(urth) Wolfean theologies

David Stockhoff dstockhoff at verizon.net
Wed Feb 4 08:17:55 PST 2009


I have no desire to be childish or insulting, but obviously I felt a point had to be made, and I have made it.

Yes, you are saying exactly what I think. As only a semiliterate person in these areas, as well as being an atheist, I am naturally leery of a too-theological interpretation. And one could just as well construct an interpretation of TBotNS as a Celtic romance, as I have suggested---and I'd prefer to. But I would not want to set aside any part of Wolfe's vast knowledge, which spans both these literary/historical areas and more. I suspect there are plenty of New Testament/Catholic parallels and references that I can only dimly intuit or follow along when someone more knowledgeable explains them---and I'd like to hear more about these. 

Severian as Christ or "a" christ is indeed less interesting in many ways. It would push the work toward some kind of forced theological propaganda, and unless it is of the most subtle sort---too subtle to be propaganda at all---I would object to that. I especially agree with this:

*But to make Severian "a Christ" seems to me to require us to seek these parallels everywhere in the text, even where they simply don't exist.*

This is exactly what I was thinking when I raised my original questions: 

First (long ago), why exactly can't Severian "be" Christ or "another" christ? In other words, can Severian be---within the work, not outside the work---a manifestation of whatever it was that "walked in Galilee," as the Baptists sing. Given enough time, isn't the "universe" big enough for two or fifteen anyway? I got some good answers to this, and I was relieved to hear that no one thought so. Common sense tells the writer to stay away from that third rail, for starters. From there, as you say, it would metastasize to overwhelm the work and its interpretations.

However, outside the work, I personally don't see much difference, because to me they are all characters, and the world is plainly big enough for infinite variations. Christ himself was partly derived from characters who preceded him. I would identify a character with stigmata and a spear wound who carries the Divine Spark as one with a much more *specific* relation to the Christ than Frodo would have. 

That's a fundamental and useful distinction---but not all that fundamental or useful. Draw a black line between them, and you will start finding examples that blur the line. And it's a category of 1, after all---like Earth itself. Not as useful for extrapolation into fiction as for imitation and distortion.

Second, I asked, if Severian experiences in TUotNS, as he relates he does, at least a glimpse of what it's like to be God/a god/a godling/whatever (I don't see support in the text for useful distinctions between these), then what does that mean for the work? To this question, I got John's suggestion that Severian's divinity might have been temporary, and Brunian's. It's still open. Is this passage part of TUotNS's New-Sun-for-Dummies role, or does it tell us something specific, like Severian is divine? is he divine temporarily or inherently? Or am I jumping to conclusions? Perhaps, read properly, it tells us Severian is NOT divine?

Finally, I agree that much of this comes down to the deployment---and thus the enforcement---of terminology. I am less interested in sharp distinctions in this area than some, and I've offered some arguments for that, for which I don't expect universal acceptance. I also am less interested in narrowing the range of the discussion than I perceive some to be.


If you were addressing me---yes, Wolfe is closer to me than most religious writers and indeed most writers. However, it's all relative. And the more Catholic he is as a writer, the less he is like me.

If I understood your answer to my second question above, you were saying this:

-Yes, Severian is divine at that moment at least
-But only Christ is a Divine Man
-and there is only one Christ
-therefore, just ignore that passage.

Am I right? I'm sure you can see why I considered that an abrupt and inadequate answer.


Message: 3
Date: Tue, 3 Feb 2009 16:11:27 -0800
From: "Dan'l Danehy-Oakes" <danldo at gmail.com>
Subject: Re: (urth) Urth Digest, Vol 53, Issue 59
To: The Urth Mailing List <urth at lists.urth.net>
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"Guardian of the Sacred Texts" is childish and insulting.

But I should lay my cards open on the table: I am, like Wolfe, an adult
convert to Roman Catholicism.

*Independently of this,* I believe that the Catholic episteme offers
perspectives on Wolfe's work that point, if not to his achievement, at
least to his intent.

For example, there are a _lot_ of scenes in the Briah cycle that parallel,
parody, or otherwise reflect upon the Eucharist. Reading these scenes
with a knowledge of the Eucharist imbues them with a narrative energy
that is simply not present without that knowledge.

That doesn't mean that a specifically-Catholic reading of Wolfe is "right" or
even "better than others."

But it _does_ make a reading that's aware of Catholic practice and
imagery a whole lot more interesting -- at least, to me.

The text is the text and, finally, any reading in good faith is a good
reading. (But we are always already in bad faith with this or any
text...) A reading that completely ignores the generically Christian
and specifically Catholic imagery and ideas can be valid.

Such a reading, however, strikes me as like a reading of "Ulysses"
by someone without (or who doesn't show) the slightest knowledge
of  the Odyssey. I've read such readings, and they can be interesting
enough, but they lack a dimension.

> > This is where we disagree: "As a result, it is legitimate to say that
> > Severian is "Christ-like," but
> > not to say that he is "a Christ." "

I overspoke my case by saying "legitimate." I would say however that
a reading that made Severian "a Christ" would be (a) contrary to the
author's intent, for what that may matter to you, and (b) less interesting
than one where Severian is "Christ-like."

Why less interesting? Well: for one thing, "a Christ" is too far removed
from the merely-human for me to find much application to my daily
life. (This is a problem for me in my own religious life, you betcha.)
A Christ-like person, with the sinfulness and failings that beset all
humans but One, is far more interesting to me.

(And, as a side note, Severian is clearly a sinful human himself in
need of redemption, not a perfect Redeemer.)

For another, making Severian "a Christ" forces a schema on the book
that I think just doesn't fit. Some of Severian's adventures clearly
reflect, refract, distort some of the episodes of the Gospels - probably
most obvious, his encounter with Typhon, as a reflection of Christ's
temptation in the desert; but there are quite a number of others.

But to make Severian "a Christ" seems to me to require us to seek
these parallels everywhere in the text, even where they simply
don't exist.

But then ... you seem to mean something different by "a Christ" than
what I would mean. It may be that, if we could decode each other
properly, "a Christ" in your language might mean something more like
what "a Christlike person" does in mine.

Or not?

-- Dan'l Danehy-Oakes ------------------------------ Message: 4 Date: 
Tue, 3 Feb 2009 21:09:18 -0500 (EST) From: brunians at brunians.org 
Subject: Re: (urth) Urth Digest, Vol 53, Issue 59 To: "The Urth Mailing 
List" <urth at lists.urth.net> Message-ID: 
<3865. at brunians.org> Content-Type: 

> > David,
> >
> > "Guardian of the Sacred Texts" is childish and insulting.
> >
> > But I should lay my cards open on the table: I am, like Wolfe, an adult
> > convert to Roman Catholicism.

And politically and culturally and so on you are very much like him,
wouldn't you agree? You and he share many attitudes about the individual
and society and traditional roles and values etc?



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