(urth) Severian on trial

maru marudubshinki at gmail.com
Tue Mar 22 18:21:09 PST 2005

Chris wrote:

> 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 mistaken?
> (b) Is what the voice asked you to do consistent with the God you 
> believe in?
> (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.
> Civet
> 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.
Allow me to draw a parallel with WK; does it not seem to you that Urth, 
dying Urth, is more than a little uncanny and bizaare?  What logic
is there to it, what substanial reality?  it seems almost a dream of 
madness, or a warped parody of what should be (everything decaying and in
ruins.)  We pass from place to place with little propelling plot, in 
picaresque manner, though it feels intuitively that there is a vast 
hidden logic
webs of meaning (I thinking of the ambience of "Foucault's Pendulum" 
here, but less factual and explicit).  Does not Old Urth seem unreal, as 
unreal as the angel in the Knight would have seemed in Muspell?
Urth in TBOTNS is lit by an old sun; its inhabitants seem unreal- we 
know this by how many of them turn out to not be- even Agilus, a basic 
scammer is suspected of otherworldly origins- and it doesnot seem 
unreasonable!  When a New Sun comes, and everything is brought to a higher
reality, when we move up a cabalic tree, (like a day of judgement) is it 
unreasonable to expect some shadows of the old world to pass away?

I say we see the unreality of Urth and do not condemn the slaying of 


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