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From: "Ori Kowarsky" <orik@sprint.ca>
Subject: Re: (urth) Messianic
Date: Sat, 20 Nov 1999 15:22:41 

Alex David Groce wrote:

"Well, you can interpret BOTNS in this manner, but I think you've failed to
provide an argument that convinces those who believe Wolfe succeeded in
what he set out to do that he in fact failed.  Obviously, of course, we
succeeded in convincing you, but I at least don't claim that there is only
"plain meaning" of BOTNS, or of any interesting Wolfe text for that matter."

I am not claiming that there is any one plain interpretation of the text,
nor am I intending to push a single interpretation on anyone else;  I *am*
arguing that the text says certain things very clearly which make a
theological or theosophical interpretation problematical to say the least,
and if I can't convince you that chapter 34 of Citadel reads as it reads
then perhaps you own a different edition than I do.

"Wolfe's worlds always allow the "Dr. Crane hypothesis"--Silk's
enlightenment is a brain anuerism, the numerous points at which Severian's
story takes on a semblance of the Gospel narratives are purely coincidental,
and the inhabitants of Yesod are what Ori believe of them.  BUT, it is
a distortion of the "plain meaning of the text" to say that there are no
hints of a theological explanation that is describable as precisely "how God
works through suffering."  "

The intrustions of the divine (well, divine for you, "divine" for me) in the
text take three primary forms:
1.  Cultural artifacts and institutions which bring to mind religions known
in the 20th century;
2.  Events which would be miraculous to us;
3.  Severain's thoughts and feelings.

In terms of #1, there are a variety of artifacts from earlier cultures and
religions within our own religions.  Does the fact that Christmas falls on
the 25th of December mean that Christianity is a cipher for Mithraism or it
is just an assimilated fragment from an earlier belief put to the service of
another system?  If a reader approaches TBOTNS with the belief that
Christianity is the central fact of the universe and everything which came
before it is its prelude and everything which comes after it is its echo
(assuming Christ appeared in Briah) then it is reasonable to look at these
echoes and say "Aha!  Christianity!";  but if a reader does not, then these
Christain elements are, frankly, just part of the mulch after so many

In terms of #2, it is established in TBOTNS that every single miracle (or
"miracle") which Severain effects with or without the Claw is a feat which
the Hierodule's masters are shown to be able to do quite easily with their
technology.  This leads to my assumption that they are watching him,
following him around, and shuttling him and everyone else he "resurrects" up
and down the Corridors of Time.  This is an impressive trick, but its done
with technology and therefore is nothing more than a trick, and calling it
evidence of divinity is like saying my flipping on a light switch is
evidence of *my* divinity.  Given the extreme discombobulation and amnesia
this effect has on most people, it leads me to guess that Severain is
"chosen" by these powers because he has an eidetic memory which allows his
numerous resurrections to occur without making him a basket case -- kind of
like having infinite lives in "Doom".

Keeping on with #2, let's examine the one miracle the Claw effects which
does not appear to involve the Corridors of Time;  the changing of water
into wine.  Now, if I recall correctly, when Jesus turned water into wine at
the wedding in Galilee this was a useful miracle which improved people's
lives on the material plane and also has obvious spiritual and symbolic
value.  Turning water meant for washing in with no benefit (if you can call
it benefit -- it ruins Sev's washing) to anyone except for Jonas and Sev
seems like a pointless, slapstick accident -- like Jove's thunderbolt
misfiring or Moses' bath water splitting when he tries to sit down in it.
As another poster pointed out it seem to have at most two purposes -- a
meta-fictional Christological flag planted by Wolfe, a possibility which is
so inelegant I would prefer to discount it for his sake, or else an attempt
by the Yesodites to trigger some half-remembered cultural fragment in Sev's
education which will lead him down the path of believing in his own
Messiahship.  Either way, it's cheap.

On to #3, Sev has certain thoughts and feelings regarding his connection
with the Increate and the Increate's connection with the world.  These
thoughts, though, are entirely subjective and you can either say "Yeah, I
dig that!" or "No, I don't dig that!" or "Those words are mighty purty but I
don't think the world works that way" but either way they are determinative
proof of nothing except Sev's own impressions of what's going on around him,
and he's been shown to be wrong before.

"Those of us who find this in the text are in no way
guilty of ignoring the meaning of the book; that the other explanation is
not utterly dismissed is what separates Wolfe's fiction from simple
He is subtle and does not dismiss the problems of pain and destruction.  But
claim that he doesn't succeed at all in BOTNS is to ignore much of the
of the book--the read only the most obviously stated things, and with a
avoidance of what does not agree with one's philosophy."

I disagree with you.  I am attempting a reading of the text which takes into
account what is in the text and does not invlove a willful imposition of
one's philosophy, whether that philosophy is extra-textually shared with the
author or not.

"But to say he failed in this one is akin to saying that because I/you don't
Plato's philosophical arguments that he failed to even present them."

I am saying that if Wolfe has said in interviews that TBOTNS is an exercise
in theodicy then in that case he has failed.  Why?  because he presents a
story which *on its face* is about nothing more than the degradation and
genocide of the people of a planet for no discernable moral purpose.  If the
reader is contractually obliged to read this and say, "Well, in some
mysterious and unfathomable way this is all for the best" then the reader is
being asked to do the author's work for him and so the promised theodicy
never even shows up.  Which is where the book gets interesting.

For me, at least.

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

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