(urth) The Guild's Revolutionary

John Smith jsmith2627 at att.net
Sat Nov 21 10:40:29 PST 2009

Isn't Thecla put to the Revolutionary because she is a revolutionary?   Or at least associated with her sister, who has joined the revolutionary Vodalus.   Those who revolt against the sacred authority have their hands revolt against them.
The description of this torture gives me nightmares.  Thanks, Gene.

Best wishes,


--- On Sat, 11/21/09, Gwern Branwen <gwern0 at gmail.com> wrote:

From: Gwern Branwen <gwern0 at gmail.com>
Subject: (urth) The Guild's Revolutionary
To: "The Urth Mailing List" <urth at lists.urth.net>
Date: Saturday, November 21, 2009, 12:24 PM

> "How horrible. What is that behind it? That tangle of wire' and the great glass
> globe over the table?"
> "Ah," said Master Gurloes. "We call this the revolutionary. The subject lies
> here. Will you, Chatelaine?"
> ...
> "Severian, push up your handle there until this needle's here." A coil that had
> been as cold as a snake when I had touched it a moment before was warm now.
> "What does it do?"
> "I couldn't describe it, Chatelaine. Anyway, I've never had it done, you see."
> ...
> Her right hand was creeping upward, toward her eyes. I caught it and forced it
> back.
> "I thought I saw my worst enemy, a kind of demon. And it was me."
> Her scalp was bleeding. I put clean lint there and taped it down, though I knew
> it would soon be gone. Curling, dark hairs were entangled in her fingers.
> "Since then, I can't control my hands . . . I can if I think about it, if I know
> what they're doing. But it is so hard, and I'm getting tired." She rolled her
> head away and spat blood. "I bite myself. Bite the lining of my cheeks, and my
> tongue and lips. Once my hands tried to strangle me, and I thought oh good, I
> will die now. But I only lost consciousness, and they must have lost their
> strength, because I woke. It's like that machine, isn't it?"
> I said, "Allowin's necklace."
> "But worse. My hands are trying to blind me now, to tear my eyelids away. Will I
> be blind?"
> "Yes," I said.
> "How long before I die?"
> "A month, perhaps. The thing in you that hates you will weaken as you weaken.
> The revolutionary brought it to life, but its energy is your energy, and in the
> end you will die together."
> "Severian . . ."

I was reading Thomas Metzinger's _The Ego Tunnel_, and he mentioned
that there was a disorder called 'alien hand syndrome' where one hand
attacks the rest of the body or pursues separate goals. From
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alien_hand_syndrome :

> They feel that they have no control over the movements of the 'alien' hand, but that, instead, the hand has the capability of acting autonomously — i.e., independent of their voluntary control. The hand effectively has 'a will of its own.' Alien hands can perform complex acts such as undoing buttons, removing clothing, and manipulating tools. Alien behavior can be distinguished from reflexive behavior in that the former is flexibly purposive while the latter is obligatory. Sometimes the sufferer will not be aware of what the alien hand is doing until it is brought to his or her attention, or until the hand does something that draws their attention to its behavior.

> Sufferers of alien hand will often personify the rogue limb, for example believing it to be "possessed" by some intelligent or alien spirit or an entity that they may name or identify. There is a clear distinction between the behaviors of the two hands in which the affected hand is viewed as "wayward" and sometimes "disobedient" and generally out of the realm of their own voluntary control, while the unaffected hand is under normal volitional control. At times, particularly in patients who have sustained damage to the corpus callosum that connects the two cerebral hemispheres (see also split-brain), the hands appear to be acting in opposition to each other. For example, one patient was observed putting a cigarette into her mouth with her intact, 'controlled' hand (her right, dominant hand), following which her alien, non-dominant, left hand came up to grasp the cigarette, pull the cigarette out of her mouth, and toss it away before it could be lit by
 the controlled, dominant, right hand.

> The character Dr. Strangelove in the movie Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb suffers from the syndrome. His hand seems to act in a more complex manner, so that it acts in accordance with his subconscious urges (e.g. atteempting to strangle himself, giving a Nazi salute,).

It appears to have been first described in the '40s and '50s, and
named in the '70s. (_Shadow of the Torturer_ was published, of course,
in 1980.)

So the Revolutionary induces, specifically alien hand syndrome.
Another case of Wolfe cloaking science behind fantasy ('like a


On a sidenote, I don't know if anyone has discussed this before, but
isn't it odd Thecla is put to the Revolutionary? Gurloes specifically
says that the torturers don't decide the tortures, and the secret of
the Guild is that it alway obeys; so the sentence was someone else's.
But the Revolutionary is 'the most hallowed of all' the
torture-devices, and Gurloes also "I couldn't describe it [what it
does], Chatelaine. Anyway, I've never had it done, you see.", both of
which imply use is very rare.

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