(urth) Severian on trial

Chris rasputin_ at hotmail.com
Mon Mar 21 12:52:37 PST 2005

Well, briefly, Iorwerth was astute in bringing up Kierkegaard, and there's 
another aspect of the case that should be kept in mind for the kind of 
defenses we are likely to make for Severian.

K. commented that one of the most common excuses that the religious would 
make for Abraham is that, after all, everything *did* work out in the end, 
and God *did* ask him to do what he did, etc. This excuse is made from a 
point of view that's sort of "above the action", and with the benefit of 
hindsight. But if you put yourself in Abraham's position the situation is 
much worse than all that, in that:
(a) Are you *sure* that that's God's voice you just heard? Couldn't you be 
(b) Is what the voice asked you to do consistent with the God you believe 
(c) If God actually takes away Isaac then, in context, he is a 
promise-breaker and deceiver. If you are really in the hands of an 
omnipotent deceiver then (a la Descartes's evil demon) you can't ever know 
anything, or trust your own rational decisions. But if God doesn't take 
Isaac away then why would he ask for the sacrifice, and isn't that 
needlessly cruel?

In that situation most of us would have a real problem carrying through with 
what Abraham did. And we could supply no real *rational* justification for 
our actions. As far as we are capable of judging, morally, his actions have 
to be condemned because there's simply no ground for approving them.

Now, Severian's case. He suspects that he may be mad. He also accepts that a 
large number of apparently reasonable, sane people do not agree with the 
decision he is making and will try to stop him given a chance. In his 
position, is this not a strong indication that you may be mistaken? Further: 
one thing that Severian does *not* do is engage in rational/moral debate 
over the issue. He may fight to the death, but does not seem interested in 
trying to convince people not to oppose him. The implication (to me) seems 
to be that he knows that he can supply no rational reason that will 
satisfactorily justify his decision.

There are also many ways in which Sev's position does not parallel 
Abraham's, and for that reason I don't want to make a discussion of Abraham 
central to understanding Severian. But what I am getting at is that if we 
really attempt to judge Severian the way we would judge a real person, then 
we can't accept "happily every after" endings or appeals to divine guidance 
as adequate justifications.

But we do, pretty much unanimously, think of Severian's actions as 
justified. While I am sort of playing the role of the Accuser here, my 
interest isn't really in convincing people to condemn Sev, what I would like 
to get at is a deeper understanding of how and why we do accept him as 
justified in his actions.

Sort of half-related, someone also raised a good point to me about how in a 
sense our judgments of Severian, or Urth in general, seem only semi-real in 
the first place (even for a work of fiction) because Severian has a way of 
talking as if he were half-dreaming. This strikes a chord with me; Urth 
never seemed real as a "place" to me but had the sort of geography of a 
dream, or subconscious realm. In this respect I do think that perhaps a 
comparison with WK might be in order as you say.


PS - I'm not sure what you mean by "The Watchmen" being a "fascist work", 
any more than "1984" is a "totalitarian work" or "Animal Farm" is a 
"communist work". "V for Vendetta" has a stronger connection with fascism 
but it is fairly clearly anti-fascist in viewpoint.

>1. He may be a psycho but he done what had to be done.
>2. He took a liberty, but the end justifies the means.
>3. He is evil and billions died cause of what he did.
>There's another way of looking at it. Severian didn't TAKE the power of the
>New Sun.  He was GIVEN that power. Furthermore he was given that power by
>someone with rightful authority over it (one could argue). And with the
>granting of that power (authority), was the responsibility of deciding how
>to use it. He could have chosen not to bring the New Sun and then been
>responsible for the rubbing out of humanity on Earth and the humanity 
>(the Green Man and his civilization) and the hierodules uncreated (but 
>he then be made a neutered autarch and the responsibility would have been
>given to someone else?). Or he could have chosen to use the authority for
>the reason it was given. In this sense is as senseless to accuse Severian 
>murder as it is to accuse God of murder (speaking in a Judeo-Christian
>sense). God gives life, he sustains life, so he cannot "rob" anyone of 
>he merely reclaims what is His own. The world of Severian only existed
>because of the H intercession. If the world were to be eternally
>dominated by Erebus and the Acians, would we be as concerned that Sev had
>put an end to it?
>So rather than Sev being an unthinking tool, he could be thoughtfully
>yielding to what he sees as a rightful authority and using the authority 
>have given him dutifully ("duty" implies that it is justly deserved) on
>their behalf. Hmmmm....Perhaps there is more overlap between tBotNS and tWK
>than I realized.
>It seemed to me that we were on the verge of comparing Severian to
>Ozymandias in "The Watchman" graphic novel (a profoundly fascist work). I
>don't think they are at all similar.
>~ Crush
>Revelations 6:4-8
>And there went out another horse that was red: and authority was given to
>him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should 
>one another: and there was given to him a great sword....And I looked, and
>behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell
>followed with him. And authority was given unto them (Death and Hell) over
>the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with
>death, and with the beasts of the earth.
>Rev 11:3-6 And I will give authority to my two witnesses...These have power
>to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have
>power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all
>plagues, as often as they will.
>Urth Mailing List
>To post, write urth at urth.net
>Subscription/information: http://www.urth.net

More information about the Urth mailing list