(urth) Severian's memory

Gwern Branwen gwern0 at gmail.com
Wed Jul 29 09:57:52 PDT 2009

On Wed, Jul 29, 2009 at 3:54 AM, Jeff Wilson<jwilson at io.com> wrote:
> James Wynn wrote:
>>> 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.
>> The logical flaw is his argument "I do not forget." which is based
>> (presumably) on a specific unsupported premise: "I would know if I had
>> forgotten something." This is the logical flaw defined as Begging The
>> Question.
> Can you point to where he actually says something like this, please?

Severian says often that he never forgets, although he eventually
modifies this to he usually doesn't forget and implies he knows those
periods of forgetting:

"It is my nature, my joy and my curse, to forget nothing. Every rattling chain
and whistling wind, every sight, smell, and taste, remains changeless in my
mind, and though I know it is not so with everyone, I cannot imagine what it can
mean to be otherwise, as if one had slept when in fact an experience is merely

"How I reached my bed I have no notion. Those who drink much have told me that
they sometimes forget all that befell them in the latter part of the night, and
perhaps it was so with me. But I think it more likely that I (who never forget
anything, who, if I may for once confess the truth, though I seem to boast, do
not truly understand what others mean when they say forget, for it seems to me
that all experience becomes a part of my being) only slept and was carried

""I never forget a voice," I told him, "or anything else." And then in my
eagerness, I impulsively added what was perhaps the worst thing I could have
said: "You tried to brain me with your shovel." His face became masklike at
once, and he stepped back into his boat and rowed out onto the brown water."

"    "Liege," I said, "my head is swimming." (Then, lying,) "I cannot
remember those words—truly, I
have forgotten them already. Did I hear you say that Dorcas and the
others will be in the House

"THE FLOATING BOAT would not obey me, for I had not the word
for it. (I have often thought that its word may have been among the
things Piaton had tried to tell me, as he had told me to take his life;
and I wish I had come to heed him sooner.) In the end, I was forced
to climb from the right eye— the worst climb of my life. In this
overlong account of my adventures, I have said often that I forget
nothing; but I have forgotten much of that, because I was so
exhausted that I moved as though in sleep. When I staggered at last
into the silent, sealed town that stood among the feet of the
cataracts, it must have been nearly night, and I lay down beside a
wall that gave me shelter from the wind."

"At one moment they were nearly invisible; at the next they were
upon me like a torrent. I cannot say who the riders were or on what
beasts they rode; not because I have forgotten (for I forget nothing)
but because I saw nothing clearly. There was no question of
fighting, only of seeking in some way to live. I parried a blow from
a twisted weapon that was neither sword nor ax; the piebald reared,
and I saw an arrow protruding from his chest like a horn of fire. A
rider crashed against us, and we fell into the dark."

'"I have forgotten! Do you remember when we flew over the armies?
For a time I forgot it! I know now what it is to forget."
There was pale laughter in his voice. "Which you will now
remember always."
"I hope so, but it fades even as we speak. It vanishes like mist,
which must itself be a forgetting. What was that weapon that
brought us down?"'

'Triskele laid his scarred head against my knee, the ambassador of
all crippled things, of the Autarch who had carried a tray in the
House Absolute and lain paralyzed in the palanquin waiting to pass
to me the humming voices in his skull, of Thecla writhing under the
Revolutionary, and of the woman even I, who had boasted I could
forget nothing, had nearly forgotten, bleeding and dying beneath our
tower. Perhaps after all it was my discovery of Triskele, which I
have said changed nothing, that in the end changed everything. I did
not have to answer this time; Master Malrubius saw my answer in
my face.'

"There will be long, slow days on the ship. I will read. I still have so
much to learn. I will sleep, dozing in my berth, listening to the
centuries wash against the hull. This manuscript I shall send to
Master Ultan; but while I am on the ship, when I cannot sleep and
have tired of reading, I shall write it out again—I who forget nothing
—every word, just as I have written it here."

One of the advantages of such a memory as mine, which stores everything and
forgets nothing, is that it is as good as paper at such times. (Indeed, that may
be its only advantage.) On this occasion, however, it did me no more good than
it had when I had tried to follow the directions of that lochage of the peltasts
whom I met upon the bridge of Gyoll. No doubt Idas had assumed I knew
more of the ship than I did, and that I would not count doors and look for
turnings                               with

"                                     These Hierogrammates who ruled the
universe and what lay beyond had not merely mistaken another for me, but
now sought to remind me, who could forget nothing, of the scenes of my life;
and did so (so it seemed to me) less skillfully than my own memories could

""You have undergone trials," she said. "If you wish, I can give you that which
will make you forget them all. Though only by instinct, you will still bring a
young                sun            to              your               world."
I shook my head. "I don't want to forget, Tzadkiel. I've boasted too often that
I forget nothing, and forgetting—which I have known once or twice—seems to
me                 a             kind                 of               death.""

"Burgundofara went to look at the cabin while I sat trying
to wipe the image of Zama's face from my eyes and watching the crew make
ready to cast off. One of the sun-browned rivermen seemed familiar; but I,
who can forget nothing, sometimes have difficulty in bringing the quarry to
bay     in     a     memory       that   grows      ever     more        vast."

""Our        rescuer,"       Odilo    continued,      beaming,      "is—"
"Don't matter," the sailor snapped. "You get down there and trim that
mains'l. Jib's fouled, too. You stamp now and stutter, or she'll capsize."
It had been ten years and more since I had sailed on the Samru, but I had
learned then how a fore-and-aft rig operates, and I do not forget."

"The continents themselves are old as raddled women, long since stripped of
beauty and fertility. The New Sun comes, and he will send them crashing into the
sea like foundered ships. And from the sea lift new—glittering with
gold, silver,
iron, and copper. With diamonds, rubies, turquoises, lands wallowing in the soil
of a million millennia, so long ago washed down to the sea.
I, who boast of forgetting nothing, had forgotten that it was the demons who
had                                 spoken


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