Wednesday, October 7, 2009

"Shadow", Chapter 10, Part 4

"What will you be, Severian? A torturer? You may leave the guild, you know, if you prefer." I told him firmly - and as though I were slightly shocked by the suggestion - that I had never considered it. It was a lie. I had known, as all the apprentices knew, that one was not firmly and finally a member of the guild until one consented as an adult to the connection. Furthermore, though I loved the guild I hated it too - not because of the pain it inflicted on clients who must sometimes have been innocent, and who must often have been punished beyond anything that could be justified by their offenses; but because it seemed to me inefficient and ineffectual, serving a power that was not only ineffectual but remote. I do not know how better to express my feelings about it than by saying that I hated it for starving and humiliating me and loved it because it was my home, hated and loved it because it was the exemplar of old things, because it was weak, and because it seemed indestructible. Naturally I expressed none of this to Master Palaemon, though I might have if Master Gurloes had not been present. Still, it seemed incredible that my profession of loyalty, made in rags, could be taken seriously; yet it was. "Whether you have considered leaving us or not," Master Palaemon told me, "it is an option open to you. Many would say that only a fool would serve out the hard years of apprenticeship and refuse to become a journeyman of his guild when his apprenticeship was past. But you may do so if you wish." "Where would I go?" That, though I could not tell them so, was the real reason I was staying. I knew that a vast world lay outside the walls of the Citadel - indeed, outside the walls of our tower. But I could not imagine that I could ever have any place in it. Faced with a choice between slavery and the emptiness of freedom, I added, "I have been reared in our guild," for fear they would answer my question. "Yes," Master Gurloes said in his most formal manner. "But you are no torturer yet. You have not put on fuligin." Master Palaemon's hand, dry and wrinkled as a mummy's, groped until it found mine. "Among the initiates of religion it is said, 'You are an epopt always.' The reference is not only to knowledge but to their chrism, whose mark, being invisible, is ineradicable. You know our chrism." I nodded again. "Less even than theirs can it be washed away. Should you leave now, men will only say, 'He was nurtured by the torturers.' But when you have been anointed they will say, 'He is a torturer.' You may follow the plow or the drum, but still you will hear, 'He is a torturer.' Do you understand that?" "I wish to hear nothing else."
epopt: An initiate in the Eleusinian Mysteries; one who has attended the epopteia; One instructed in the mysteries of a secret system. chrism: "(Greek word literally meaning 'an anointing'), also called 'Myrrh' (Myron), Holy anointing oil or 'Consecrated Oil,' is a consecrated oil used in the Roman Catholic, Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox churches, in the Assyrian Church of the East, in the Old-Catholic churches, and some Anglican and Lutheran churches in the administration of certain sacraments and ecclesiastical functions.... Chrism is essential for the Catholic Sacrament of Confirmation/Chrismation..." There are seven sacraments. The first is Baptism, which Severian probably went through the day he got caught in the nenuphars in Gyoll. He was immersed in water and he died and was reborn (literally). The next chapter, then, describes his Confirmation. I'll have to read up on it. I wonder if all the sacraments come in order? Hopefully, or I'll have even less chance of spotting them. I interpret the passage above in a couple of ways. One way is as an existentialist statement. The phrase "a choice between slavery and the emptiness of freedom" has that ring to it. Nowadays, existentialism is popularly synonymous with atheistic existentialism, which gives it an oddness in the context of this book (but not too odd - anyone who thinks about religion has to consider atheism, I think). I believe, though, that this passage is existentialist in the manner of Kierkegaard. It's also a statement about the difficulty of breaking with the tradition you are raised on: "the exemplar of old things, because it was weak, and because it seemed indestructible." Any institution that you grew up with, especially one that's hundreds of years old, seems eternal when you're young. It's hard to see what you could replace it with. When you're older you learn about this or that revolution that transformed the very thing you thought was immutable. Only considering the revolutions gives too much emphasis on the lone genius, though. The effect of many small changes that one hardly notices is what facilitates eventual revolution. I see this as true in physics, at least. Chime in with your thoughts on the relative importance of revolution and evolution in the fields you're interested in. In specific, the quote can be viewed as about political dissatisfaction, considering the guild not as a fixture of Severian's boyhood, but as an arm of the judicial system.

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