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From: Alex David Groce <Alex_Groce@gs246.sp.cs.cmu.edu>
Subject: Re: (urth) Messianic?  - AHA
Date: Thu, 18 Nov 1999 18:41:36 

Aha.  Thanks, Roy.  I was under a misapprehension--I think we're in much
closer agreement than I would have thought about things--our final 
interpretations still differ, but are based on similar grounds.

>When he lies to himself he distorts reality, or rather, his perception of
>it. When he then relates his perceptions to the reader he is lying to the
>reader by commission; when he fails to relate something altogether he is
>lying by omission. I cannot seriously entertain the notion that he lies to
>himself but tells the truth to the reader.

I guess the difference between formal and material lies comes in here--a formal
lie is when person X, __knowingly__, states something untrue, __knowing__ it to
be untrue (so, stating something that you don't realize implies something that
you know is untrue isn't a formal lie, nor is knowingly stating something you
believe to be true which is, in fact, false).  There are actually some other
caveats (I believe, for ethical/moral consideration, which is where this comes
into play, that, for instance, telling an SS man "no Jews are hiding in my 
attic" is not a formal lie), but this is the gist of it.  I think of "lying
to one's self" as being actually believing, perhaps through willful inaction
of the reason, things that are untrue.  If you KNOW a statement to be untrue,
in a complete sense, you cannot "tell yourself" it is true.  Thus, "lying to
himself" means, I think, things Severian believe that are false--possibly
in good faith, possibly out of laziness or an unwillingness to really consider
something unpleasant.  

>I'm not making these quotes up. Wolfe put them in for a reason, I suppose,
>not just to pad the text. We can argue about which things Severian relates
>that he is not telling the truth about, to what extent he is not telling the
>truth, why he left out something that obviously should have been in his
>account, but I don't think it can be doubted that not everything he tells us
>is the truth.

Gotcha.  While I probably grant Severian much more awareness and insight than
you do, we agree here.  Severian (I think) has a deep insight into the events
occuring, but not a complete understanding--even after the transformations at
the end of URTH, he is not all-aware (vastly more so than before, yes, but not

>I'm even rather surprised that devout Christians aren't outraged
>at comparisons of Sev to Jesus. Perhaps they are; this list is hardly
>representative of the people who read Wolfe. To me, despite the parallels,
>Sev of the Urth Cycle is about as far from the character of Jesus as
>portrayed in the Gospels as two members of the same species can be.

Well, speaking as a Christian, I'd be annoyed if someone said "Jesus sure did
act a lot like Severian," and I find the interpretation that reads Severian to
literally BE the Second Coming as silly (and explicitly rejected by Wolfe).  On
the other hand, that Severian is a cad at times and never does seem to reform
on the matter of faithfulness to women doesn't prevent him from being a
Christian figure; a process is involved in perfection, in Christian theology,
and in general there is no implication that the Christian will never fail to
obey God, at least certainly not in what I'm assuming is Wolfe's theology--
otherwise the Sacrament of Reconciliation would be useless.  After all, the
apostles are "Christic" figures but spend much of the New Testament not getting
it and doing the wrong thing; Peter's denial was terrible, but in the end it
did not make him another Judas.

>You know all the points where they correspond; let me point out some rather
>glaring contrasts. Jesus never killed anyone. He didn't have sex with every
>female he could get his hands on. He knew who his parents were. He didn't
>earn his daily bread by being very good at hurting people. He was not a
>soldier. He was not a temporal ruler. He never slept with his grandmother.
>He didn't have a sister or wife, etc., etc.

Ah, this is quite right, and one thing Clute seems to have difficulty dealing
with--as a CHRIST figure, Severian's rather blasphemous and (given the context
doesn't mesh well with that) ridiculous.  Severian is not intended to actually
BE the Christ of the Parousia.  Rather, he is a human figure, an ordinary man
drawn (by implication by divine action) into becoming the instrument of events
that have a strong typological resemblance to the events of the Second Coming.
Severian's "Revelation" isn't a real eschatology, but if figures the real
deal--it is a secular salvation for Urth.  In this sense, it is quite 
Christic--the eschatological Christ, coming in glory and judging the quick and
the dead.  As this isn't the final coming, the "salvation" offered is the
influx of energy from the New Sun, extending the temporal duration of life on
Urth (now Ushas, it is so transformed) into some indefinite future.  The mass
destruction Severian brings is, in one sense, of course, truly terrible and
regrettable, but in another sense it is necessary for the revitalization of
Urth--without the floods and destruction of the New Sun, the future is that of
Master Ash; surrender to the ice.  Severian kills everyone, but to fail to do
so is to kill the Green Man.  There is no morally neutral action here, thanks
to the way time interacts; Severian can choose the future, but he cannot fail
to act.

Now, there's a nasty line here morally--after all, Communism, which Wolfe
seems to hate with a mighty passion (and here I concurr) justifies things along
the same line--Stalin must kill these 30 million so that the "happy good time"
may come and we avoid the terrors of capitalism extending into the future.  The
difference, I suspect, as Wolfe sees it, is that (A) Severian doesn't take much
pleasure in it all, and seems to genuinely mourn for those slain, and in fact
assumes he will be among them, one way or another and (B) (this is the 
controversial one) unlike Stalin, it looks like Sev. has strong indications
from the Increate that this is the way to go; the game IS rigged, although
Severian has a meaningful choice in the matter--Wolfe's playing, as we've
noticed before, fast and loose, but deep, with matters of free will here.  
Just because actions are "awful" from a human perspective doesn't mean that
they can't be commanded by divine will, in traditional Christian (and Jewish)
theology--even though he doesn't sacrifice Isaac, that Abraham was WILLING to
do so is, from our point of view, a "terrible" thing; however, to ask such
things is, at times, the way of God--the OT is pretty heavy on this stuff,
requiring personal slaughter in war of greater numbers for reasons less clear
than those given for the floods that bring Ushas.  The NT is less obviously
bloody, but the final eschatology is still in terms of separating the wheat
from the chaff and burning the later.  Simply the introduction of Christianity
into the world, after all, caused the deaths of, at least, the martrys, in the
short term--for greater renewal in the end.

Now, because it isn't real, there's no way to finally, metaphysically find out
whether Severian was right--Christians, I suppose, must see it as "if this
had been real, and God had a hand in it, he was right to do as he did."  But
even in a secular reading, which leaves out a lot of what helps judge the
actions involved, Severian isn't quite acting purely as an earthquake or a
volcano (though, as Job shows, these are the Increate's servants also)--the
structure of the story is such that he must make a choice to either allow
Ash's future to come, or to bring the New Sun.  He KNOWS, without any way of
doubting it (this is where he has a huge moral leg up on Stalin/Mao, in another
way), that one path, contingent in part on his actions, leads to the utter end
of Ragnarok, ice forever.  He also knows that there is a different, and, we
would all agree, I think, better, future possible--that of the Green Man.  He
does not, until near the end of Urth, truly know what the consequences of the
New Sun will be, though he must suspect they will be both wonderful AND

(On the other hand, outside of all this, I think part of it comes down to
how Severian rubs you--I like him a lot, as a man, though he has his flaws.)

>If Wolfe intended Sev to be seen as Christ-like, why make him so
>unchristian? If Tzadkiel and his followers were meant to be angelic, why
>make them liars and deceivers, puppet masters in a shadowy theater? Why the
>images of hell in Yesod? Wolfe is at least sending mixed messages.

Hmmm...  I'm still not convinced that Yesod is meant to be hell-like, I get
more "Wizard of Oz" man behind the curtains like--only here, behind the curtain
are strange things that neither Severian nor we fully comprehend.  And, of
course, the statement that "many have called me a liar" by Tzad doesn't seem
too sinister if you consider who might have called Tzad a liar--Abaia, Erebus,
and co. would surely say Tzad is a liar, just as Lucifer told Eve that God lied
when he said the fruit meant death.  I think Wolfe is, in part, trying to show
that it IS all a bit of a puppet-show, in that though the actors have free 
will, in the end the ACTOR, the AUTHOR, is really putting on the whole show; 
remove his granting existence, and it all vanishes, without even a puff of 
smoke.  Even Abaia and Erebus, though free to rebel, are not capable of 
escaping the iron grasp of the Increate's Plan.

>When he writes that he lies to himself, the reader is given
>warning that all that he relates cannot be trusted to be true. People who
>lie to themselves do so because they cannot face the truth. Human nature is
>such that people lie to themselves about things that they regard as
>important to their sense of self-identity, self-worth, the core values of
>their being. This colors and otherwise distorts their worldview; all that
>they perceive is filtered through that lens. This causes people to see
>things not as they are, but as their ego will allow them to see them.

This is true, but I think it's just about as true of David Copperfield,
Ishmael, the nameless narrator of THE BROTHER KARAMAZOV, the old "authorial
persona as narrator," and Huckleberry Finn as it is of Severian.  I'm certain
that I lie to myself; I hope that because of this admission you will suspect
the things I say, but not TOO much; after all, you all do the same.  :)  It's
certainly dead on with the view of reality I presume Wolfe holds that "we
see through a glass darkly."  If anything, the Christic imagery in his story
and the eschatological foreshadowings of a "New Sun" that doesn't just let
photosynthesis get back to normal (or better) suggests that Severian has more
of a glimpse of the real than most narrators.

"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." John 8:32
Alex David Groce (agroce+@cs.cmu.edu)
Ph.D. Student, Carnegie Mellon University - Computer Science Department
8112 Wean Hall (412)-268-3066

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

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