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From: Alex David Groce <Alex_Groce@gs246.sp.cs.cmu.edu>
Subject: Re: (urth) Messianic
Date: Sat, 20 Nov 1999 19:18:16 


Ok, it's not that we're reading Chapter 34 differently, as far as what it says.
It's that the meaning "behind" those things is something we approach very
differently.  First of all, probably in part because of the hints of the 
numinous, I simply don't accept that this is just a pointless genocide, EVEN
IF ONE REJECTS a religious interpretation for events.  You can say it is, but
I think your evidence is fairly weak.  I prefer to give Yesod benefit of the
doubt--I have no reason to think there is a BETTER solution to the problem of
the Old Sun than the arrival of the New Sun.  We know from Typhon's day that
a simple gift of energy with no other changes would probably bring back the
days of mankind as emotionless scourge of the universe, conquering all within
his domain.  (In one sense, the Briah crew are anti-colonialists, 5HC? having
been formed, IIRC, under the scourge of humanity's world-shaking days).  In
fact, it seems to me that you're thinking the hieros to be more Divine than I
am, in that you assume that because they have impressive technology they could,
of course, come up with a solution to things that doesn't involve any pain or
suffering or destruction for anyone--this reminds me of Wellsian scientific
utopianism--"given good tech, there are really NO problems."  This is not what
Wolfe believes, and while you can hate his premises, it's hard to assault the
actions of beings in a fictional world where your premises are almost certainly
false.  In other words, you doubt the premise that "if Severian and the Briah
crew don't bring the New Sun, destructive as it is, then comes Ragnarok."  If
you don't grant that, then their methods are certainly suspect--but I take it
as a granted fact of the fiction, because there seems to be nothing in the text
to suggest this assumption is doubtful--Severian's visit to Master Ash isn't
presented as a "trick" of his masters (contrast:  WATCHMEN where the entire 
story is built around questioning the "do this awful thing or everyone will
die" assumption).  Given that, just because the techniques used are
manipulative and described as "revenge" (in an ironic sense--painful though it
was, the humans' "wronging" of the hieros made them better--and they intend
to "return the favor") doesn't necessarily mean what you seem to think it does.
I'm NOT saying the hieros are Divine or that Tzad is actually a literal
archangel--they use technological methods and means, and seem to have limits
to their knowledge; I doubt that the Increate sends down orders every day to
them, myself.  But I have no problem ascribing the action of Providence to
human actions, even those of highly flawed humans.  When the priest celebrates
Mass, Wolfe & I would say he is acting in the place of Christ, doing something
God wants him to do, the instrument of a Divine action--but not that Father Bob
IS GOD, or may not drink too much or throw away his money betting on a bad 
horse.  After all, in Wolfe's view, Erebus and Abaia are also doing the will 
of the Increate, they just don't like it.

In the end: 

>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.

I certainly don't think you or I or any of the others on this list deal with
a Wolfe story as what it is *on its face*.  We are always trying to peel off
the mask.  And I think you have to go considerably beneath the mask (the wrong
way, IMO) to get to the conclusion that this has "no discernable moral 
purpose"; you have to start radically doubting everything Severian comes to
believe to decide this, and you have to reach deep enough to doubt the basic
assumption about the New Sun/Green Man/Master Ash.  That's hardly what I would
call the obvious interpretation any reasonable person would take--considering
it shows a deep involvement in BOTNS, but I think a deeper understanding leads
to rejecting it as possible but highly unlikely.

I suspect in the end our disagreement may come down to questions of extra-
textual references.  Without SOME kind of extra-textual reference, I can't
even prove BOTNS is anything but a stream of random ASCII characters.  I'm
willing to go pretty far in extra-textuality, and throw in Wolfe's statements
in interviews, etc., as useful in deciding which interpretations to give more
weight, especially as these are the interpretations that I, as a reader, found
before I'd read the interviews, although the interviews added depth to some
of the ideas.  Anyone is free to interpret a book any way they want--but if
an interpretation is radically different than the one that (A) readers who come
from points-of-view at all similar to the author's arrive at without any help
from the author and (B) the author claims he intended, THEN it's curious to
blame the author because those who disagree with his premises fail, after
reading his book, to share his conclusions.

>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.

This is, indeed where we disagree--you give YOUR assumptions (that events
recapturing Christian elements in a story are in NO WAY EVER to be read as
hints of divine involvement) ground zero value (pure-text reading) and make
my assumption (events recaputing Christian elements in a world that doesn't
seem to have any Christian institutions surviving in a recognizable form,
although some may survive--the Pelerines, for example--are HIGHLY suggestive
of divine involvement) evidence of extra-textual imposition of philosophy.
There IS no ground zero--in a text like this, you can't interpret it at all
without SOME kind of metaphysics, unless you really want to miss the whole 

At any rate, I think the author's beliefs are kosher in book-interpretation
as well.  I'm sure there's some way to pull a Christian interpretation out of
"No Exit," but I think Sartre & his interpreters have a right to dismiss it
more than I have a right to dismiss the atheistic-existentialist 

Actually, I think we could probably just go and copy our old arguments out of
the archives here, I doubt either of us is going to convince the other
(or anybody else who's taken a side)--I think we're at a genuine impasse on 
this, just like the last time this thread showed up, and my lengthy arguments
are mostly signs that I don't want to work on this program for my research

"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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