(urth) Severian on trial

Chris rasputin_ at hotmail.com
Fri Mar 25 23:48:54 PST 2005

An exchange:

>>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.

>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 
>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?

In short, YES. It has always seemed surreal to me, from the first time I 
layed eyes on it. And the more I learned, the stranger its elements became.

I have always also found it strange that some of the veterans here avoid 
discussing this surreality like the plague. I do not know whether to 
attribute this to the idea that it is all old hat to them, now... or whether 
they simply weren't sure what to make of it. It becomes even more perplexing 
when people who I would expect to know the best seem to approach the story 
in a very literal sci-fi narrative fashion.

But riddle me this, those who know: why, when choosing his whole qabbalistic 
naming scheme in BotNS, did Wolfe choose to ground the realm of Urth under 
the name of "Yesod"? This is a level too high for any literal story. 
Shouldn't it be "Malkhut"?

>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!

Again, YES. Wolfe produces a state of practical paranoia when it comes to 
generating connections between characters. If this is accidental then it is 
a mark of poor, poor craftsmanship. We have good reason to believe that this 
is not due to poor craftsmanship. On the surface such a scenario could not 
produce an intelligible story. And yet one hazy level removed from this, is 
it not true that such connections seem to pass unnoticed?

>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 

It is precisely the shadows that reside in the *higher* levels, and the more 
material bodies in the lower. Perhaps we mourn for the slaying of the 
shadows because in a way all the slayings of all the "real people" are just 
the physical manifestations of that single slaying of shadows, represented 
over and over in the lower realms.

But it is the nature of such a structure to make it difficult to distinguish 
the higher from the lower. I feel I'm being cryptic here, but I've thought 
of 5 different ways to say this as I sit here and every one of them only 
works if you already *apprehend*, in some way, what I'm trying to say. 
Perhaps the only way to express such a thing is to write a story, in which 
people won't be able to isolate the elements in an intelligible way but may 
still be able to convey something that everyone intuitively understands yet 
is unable to explain...

More information about the Urth mailing list