Vita Nostra Q8: The ending

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What happened at the end of the book? What's the tower, and the final test? What did Sasha do? Why do love and fear come into it?

And, prompted by (this comment)[https://www.goodreads.com/questions/405390-what-happened-at-the-end], the book seems to echo Gnostic thoughts. Is Farit the devil and Sasha the word of creation? Are the other students and staff Gnostic Aeons, emanations of the God-Monad?

Comments

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    I found this historical Sufi mystic illuminating when thinking about this book (cognate with Farit):

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ibn_al-Farid

    I was a little disappointed by the discussion of language. Very essentialist reading based on words rather than phrases. Short declarative sentences, and word-functions, are only part of what language is about, and even less important when it comes to significant understanding.

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    I have to confess I found the ending the least convincing part of the whole. "Oh, she's not a verb in the imperative after all... she's Password" and that apparently means she is the creator - which, and this may well be a fault of the translator, isn't what Password conveys to me. Sure, all teenagers reckon they're God, or at least godlike, just like all lovers reckon they're Adam and Eve or the cultural equivalent. But this just seemed a bit silly and overblown to me.

    And I agree with @BarnerCobblewood that words and short sentences are only a tiny fragment of language, and that the larger-scale structures are in many ways the more important and creative ones. Babies learn to make individual words and then short sentences - it takes a child to put together a simple poem or a pun, and an adult to do something really creative with language.

    So in short no, this part of the story just didn't work for me.

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    With a bit of imagination and leeway, could this not be made more compelling?

    Sure, she's a word, and that's only a fragment of language. But what if we accept the notion that what might take humans a whole library to express, God can express in a single word?

    What if we accept that knowing a certain word (like the full name of God) can unlock powers, or a godlike nature? In that sense, maybe a 'password' makes sense. She's not an imperative verb - she's the 'name of God'. I don't know a lot about the Kabbala, but something I read about it 15 years ago inspired a whole setting and campaign for me, and it was all about syllables in the name of god conveying power, and a cult of people that tried to collect these syllables - because if one could ultimately know all the syllables in the name of God, one would know the name of God, and to know the name of God was to be God.

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    @Apocryphal said:
    With a bit of imagination and leeway, could this not be made more compelling?

    Sure, she's a word, and that's only a fragment of language. But what if we accept the notion that what might take humans a whole library to express, God can express in a single word?

    What if we accept that knowing a certain word (like the full name of God) can unlock powers, or a godlike nature? In that sense, maybe a 'password' makes sense. She's not an imperative verb - she's the 'name of God'. I don't know a lot about the Kabbala, but something I read about it 15 years ago inspired a whole setting and campaign for me, and it was all about syllables in the name of god conveying power, and a cult of people that tried to collect these syllables - because if one could ultimately know all the syllables in the name of God, one would know the name of God, and to know the name of God was to be God.

    I think you've hit on the source of my confusion here. I haven't been able to work out if Sasha (and by extension the others) is

    1) A particular verb in the imperative, so if you like she is "Live!" or "Die!" or "Be Still!" or "Jump!" etc
    or
    2) The general idea of a verb in the imperative, so she could in principle say/be any of the above, depending on her mood and the situation

    Or with her reassessed status
    1) A particular password, like "H3ll0Wor!d" or "admin123" or "Pa$$w0rD"
    or
    2) The general idea of a password, so could in principle authenticate anyone else's ability/credentials to take action

    In terms of storytelling power, then (2) of the verb one seems more potent, in that she is able to issue all kinds of commands. But (2) of the password seems less potent, because it depends crucially on someone else to have decided what to do.

    Now, I'm happy to accept either that I'm overthinking all this, and it's just not aiming at that level of analysis, or alternatively that it's a problem of translation and the original authors' intent was much more clear.

  • 1

    @RichardAbbott said:
    Or with her reassessed status
    1) A particular password, like "H3ll0Wor!d" or "admin123" or "Pa$$w0rD"
    or
    2) The general idea of a password, so could in principle authenticate anyone else's ability/credentials to take action

    Or, she is the idea of "password", of access to elevated privileges. Perhaps she is a "password manager". Before her, people could only do things with "guest level access". Now, Sasha can provide passwords, allowing others to do more powerful things.

    I also think I'm reading too much into it. Loads of supposition, but little is supported in the text.

  • 1
    In terms of the verb, I was thinking more generally, like “Be!” or “Exist!” or “Do!”

    In this sense, I can see such as word as being related to a password, in that it lets you pass into something else.

    For example, you’re in a room with a dog. You say “Go!” to the dog, and this triggers the opening of a secret door. From the dog’s perspective, you created something new with your imperative verb. But it was really just a password.
  • 1

    Seems to me that a password is a response to an imperative (I command you to say! /what is required/), so a password has no verbal functions necessary to it. They are the subordination of speech to another's command, completely substantive, and thus I do not know what is meant by saying an imperative verb is a password. You could make e.g. <Exit!>, your password, but even though it has the form of an imperative, it is not one.

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    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    Seems to me that a password is a response to an imperative (I command you to say! /what is required/), so a password has no verbal functions necessary to it. They are the subordination of speech to another's command, completely substantive, and thus I do not know what is meant by saying an imperative verb is a password. You could make e.g. <Exit!>, your password, but even though it has the form of an imperative, it is not one.

    Yes indeed, and indeed a password could be entirely unpronounceable or consist totally of non-letters. But I still have a nagging feeling I am reading too much into it (but then, it is the climax of the book in lots of ways, so maybe I should be reading lots into it?)

  • 1
    “Open Sesame!” Is both an imperative and a password.
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    @Apocryphal said:
    “Open Sesame!” Is both an imperative and a password.

    Good point. Maybe I've been thinking about this wrong: Sasha, and presumably the rest, are not words, but phrases. However I think this idea goes beyond the authorial intent.

  • 0

    @Apocryphal said:
    “Open Sesame!” Is both an imperative and a password.

    But in the broadest sense surely absolutely anything is a password! It has lost any function as a part of speech and is simply a specific sequence of symbols. It might happen to look like a verb of some kind, or a noun, or whatever, or it might happen to look like a random string of non-letter symbols... but it isn't actually any of those. It just has to match whatever the designer of the system chose it to be.

    Now... maybe that is what the authors intended - that the teachers all expected Sasha to be a part of speech in the ordinary sense, and it so happened that her password identity looked like a verb in the imperative. So they jumped to that conclusion, and then - almost too late - decided that in fact she was not a part of speech at all but a password. That night also explain why they got some of the teaching elements quite wrong, so that she utterly failed to master something that they thought was appropriate, but at the same time whistled through lots of lessons that they thought she wold do singly.

    If that is the case (and I happily admit it's a flimsy piece of guesswork) then part of what the book is saying is that the same teachers who have taken upon themselves a position of authority and direction, are in fact quite mistaken in their assessment of what the student in front of them actually was.

  • 0
    That was my take, and seems to lead to the possibility of more mystery in book 2 of this series.

    An interesting thought I had about ‘Open Sesame’ is that this is actually a magic spell. Ancient spells were said to have originated with the gods (often attributed to Ea/Enki in the Babylonian/Sumerian pantheon) and are often composed of a command and include nonsense words. They are never so simple as ‘Open Sesame’ but it basically fits the structure, and in the story of Ali Baba if functions like a spell.
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