(urth) The Guild's Revolutionary

David Stockhoff dstockhoff at verizon.net
Sat Nov 21 14:54:01 PST 2009


The "apparatus" is clearly a Kafka reference, and one that has been in 
my memory since I first I read that story as a child.

My take on the exchange between Thecla and Gurloes involves Gurloes 
deliberately and delicately misunderstanding Thecla's question. He knew 
what she was asking and politely declined to answer. As a deflecting 
device, he more or less pretended that he thought she meant "What's it 
like"?, because he couldn't respond to her question as a technical one 

The thing works entirely inside the brain with nothing to observe but 
the effects afterward. Thus, Gurloes knew no more of its mechanism than 
we do. The only way he could have more knowledge of it is by 
experiencing it himself. So he treats her a little bit like a doctor 
telling a child that "it won't hurt"---a white lie if you will. Also, 
hinting that when he's done with her she'll understand better than he 
could have explained, so there is no point.

It used to drive me crazy that the Revolutionary doesn't spin, but I 
agree that the pun solution is unavoidable. However, it's notable that 
Thecla doesn't already know how it works. It may or may not be used only 
on high-ranking rebels, but you'd think some word would have gotten out 
among such people that the Revolutionary awaited them---or else why use it?

On the other hand, perhaps it is rare that the Guild gets such people at 
all, and therefore it uses the device only rarely.
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
> Message: 1
> Date: Sat, 21 Nov 2009 17:03:16 -0500
> From: Gwern Branwen <gwern0 at gmail.com>
> To: The Urth Mailing List <urth at lists.urth.net>
> Subject: Re: (urth) The Guild's Revolutionary
> Message-ID:
> 	<cbf55b100911211403o13a87859rd2bb50be877711d2 at mail.gmail.com>
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> On Sat, Nov 21, 2009 at 1:40 PM, John Smith <jsmith2627 at att.net> wrote:
>> 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.
> Well, Vodalus isn't really a rebel, and she's only associated with her
> sister, but anyway; that seems like a possible reason, but that's
> terrible - the method of execution chosen for a pun?
> But now that I think about it, maybe that works. Just before they
> reach the Revolutionary, we read Gurloes say:
>>                                                               Behind it there .
>> . . if you'll take a step this way you'll be able to see it better . . . is what
>> we call the apparatus. It is supposed to letter whatever slogan is demanded in
>> the client's flesh, but it is seldom in working order.
> Perhaps this is interpreted otherwise by y'all, but to me this is a
> very obviously a reference to Franz Kafak's "In The Penal Colony"
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_the_Penal_Colony
> If one cannot use the writing machine to engrave 'do not rebel!' or
> whatever, perhaps a joke like that is the best that can be done.
> On Sat, Nov 21, 2009 at 2:32 PM, Jerry Friedman
> <jerry_friedman at yahoo.com> wrote:
>> --- On Sat, 11/21/09, Gwern Branwen <gwern0 at gmail.com> wrote:
>> ...
>>> So the Revolutionary induces, specifically alien hand
>>> syndrome.
>> More like alien-body syndrome, as her mouth and both her
>> hands attack her, not just her right hand. ?But I agree
>> that it's quite possible that alien-hand syndrome
>> inspired Wolfe here.
> That's true; I don't see any mention in the WP article of losing
> control of both hands or of one's mouth. (But then, in the split-brain
> scenarios Jeff suggests, there's still lateralization: a hand and the
> mouth go to one faction in the brain, and the other hand to the other;
> there isn't alternating control of all of them.)
>>> Another case of Wolfe cloaking science behind fantasy
>>> ('like a demon')?
>> I'd say the wires and needle give this definite
>> scientific trappings.
> It definitely does, but it's still coy - 'lightning' rather than
> 'electricity'. I remember in my first reading ever, this was the scene
> that made me sure that the author really was working under a warped
> Clarke's 3rd Law.
>>> 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.
>> I don't get that any of that implies that its use is rare.
>> Gurloes means he's never had it done to him, that is, he's
>> never been a victim of it (which is obvious, hence "you
>> see").
> But Thecla is not stupid; she knows Gurloes can't give her any
> description from having had the Revolutionary used on himself. So she
> couldn't be asking for that, and Gurloes couldn't be answering that.
> 'had it done' doesn't mean have it done to yourself. One can say 'I
> had the roof done' or, 'My car broke down, so I couldn't go, you see';
> in this case, Gurloes never having actually used the Revolutionary
> explains his reply best, and this also fits with the most-hallowed
> description.
>> "I couldn't describe it" may mean he's not
>> allowed to; whether that's true or not, he certainly
>> knows as well as Severian what it does. ?And I don't
>> think "the most hallowed of all" implies anything about
>> how often it's used.
>> Jerry Friedman
> Hallowed things don't get used all the time. The Shroud of Turin is
> publicly displayed every decade or so; the relics of Aachen Cathedral
> annually; the Ethiopian's 'Ark of the Covenant' never.
> Not to mention, if they were routinely using it, wouldn't it be
> broken? The guns are headed that way, and guns seem more reliable than
> whatever the Revolutionary is - the relatively simple mechanical
> engraver is already broken beyond their ability to repair.
> (I also searched through the 4 books; the Revolutionary is only
> mentioned 3 or 4 times after that, and always in a Thecla context.)

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