(urth) Severian on trial and the eccentric Mr. K.

Iorwerth Thomas iorweththomas at hotmail.com
Mon Mar 21 06:34:47 PST 2005


This is reminiscent of Kierkegaard's [1] problem of Abraham in 'Fear and 

The problem being:

1)  Abraham is credited with being moral and the father of the faith.

2)  He almost sacrificed his son because God told him to.

3)  If _I_ did that, I'd be regarded as slightly psychotic.

4)  So why is 1) regarded as true?

He goes through several iteratations of 'what was Abraham thinking?', none 
of which are in fact adequate, and then, in order to illustrate what he 
thinks was going on, outlines what some see as a rather extreme 'divine 
command' ethic [2].

We seem to have an analogous (right down to the tricksyness of the authour) 
Problem of Severian:

1)  Severian is treated sympathetically.

2)  He destroyed the world for a highier good.

3)  If _I_ did that, I'd be regarded as very psychotic.

4)  So why is 1) regarded as true?


[1]  Slightly miserable Danish theologian and founder of Existensialism.  
Treating his works is slightly difficult, because he wrote most of them 
under pseudonims and in them expressed ideas that he didn't quite agree 
with, in the hopes that the reader whould understand by ironic implication.  
Hence the vast number of mutually contradictory interpreations of said 

[2]  But only on a literal reading of the text.  Which is foolish.  See [1].

>From: "Chris" <rasputin_ at hotmail.com>

>I think that variations of these three ways of looking at things probably 
>cover most of the ways we would tend to treat a human being who had done 
>what Severian did. But I don't think that any of them quite match the 
>actual reaction most of us have to Severian's character. I think that we 
>ultimately exempt him from deep judgment because, in some way, we don't 
>feel that he *could* have done otherwise. And you can only blame someone 
>for doing something if they actually have a choice.
>We get this impression that Severian has no free will in this particular 
>matter, it seems, from the fact that the narrator displays a singular lack 
>of doubt about what he's doing (and yet, does not come off as a fanatic 
>either). The narrator speaks as if under the assumption that the reader 
>could not possibly even doubt the rightness of this action, it simply can't 
>be questioned. This much may seem trivially obvious, I don't know, but I am 
>leading up to a general question about just how we should take this.
>One way to look at it is that Severian, as an author, is deliberately using 
>this literary device to attempt to keep us from asking him to justify his 
>actions (presumably because he can't). Nobody seems to really want to treat 
>the book and the character as if this is all there is to it, though. So 
>what is *Wolfe* trying to do? It would seem uncharacteristic of him to be 
>making a veiled attack on the notion of free will. At least not as it 
>applies to humans. Is the answer just that we intuitively accept that 
>Severian, as the Conciliator, *isn't* human? To a certain extent it is easy 
>for us to see him as a sort of cog in the celestial machine, a sort of 
>angel (like Tzadkiel) with his own destined role to play, and this is 
>prepared for us quite early on, in the passages about Talos's play. But it 
>seems to me that this can't be all there is to it, because in every other 
>way we *do* accept Severian as human. This paints a very strange picture. 
>Are we to think of Severian as a man or not? And if we do think of him as a 
>man, what sort of strange view of free will are we embracing in doing so?
>Apologies for the long-windedness, but to make up for it I will try to sit 
>down and be quiet now.
>-- Civet
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