(urth) Severian's memory

Jeff Wilson jwilson at io.com
Fri Jul 24 17:53:14 PDT 2009

James Wynn wrote:
>> Severian feels his memory is perfect because he can find no gaps in it 
>> *and* apparently neither can Palaemon.
> But having gaps in your memory is not the only way you can "forget". 
> Severian's tale exemplifies this at the tippy-top of page 2 of The 
> Shadow of the Torturer:
> "I would have hidden, but __Roche__ held me, saying, 'Wait, I see pikes.' "
> [snip][short exposition about how Severian never forgets anything 
> because it is "recreated" each day][snip]
> "...they had pikes, as __Drotte__ had said."
> You can say this is a trivial detail, and it is. But it is also quite 
> glaring and occurs in the first 10 inches of text, closely embedded 
> around his first and one of his more elaborate claims of perfect memory. 
> The intent seems to be to make a mockery of Severian's claim. You detail 
> the conditions of all of Severian's forgetting episodes, but everything 
> we know about the events surrounding Severian's life comes solely from 
> himself. Yes this carries the Unreliable Narrator to an absurd level. 
> That seems to have been Wolfe's point.

The Roche-Eata mismatch is flaw in his memory, but not a grossly 
obvious one. The narrator seeks to recall the incident and does so, but 
the effort produces a false positive that is duly recorded. This isn't a 
logical flaw, but one of woefully subjective methodology.

Severian-the-narrator also tends to immerse himself in his past persona 
as he writes, and at this point Severian-the-protagonist may never have 
had to confront the flaws in his memory, leading Sev-the-narrator to 
write the nonsense about his memory losing nothing in the end, similar 
to the way he shifts from Sev to Thecla in the middle of a childhood 
reminisce later on.

There is also confirmation bias in that the admittedly few occasions 
when his memory lacks fidelity don't stand out as much as his more 
frequent impressive and successful feats of memory, similar to the way a 
psychic prediction that comes true is more memorable to some than the 
piles of failed ones.

Jeff Wilson - jwilson at io.com
< http://www.io.com/~jwilson >

More information about the Urth mailing list