enough. I was in one of the
	cells below the examination room. I lay there on my
	back, looking up at the gray ceiling. A woman cried
	but I could not see her, and I was less conscious of
	her sobs than of the ringing, ringing, ringing of the
	spoon. Darkness closed over me, but out of the darkness
	came the face of a woman, as immense as the green face
	of the moon. It was not she who wept . . . They grasped
	me, pulled me up, then flung me down, away from her face
	and from the sound of sobbing, down into the blackness
	until at last I struck what I took to be the bottom mud
	and burst through it into a world of light rimmed with
	black." [Ellipses mine. Readers are invited to determine
	for themselves if the text I've left out damages my case.
	I say it does not.]

Note: There is _nothing_ in the text to demonstrate that "a woman"
constitutes a memory of Sev's mother. Sev must have heard women crying in
cells all his young life. (He as much as tells us this.) Even the cell is a
vision. It's entirely possible that his unconscious has dreamed up a
"motherly" sound out of imagination or a memory that predates the
_beginning_ of his remembered life. (My earliest memory dates to about age
3.) But even if that were the case it would in no way invalidate Sev's
claim to have never known his parents. If he doesn't remember them, his
report is truthful to the extent of his knowledge.

And if you want to use the idea that Sev "forgets" his parents as evidence
that he's a liar, familiar problems reassert themselves:

1) We know that people tend not to remember things from very early in their
childhood. In that context, Sev's claim of perfect memory is to be
understood as perfect memory "since his memory was switched on."

2) If Sev _thinks_ he has perfect memory, he's not lying.

> p. 11-12 incomplete truth about the person in the mausaleum and why it
> looks like him (I would say this is a narrative deception to provide
> foreshadowing and gradual revelation of Severian's story--a
> "lie" by Wolfe then)

Is there anything to demonstrate that Sev knows the complete truth about
the mausoleum before the events of URTH? This is a genuine rather than
rhetorical question.

> Lies to himself:
> p. 7 "half pretends" that he is executing "miserable vagrants"
> for Vodalus, who are "less valuable than cattle" (p. 14).

Talk about your unreliable narrators! <g> The three quoted phrases are
amalgamated out of order into a spurious whole. And what makes any
constituent part a lie? Are they not vagrants? (No proof.) Are they not
miserable? (I'd be pretty miserable if I found myself constituting Sev's
business for the day. Otherwise, he's not doing it right . . . ) Are they
_more_ valuable than cattle? (Says who? You? Me too! But that doesn't mean
Sev does.) Is his pretense greater or less than half? (How would we know?)

> And don't forget some lies by others:
> p. 3 Drotte to leader of volunteers about being physicians' gallipots and
> collecting herbs (several good ones).

But what in the world do lies by others have to do with Sev's veracity as a

> Also don't forget that Severian without hesitation murders a man he
> considers to be "stupid and innocent...a laborer"!

Which has what to do with honesty, precisely, as opposed to general
niceness? Wait, I think I know - the fact that Sev doesn't try to come up
with a reason why the guy deserves it, thus making himself look better,
tends to _confirm_ his honesty rather than disproving it.

> Other people might dispute some of these or select different
> examples, and
> certainly the examples I've chosen are not equal in importance.

But about equal in probative value . . .

> But the point is that it's surprisingly easy to find examples.

This is the critical equivalent of throwing mud and hoping some of it
sticks, IMHO. And that (it is pretty obvious that I am bothered) is what
bothers me.

> The other point is
> that Sev. is often very honest, even to the detriment of our image of him
> (eg., p. 9 tells us the only value he absorbed from his guild was loyalty
> to it, which makes his eventual betrayal of it such a tough thing to do).

And here I agree.


"There will always be                                 Costello/
 a little larceny                                           Bacharach,
   in everyone"                                             "My Thief"

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

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