Monday, January 12, 2009

Data for CLAI 2009 paper

For those of you who are interested in my paper at the CLAI (Comparative Literature Association of India) conference, Hyderabad, 2009, it is important to have access to the following passage, which I am therefore posting.

The paper itself will follow, when I'm done. Regards, Probal

Author: Gene Wolfe (1983)

Book: The Citadel of the Autarch
(Volume 4 of: The Book of the New Sun)
New York: Pocket Books.

Chapter V
The Lazaret

[P 31:]

On my right lay a man whose close-cropped scalp made me think at first that he was one of the slaves of the Pelerines. I called to him, but when he turned his head to look at me, I saw I had been mistaken.

His eyes were emptier than any human eyes I had ever seen, and they seemed to watch spirits invisible to me. “Glory to the Group of Seventeen,” he said.

“Good morning. Do you know anything about the way this place is run?”

A shadow appeared to cross his face, and I sensed that my question had somehow made him suspicious. [P 32:]

He answered, “All endeavours are conducted well or ill precisely in so far as they conform to Correct Thought.”

“Another man was brought in at the same time I was. I’d like to talk to him. He’s a friend of mine, more or less.”

“Those who do the will of the populace are friends, though we have never spoken to them. Those who do not do the will of the populace are enemies, though we learned together as children.”

The man on my left called, “You won’t get anything out of him. He’s a prisoner.”

I turned to look at him. His face, though wasted nearly to a skull, retained something of humor. His stiff, black hair looked as though it had not seen a comb for months.

“He talks like that all the time. Never any other way. Hey, you! We’re going to beat you!”

The other answered, “For the Armies of the Populace, defeat is the springboard of victory, and victory the ladder to further victory.”

“He makes a lot more sense than most of them, though,” the man on my left told me.

“You say he’s a prisoner. What did he do?”

“Do? Why, he didn’t die.”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand. Was he selected for some kind of suicide mission?”

The patient beyond the man on my left sat up – a young woman with a thin but lovely face. “They all are,” she said. “At least, they can’t go home until the war is won, and they know, really, that it will never be won.”

“External battles are already won when internal struggles are conducted with Correct Thought.”

I said, “He’s an Ascian, then. That’s what you meant. I’ve never seen one before.”

“Most of them die,” the black-haired man told me. “That’s what I said.”

[P 33:] “I didn’t know they spoke our language.”

“They don’t. Some officers who came here to talk to him said they thought he’d been an interpreter. Probably he questioned our soldiers when they were captured. Only he did something wrong and had to go back to the ranks.”

The young woman said, “I don’t think he’s really mad. Most of them are. What’s your name?”

“I’m sorry, I should have introduced myself. I’m Severian.” I almost added that I was a lector, but I knew neither of them would talk to me if I told them that.

“I am Foila, and this is Melito. I was of the Blue Huzzars, he a hoplite.”

“You shouldn’t talk nonsense,” Melito growled. “I am a hoplite. You are a huzzar.”

I thought he appeared much nearer death than she.

“I’m only hoping we will be discharged when we’re well enough to leave this place,” Foila said.

“And what will we do then? Milk somebody else’s cow and herd his pigs?” Melito turned to me. “Don’t let her talk deceive you – we were volunteers, both of us. I was about to be promoted when I was wounded, and when I’m promoted I’ll be able to support a wife.”

Foila called, “I haven’t promised to marry you!”

Several beds away, someone said loudly, “Take her so that she’ll shut up about it!”

At that, the patient in the bed beyond Foila’s sat up. “She will marry me.” He was big, fair-skinned, and pale-haired, and he spoke with the deliberation characteristic of the icy isles of the south. “I am Hallvard.”

Surprising me, the Ascian prisoner announced, “United, men and women are stronger; but a brave woman desires children, and not husbands.”

Foila said, “They fight even when they’re pregnant – I’ve seen them dead on the battlefield.”

[P 34:] “The roots of the tree are the populace. The leaves fall, but the tree remains.”

I asked Melito and Foila if the Ascian were composing his remarks of quoting some literary source with which I was unfamiliar.

“Just making it up, you mean?” Foila asked. “No. They never do that. Everything they say has to be taken from an approved text. Some of them don’t talk at all. The rest have thousands – I suppose actually tens or hundreds of thousands – of those tags memorized.”

“That’s impossible,” I said.

Melito shrugged. He had managed to prop himself up on one elbow. “They do it, though. At least, that’s what everybody says. Foila knows more about them than I do.”

Foila nodded. “In the light cavalry, we do a lot of scouting, and sometimes we’re sent out specifically to take prisoners. You don’t learn anything by talking to most of them, but just the same the General Staff can tell a good deal from their equipment and physical condition. On the northern continent, where they come from, only the smallest children ever talk the way we do.”

I thought of Master Gurloes conducting the business of our guild. “How could they possibly say something like ‘Take three apprentices and unload that wagon’?”

“They wouldn’t say that at all – just grab people by the shoulder, point to the wagon, and give them a push. If they went to work, fine. If they didn’t, then the leader would quote something about the need for labor to ensure victory, with several witnesses present. If the person he was talking to still wouldn’t work after that, then he would have him killed – probably just by pointing to him and quoting something about the need to eliminate the enemies of the populace.”

[P 35:] The Ascian said, “The cries of the children are the cries of victory. Still, victory must learn wisdom.”

Foila interpreted for him. “That means that although children are needed, what they say is meaningless. Most Ascians would consider us mute even if we learned their tongue, because groups of words that are not approved texts are without meaning for them. If they admitted – even to themselves – that such talk meant something, then it would be possible for them to hear disloyal remarks, and even to make them. That would be extremely dangerous. As long as they only understand and quote approved texts, no one can accuse them.”

I turned my head to look at the Ascian. It was clear that he had been listening attentively, but I could not be certain of what his expression meant beyond that. “Those who write the approved texts,” I told him, “cannot themselves be quoting from approved texts as they write. Therefore even an approved text may contain elements of disloyalty.”

“Correct Thought is the thought of the populace. The populace cannot betray the populace or the Group of Seventeen.”

Folia called, “Don’t insult the populace or the Group of Seventeen. He might try to kill himself. Sometimes they do.”

“Will he ever be normal?”

“I’ve heard that some of them eventually come to talk more or less the way we do, if that’s what you mean.”

I could think of nothing to say to that, and for some time we were quite. There are long periods of silence, I found, in such a place, where almost everyone is ill. We knew that we had watch after watch to occupy; that if we did not say what we wished to say that afternoon there would be another opportunity that evening and another again the next morning. Indeed, anyone who talked as healthy people do – [P 36:] after a meal, for example – would have been intolerable.

But what had been said had set me thinking of the north, and I found I knew next to nothing about it. When I had been a boy, scrubbing floors and running errands in the Citadel, the war itself had seemed almost infinitely remote. I knew that most of the matrosses who manned the major batteries had taken part in it, but I knew it just as I knew that the sunlight that fell upon my hand had been to the sun. I would be a torturer, and as a torturer I would have no reason to enter the army and no reason to fear that I would be impressed into it. I haver expected to see the war at the gates of Nessus (in fact, those gates were hardly more than legends to me), and I never expected to leave the city, or even to leave that quarter of the city that held the Citadel.

The north, Ascia, was then inconceivably remote, a place as distant as the most distant galaxy, since both were forever out of reach. Mentally, I confused it with the dying belt of tropical vegetation that lay between our own land and theirs, although I would have distinguished the two without difficulty if Master Palaemon had asked me to in the classroom.

But of Ascia itself I had no idea. I did not know if it had great cities or none. I did not know if it was mountainous like the northern and eastern parts of our Commonwealth or as level as our pampas. I did have the impression (though I could not be sure if it was correct) that it was a single land mass, and not a chain of islands like our south; and most distinct of all, I had the impression of an innumerable people – our Ascian’s populace – an inexhaustible swarm that almost became a creature in itself, as a colony of ants does. To think of those millions upon millions without speech, or confined to parroting proverbial phrases that must surely have long ago lost most of their meaning, was nearly more than the mind could [P 37:] bear. Speaking almost to myself, I said, “It must surely be a trick, or a lie, or a mistake. Such a nation could not exist.”

And the Ascian, his voice no louder than my own had been, and perhaps even softer, answered, “How shall the state be most vigorous? It shall be most vigorous when it is without conflict. How shall ti be without conflict? When it is without disagreement. How shall disagreement be banished? By banishing the four causes of disagreement: lies, foolish talk, boastful talk, and talk which serves only to incite quarrels. How shall the four causes be banished? By speaking only Correct Thought. Then shall the state be without disagreement. Being without disagreement, it shall be without conflict. Being without conflict, it shall be vigorous, strong, and secure.”

I had been answered, and doubly.

[P 78:]
Chapter XI
Loyal to the Group of Seventeen’s Story – The Just Man

The next morning, when we had eaten and everyone was awake, I ventured to ask Foila if it was now time for me to judge between Melito and Hallvard. She shook her head, but before she could speak, the Ascian announced, “All must do their share in the service of the populace. The bullock draws the plow and the dog herds the sheep, but the cat catches mice in the granary. Thus men, women, and even children can serve the populace.”

Foila flashed that dazzling smile. “Our friend wants to tell a story too.”

“What!” For a moment I thought Melito was actually going to sit up. “Are you going to let him – let one of them – consider –”

She gestured, and he sputtered to silence. “Why yes.” Something tugged at the corners of her lips. “Yes, I think I shall. I’ll have to interpret for the rest of you, of course. Will that be all right, Severian?”

“If you wish it,” I said.

Hallvard rumbled. “This was not in the original agreement. I recall each word.”

“So do I,” Foila said. “It isn’t against it either, and in fact it’s in accordance with the spirit of the agreement, which was that rivals for my hand – [P 79:] neither very soft nor very fair now, I’m afraid, though it’s becoming more so since I’ve been confined in this place – would compete. The Ascian would be my suitor if he thought he could; haven’t you seen the way he looks at me?”

The Ascian recited, “United, men and women are stronger; but a brave woman desires, children, and not husbands.”

“He means that he would like to marry me, but he doesn’t think his attentions would be acceptable. He’s wrong.” Foila looked from Melito to Hallvard, and her smile had become a grin. “Are you two really so frightened of him in a storytelling contest? You must have run like rabbits when you saw an Ascian on the battlefield.”

Neither of them answered, and after a time, the Ascian began to speak: “In times past, loyalty to the cause of the populace was to be found everywhere. The will of the Group of Seventeen was the will of everyone.”

Foila interpreted: “Once upon a time…

“Let no one be idle. If one is idle, let him band together with others who are idle too, and let them look for idle land. Let everyone they meet direct them. It is better to talk a thousand leagues than to sit in the House of Starvation.”

There was a remote farm worked in partnership by people who were not related.”

“One is strong, another beautiful, a third a cunning artificer. Which is best? He who serves the populace.”

On this farm lived a good man.”

“Let the work be divided by a wise divider of work. Let the food be divided by a just divider of food. Let the pigs grow fat. Let rats starve.”

The others cheated him of his share.”

“The people meeting in counsel may judge, but no one is to receive more than a hundred blows.”

[P 80:] “He complained, and they beat him.”

“How are the hands nourished? By the blood. How does the blood reach the hands? By the veins. If the veins are closed, the hands will rot away.”

He left that farm and took to the roads.”

“Where the Group of Seventeen sit, there final justice is done.”

He went to the capital and complained of the way he had been treated.”

“Let there be clean water for those who toil. Let there be hot food for them and a clean bed.”

He came back to the farm, tired and hungry after his journey.”

“No one is to receive more than a hundred blows.”

They beat him again.”

“Behind everything some further thing is found, forever; thus the tree behind the bird, stone beneath soil, the sun behind Urth. Behind our efforts, let there be found our efforts.”

The just man did not give up. He left the farm again to walk to the capital.”

“Can all petitioners be heard? No, for all cry together. Who, then, shall be heard – is it those who cry the loudest? No, for all cry loudly. Those who cry longest shall be heard, and justice shall be done to them.”

Arriving at the capital, he camped upon the very doorstep of the Group of Seventeen and begged all who passed to listen to him. After a long time he was admitted to the palace, where those in authority heard his complaints with sympathy.”

“So say the Group of Seventeen. From those who steal, take all they have, for nothing that they have is their own.”

They told him to go back to the farm and tell the bad men – in their name – that they must leave.”

[P 81:] “As a good child to its mother, so is the citizen to the Group of Seventeen.”

He did just as they had said.”

“What is foolish speech? It is wind. It has come in at the ears and goes out of the mouth. No one is to receive more than a hundred blows.”

They mocked him and beat him.”

“Behind our efforts, let there be found our efforts.”

The just man did not give up. He returned to the capital once more.”

“The citizen renders to the populace what is due to the populace. What is due to the populace? Everything.”

He was very tired. His clothes were in rags and his shoes worn out. He had no food and nothing to trade.”

“It is better to be just than to be kind, but only good judges can be just; let those who cannot be just be kind.”

In the capital he lived by begging.”


At this point I could not help but interrupt. I told Foila that I thought it was wonderful that she understood so well what each of the stock phrases the Ascian used meant in the context of his story, but that I could not understand how she did it – how she knew, for example, that the phrase about kindness and justice meant that the hero had become a beggar.

“Well, suppose that someone else – Melito, perhaps – were telling a story, and at some point in it he thrust out his hand and began to ask for alms. You’d know what that meant, wouldn’t you?”

I agreed that I would.

“It’s just the same here. Sometimes we find Ascian soldiers who are too hungry or too sick to keep up with the rest, and after they understand we aren’t [P 82:] going to kill them, that business about kindness and justice is what they say. In Ascian, of course. It’s what beggars say in Ascia.”


“Those who cry longest shall be heard, and justice shall be done to them.”

This time he had to wait a long while before he was admitted to the palace, but at last they let him in and heard what he had to say.”

“Those who will not serve the populace shall serve the populace.”

They said they would put the bad men in prison.”

“Let there be clean water for those who toil. Let there be hot food for them, and a clean bed.”

He went back home.”

“No one is to receive more than a hundred blows.”

He was beaten again.”

“Behind our efforts, let there be found our efforts.”

But he did not give up. Once more he set off for the capital to complain.”

“Those who fight for the populace fight with a thousand hearts. Those who fight against them with none.”

Now the bad men were afraid.”

“Let no one oppose the decisions of the Group of Seventeen.”

They said to themselves, ‘He has gone to the palace again and again, and each time he must have told the rulers that we did not obey their earlier commands. Surely, this time they will send soldiers to kill us.”

“If their wounds are in their backs, who shall stanch their blood?”

The bad men ran away.”

“Where are those who in times past have opposed the decisions of the Group of Seventeen?”

[P 83:] “They were never seen again.”

“Let there be clean water for those who toil. Let there be hot food for them, and a clean bed. Then they will sing at their work, and their work will be light to them. Then they will sing at the harvest, and the harvest will be heavy.”

The just man returned home and lived happily ever after.”


Everyone applauded this story, moved by the story itself, by the ingenuity of the Ascian prisoner, by the glimpse it had afforded us of life in Ascia, and most of all, I think, by the graciousness and wit Foila brought to her translation.

I have no way of knowing whether you, who eventually will read this record, like stories or not. If you do not, no doubt you have turned these pages without attention. I confess that I love them. Indeed, it often seems to me that of all the good things in the world, the only ones humanity can claim for itself are stories and music; the rest, mercy, beauty, sleep, clean water and hot food (as the Ascian would have said) are all the work of the Increate. Thus, stories are small things indeed in the scheme of the universe, but it is hard not to love best what is our own – hard for me, at least.

From this story, though it was the shortest and the most simple too of all those I have recorded in this book, I feel that I learned several things of some importance. First of all, how much of our speech, which we think freshly minted in our own mouths, consists of set locutions. The Ascian seemed to speak only in sentences he had learned by rote, though until he used each for the first time we had never heard them. Foila seemed to speak as women commonly do, and if I had been asked whether she employed such tags, I would have said that she did not – but [P 84:] how often one might have predicted the ends of her sentences from their beginnings.

Second, I learned how difficult it is to eliminate the urge for expression. The people of Ascia were reduced to speaking only with their masters’ voice; but they had made of it a new tongue, and I had no doubt, after hearing the Ascian, that by it he could express whatever thought he wished.

And third, I learned once again what a many-sided thing is the telling of any tale. None, surely, could be plainer than the Ascian’s, yet what did it mean? Was it intended to praise the Group of Seventeen? The mere terror of their name had routed the evildoers. Was it intended to condemn them? They had heard the complaints of the just man, and yet they had done nothing for him beyond giving him their verbal support. There had been no indication they would ever do more.

But I had not learned those things I had most wished to learn as I listened to the Ascian and to Foila. What had been her motive in agreeing to allow the Ascian to compete? Mere mischief? From her laughing eyes I could easily believe it. Was she perhaps in truth attracted to him? I found that more difficult to credit, but it was surely not impossible. Who has not seen women attracted to men lacking every attractive quality? She had clearly had much to do with Ascians, and he was clearly no ordinary solder, since he had been taught our language. Did she hope to wring some secret from him?

And what of him? Melito and Hallvard had accused each other of telling tales with an ulterior purpose. Had he done so as well? If he had, it had surely been to tell Foila – and the rest of us too – that would never give up.

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1 Comments:

At March 30, 2011 at 1:21 AM , Blogger Eumaies said...

love that book!

 

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