Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"Shadow", Chapter 9, Part 1

Roche shows up to take Severian to the Echopraxia, in the Algedonic Quarter. "Algedonic" means "pertaining to pain, especially in association with pleasure." From the context, the Echopraxia is a brothel, but the name means "the involuntary repetition or imitation of the observed movements of another." That's interesting, because earlier, in chapter 7, Master Gurloes says:
"Well now, for decency's sake they have these khaibits, what they call the shadow women, that are common girls that look like the chatelaines. I don't know where they get them, but they're supposed to stand in place of the others. Of course they're not so tall." He chuckled. "I said stand in place, but when they're laying down the tallness probably doesn't make much difference. They do say, though, that oftentimes it works the other way than it's supposed to. Instead of those shadow girls doing duty for their mistresses, the mistresses do it for them. But the present Autarch, whose every deed, I may say, is sweeter than honey in the mouths of this honorable guild and don't you forget it - in his case, I may say, from what I understand it is more than somewhat doubtful if he has the pleasure of any of them."
Roche and Severian are shown women that are called "Chatelaines," and the proprietor claims that they're flown from the court. Severian expresses disbelief, but these women are either the khaibits Gurloes spoke of, or some other women trained to look and act like the Autarch's concubines, and what use would that training be, except at court? Gurloes' use of the word "khaibit" is interesting. It's an Egyptian word meaning "shadow." The exact metaphysical meaning seems to be unknown, at least according to the most reputable sources I found. These women could be the shadows of the Chatelaines, however. The proprietor has a different name for the brothel: the House Azure. I think its name is, as usual for Wolfe, overloaded with symbolism. "Blue" can mean "suggestive of sexual impropriety" -- thus it's a brothel. "Blue" can mean "aristocratic" -- thus the women are called Chatelaines, and it has kind of a courtly feel. "Blue" can mean sad, and I think it a fairly sad place. I think it has religious tones as well, because Severian says "It was as though I were awaiting the beginning of some ceremony in the ruined chapel, but at once less real and more serious." The Ishtar Gate of Babylonia was blue, and The Golden Bough says: "Thus at Babylon every woman, whether rich or poor, had once in her life to submit to the embraces of a stranger at the temple of Mylitta, that is, of Ishtar or Astarte, and to dedicate to the goddess the wages earned by this sanctified harlotry. [emphasis mine]" The color blue is important in many religions, probably because the sky is blue. The Hindu gods are often depicted as blue. From the Talmud: "The blue wool resembles the ocean, the ocean resembles the color of the sky, the sky resembles the purity of the sapphire, and the sapphire resembles the throne of G-d." In Catholicism, blue symbolizes heavenly grace. The Virgin Mary is often depicted wearing blue clothing. So this place could be a sort of Babylonian temple as well.

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