Sword of the Lictor, chapters 5 to 8

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[So, I lost my copy of the book. I bought it on Kindle. Then I found my copy of the book. Such is my life.]

Severian goes to the local ruler's party. He meets a woman, Cyriaca. They have intimate relations. He's a bit shifty in conversation with her about Dorcas, but otherwise she doesn't seem to trouble him. And in what is not altogether a surprise, Severian learns Cyriaca is the one he is to dispatch. He chooses not to do his job, to no longer consider himself a torturer, and sneaks away. He returns to the poor home with the sick person, and out of sight of others, sneaks in and uses the Claw to heal.

Thoughts...

(*) Severian's tryst is pretty seedy bearing in mind Dorcas' condition, but at least it's not another Jolenta situation. Ah, Severian, you've set a low bar.

(*) But Severian's first action, on deciding he's no longer a torturer, is to heal.

(*) It's interesting that Severian feels he's let the torturers down rather than feeling what he does is defective.

(*) The conversation with Cyriaca is interesting- the rise and fall of AI assistants, and some thoughts about the end of the previous book- but not at particularly illuminating to me.

Comments

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    edited August 22

    I was close. I said he'd be doing it on top of the unconscious Dorcas... Very close.

    I missed that he decided not to do his job. I thought he was just avoiding talking about it.

    How am I missing this stuff?

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    I think all we've got is that he's said he's a torturer no more, and basically fled to do the healing. He's not yet helped Cyriaca in any way. Maybe he won't.

    Also unresolved is the matter of the murders in Thrax, why it's seen as so dangerous for Severian to be out alone that night.

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    Was there not a giant gap in the narrative, here? One moment the Autarch comes to see him, and the next he’s trying to flee the grounds. What did he and the Autarch discuss? Did he murder the Autarch? Someone else?
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    It wasn't the Autarch, it was the regional governor, and yes, it was all "Y'all gots ta kill that ol' gal what you just porked, Bubba!" BZZZT!!! ((((DISCONTINUITY))))) I went to the hovel of the sick girl and cured her, and the little boy too! No warning, no "some time later", just WHAMMO!

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    I was very confused by the events at the party. He's there for some kind of judicial act, meets a seemingly-random woman, she spins him yet another tale-within-the-tale that's seemingly utterly pointless for us, the reader. This happens while the pair of them go from zero to shagging in about two minutes. Then the governor turns up, and we get that jump to the healing of the girl.

    Who is Cyriaca? What does the governor want with her? What did Severian do to her after the governor turned up? Is she arrested, maimed, dead, free, or a fugitive?

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    We all guessed right about Severian's new liaison. However, it's probably important to note that in fact Cyriaca initiated it... he just responded. It all made me wonder if we have been judging Severian by our own moral standards (which no doubt vary in minor ways from person to person in the group). It looks to me increasingly as though his society has no taboo against spontaneous sexual hookups.

    Maybe there are different mores about sex which is intended to procreate, but I don't think procreation is anywhere in Severian's mind (nor Dorcas, Jolenta, Cyriaca etc either). They are just having casual sex, and maybe the governor's "party" was an occasion specifically set up to allow casual liaisons of this kind. After all, when S and C go off to wash they find two women already at the fountain sorting themselves out.

    So my current speculation is that our reaction to Severian's various intimacies, which I think varies from repugnance to rejection of him as a person, is culturally bound to our own age. It probably is not shared by the men and women of his own age. Dorcas' reaction to the Jolenta episode was not "get away from me you rotten philanderer, I never want to see you again" but rather a kind of mild jealousy and determination to get him back to her own bed.

    Re the revelation about AIs and their rather ambiguous role, I found it interesting (with some shades of Asimov's own treatment of positronic robotic intelligence) and wonder if it is going to tie in with Jonas somehow?

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    @NeilNjae said:
    I was very confused by the events at the party. He's there for some kind of judicial act, meets a seemingly-random woman, she spins him yet another tale-within-the-tale that's seemingly utterly pointless for us, the reader. This happens while the pair of them go from zero to shagging in about two minutes. Then the governor turns up, and we get that jump to the healing of the girl.

    She was telling him the story WHILE they shagged! Talk about blase! Did she file her nails or read a bit too?

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    On the gap...there's a flashback to what happened a few chapters on (we'll get to it next week), between the meeting with the Archon and fleeing the grounds.

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    edited August 24

    Why does he do this? The author, I mean. What is gained by this technique of skipping important things without notifying the reader and possibly filling in later... or maybe not? I am not familiar with this technique and am rather curious about it.

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    > @clash_bowley said:
    > Why does he do this? The author, I mean. What is gained by this technique of skipping important things without notifying the reader and possibly filling in later... or maybe not? I am not familiar with this technique and am rather curious about it.

    That's an interesting comment on Gene Wolfe's narrative style. Of course loads of people withhold information until a critical moment - like the details of what Gandalf and Saruman talked about before Gandalf was imprisoned - but generally that's because they have switched Point of View to another character.

    Here we only have one PoV and (at least so far in the story, and so far as I recall) have never switched away from him to someone else. At this stage it would be very jarring to switch to the PoV of say Dorcas or Jonas - we are well used to following Severian and him alone. I think one effect of this is to make everyone else seem slightly obscure and impenetrable, which in turn says something about S's psychology.

    Now couple that with S's apparent super-duper memory, allowing him to recall things to a depth that threatens to submerge him. So we presume that he could if he wished give a blow by blow account of events in strict temporal order... but chooses not to.

    I don't have a very good answer to this, but it seems to me that what is being modelled by this style of writing is the way that S becomes absorbed in the next thing, to the exclusion and forgetfulness of the previous one. We have certainly seen this with women, but I suspect that it happens all round. So we don't learn (yet) what happened at the end of the party and before he is climbing up to heal the girl, because those events are simply unimportant to him just then, forgotten in favour of his sudden impulsive and all-consuming desire to use the Claw on the girl. At some point he will think back and reflect on the missing events and actions, for our benefit as well as his own.
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    I've been thinking for a while that what @RichardAbbott says about the promiscuous nature of society might be the case. At least, there doesn't seem to be a lot of blow-back from Severian's friends. But then we really only have Severian's take on the matter, and it's possible he's just obtuse - or trying to spin the best light on his own past.

    And I'm wondering of the gaps in the narrative are also meant to show this. This particular gap is quite confusing, though, because even in the very early paragraphs of the next chapter, Severian refers to the events that just got skipped over as if we already knew what they were. Did he forget that he didn't tell us? Or are these events part of his common legend, so he doesn't really feel the need to explain them? Neither of those explanations is quite convincing, IMO.

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    edited August 25

    Thank you, @RichardAbbott! That makes some sense! As for other authors, you always know they are skipping something for later, either because they tell you, or because a break in the narrative occurs.

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    @Apocryphal said:
    I've been thinking for a while that what @RichardAbbott says about the promiscuous nature of society might be the case. At least, there doesn't seem to be a lot of blow-back from Severian's friends. But then we really only have Severian's take on the matter, and it's possible he's just obtuse - or trying to spin the best light on his own past.

    But there's something we haven't seen. Severian "falls in love with" many women over the course of the book. None of them has taken another lover while Severian has been interested in them. What would Severian do if Dorcas had revealed she was seeing / shagging someone else while he was working in Thrax's prison?

    Do we really think Severian would be as understanding as he expects Dorcas to be about his other lovers?

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    @clash_bowley said:
    Why does he do this? The author, I mean. What is gained by this technique of skipping important things without notifying the reader and possibly filling in later... or maybe not? I am not familiar with this technique and am rather curious about it.

    I'm also curious about this, especially in this instance. I've read ahead to where the lacuna is filled in, and I can't see that anything was gained for the reader by the author recounting events out of order.

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    Often the skipping over things seems to involve something Severian is unwilling to "relive" as his memory requires because it's too painful. Maybe what he sees as his second and final betrayal of the torturers falls into that category. I'm not so sure of its merits as a technique in this case though.

    As for the morals of Severian's dalliances, I'm not inclined to excuse him with the morals of the times. He's not moral. One of the incidents amounts to rape, and worse, he felt justified.

    But with his upbringing amongst the torturers, how could he possibly have learned morality or decency? He's a mess, and all he knew growing up and in adolescence was power relationships. Sometimes he tries to be good, but his values are deeply skewed. Though they're maybe slightly less twisted than in the last book; I'm reserving judgement.
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    @NeilNjae said:
    I'm also curious about this, especially in this instance. I've read ahead to where the lacuna is filled in, and I can't see that anything was gained for the reader by the author recounting events out of order.

    I have some thoughts about this but they probably fit better with the next section's discussion

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    edited September 2

    LEXICON

    Around all these autochthons, real and self-imagined, were a score of other figures not less absurd - officers dressed as women and women dressed as soldiers, eclectics as fraudulent as the autochthons, gymnosophists, ablegates and their acolytes, eremites, eidolons, zoanthrops half beast and half human, and deodands and remontados in picturesque rags, with eyes painted wild. p. 32

    Gymnosophists: Greek name for Indian philosophers who pursued asceticism and wore few clothes.
    Ablegates: A papal legate sent abroad on an important mission.
    Eremites: Another word for Hermit.
    Eidolons: A representation of an idea, and ideal form. Also a phantom.
    Deodands: A thing given to the state or a god because it has caused the death of someone. According to the Lexocon Urthus, in the Commonwealth a Deodand is a person exiled to the wilderness for a crime, and in Vance's Dying Earth, they are loathsome monsters, hungry for human flesh.
    Remontados: People who have 're-mounted' or gone back to the hills. In the country of Grenada, they call these 'JCBs' ('Just-Come-Backs').

    Autochthons and Zonanthrops were covered last week.

    "No," she said weakly. "I don't want it... It's sangaree and I hate it - I - I only chose it because the color matches my costume." p.34

    Sangaree: West-Indian version of Sangria.


    "Our director of postulants had that look. She could sit sewing, and to look at her eyes you would believe they were seeing to the ends of the Urth where the perischii live, staring right through the old, torn skirt and the walls of the tent, staring through everything." p.35

    Perischii: From Greek Periskioi: those who live within a polar circle and whose shadows during some summer days will therefore move entirely round and fall toward every point of the compass. Hence the comment about them seeing to the 'ends of the Urth' - meaning the poles, rather than a doomsday.


    "Do you want me to take my mask off so you can check the accuracy of your assessments?"
    "Oh, no, you mustn't. Not until they play the aubade." p.36

    Aubade: A song or poem greeting the dawn. i.e. in this context, she is asking him to wait until dawn.


    As I was about to answer her question, a couple strolled by our alcove, the man robed in a sanbenito, the woman in a midinette. p.37

    Sanbenito: A sack-cloth coat worn by penitents.
    Midinette: A seamstress or shop-girl. A fashionable but vacuous person. A type of handbag.


    I handed it to her and she fanned the pages, then stopped at a picture of the sikinnis, holding it up until if caught the gleam of a lamp burning in a niche above our divan. The horned men seemed to leap in the flickering light, the sylphs to writhe. p.37

    Sikinnis: A grotesque, orgiastic dance associated with the satyric drama


    As she drew away, the shadow memories of Thecla's old bantering love affairs, played out among the pseudothyrums and catachtonian boudoirs of the House Absolute welled up within me, and I said, "Don't you know this kind of thing requires a man's undivided attention?" p.40

    Pseudothyrum: A secret door (or, more figuratively, a secret manner).
    Catachtonian: Underground, subterranean.


    They [ancient writings] were fragmentary, contradictory, and eisegesistic. Then some autarch (though they were not called autarchs then) hoped to recapture the dominion exercised by the first empire, they were gatheredup by servants, white-robed men who ransacked cocklofts and threw down the androsphinxes erected to memorialize the machines and entered the cubicula of moiraic women long dead.

    eisegesistic: Reading into something one's own meaning and bias.
    cockloft: A small loft or attic - fit for a cock, presumably.
    androsphinx: A male sphinx, which I'm sure you knew. What you might not have known is that Egyptian sphinxes are typically male, but Greek ones typically female.
    cubicula: A small room (esp. a bedroom - a cockloft's downstairs?), or a space carved out of a catacomb wall in which to bury someone. A small room in which to rest, in any case.
    moiraic: Of or relating to the Moirai, or Greek Fates.


    Note, also, in this section the Concilliator is referred to as 'The Daystar'.

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    > @Apocryphal said:
    > LEXICON
    > As she drew away, the shadow memories of Thecla's old bantering love affairs, played out among the pseudothyrums and catachtonian boudoirs of the House Absolute welled up within me, and I said, "Don't you know this kind of thing requires a man's undivided attention?" p.40
    >
    >
    > eisegesistic: Reading into something one's own meaning and bias.

    Couple of thoughts-
    The aside comment about Thecla points again to the notion that casual affairs were not uncommon - not that I'm justifying Severian, just highlighting that his behaviour might not be so unusual as it seems to us.

    Eisegesis is in biblical commentary seen as a bad thing, in contrast to exegesis ("reading out from" the text) which is considered the more proper approach.

    Interestingly, Daystar is used in the New Testament as a title of Christ, but in Isaiah an equivalent phrase is applied to Lucipher
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