(urth) Introduction and Breath

Craig Brewer cnbrewer at yahoo.com
Fri Apr 15 08:35:38 PDT 2011

I've always assumed that, in Severian's case, he gets the "unreliable narrator" 
tag for reasons other than outright lying. There are a number of reasons he 
might not be exactly reliable:

1) He's a (or an ex-) political leader writing his memoirs.
2) He's got multiple peoples' memories running around his head, and the 
narrator's "I" isn't always the same person's.
3) The cultural differences and "translations" that "Gene Wolfe" made from the 
manuscript mean that we don't share the same common cultural context. Thus, a 
"steed" or a "mount" isn't always a horse. Or "people" might not always be 
human, or humans as we know them. The tower is a rocket, but he doesn't 
explicitly mention that because he doesn't need to explain it to the audience he 
thinks he's writing for, etc...
4) The obvious point that he claims to have a perfect memory but occasionally 
mentions not remembering (or at least not having paid attention to) certain 

----- Original Message ----
From: António Pedro Marques <entonio at gmail.com>
To: The Urth Mailing List <urth at lists.urth.net>
Sent: Thu, April 14, 2011 8:00:06 AM
Subject: Re: (urth) Introduction and Breath

Gerry Quinn wrote (14-04-2011 00:48):

> One thing I've noticed on various boards is people confidently asserting
> that Severian is a liar, then clamming up when asked for examples.

I think that's chiefly because the inconsistencies in the narrative are so 
obvious that asking for them is kind of a breach of social contract.

But the problem imo is that, like 'fantastic', 'unreliable narrator' is yet 
another label people attach to a thing, when in fact the author's purpose was 
just to write it the way he sees it. Just as Gene Wolfe points out that 
characterising parts of literature as 'fantastic' is but an artifact of being 
used to view 'naturalistic' literature, a comparatively recent fad, as the 
default or only kind of literature, so the 'unreliable narrator' concept is an 
artifact of being used to an omniscient, unerring, objective, transparent 
narrator, which in itself is a very questionable idea.
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