Reading The Shadow of the Torturer – Chapter VIII: The Conversationalist

SYNOPSIS: Severian continues his friendship with the imprisoned Thecla. Roche, on orders from Master Gurloes, takes Severian out to a brothel, evidently to help prevent the possibility of his relationship with Thecla becoming sexual.

ANALYSIS: Not much happens in this chapter; it exists primarily to develop the characters and world, and to set up the next one. First, we find Thecla having a bit of theological fun:

“When I am free,” she said, “I shall found my own sect. I will tell everyone that its wisdom was revealed to me during my sojourn among the torturers. They’ll listen to that.”

I asked what her teachings would be.

“That there is no agathodaemon or afterlife. That the mind is extinguished in death as in sleep, yet more so.”

“But who will you say revealed that to you?”

She shook her head, then rested her pointed chin upon one hand, a pose that showed off the graceful line of her neck admirably. “I haven’t decided yet. An angel of ice, perhaps. Or a ghost. Which do you think is best?”

“Isn’t there a contradiction in that?”

“Precisely.” Her voice was rich with the pleasure the question gave her. “In that contradiction will reside the appeal of this new belief. One can’t found a novel theology on Nothing, and nothing is so secure a foundation as a contradiction. Look at the great successes of the past – they say their deities are the masters of all the universes, and yet that they require grandmothers to defend them, as if they were children frightened by poultry. Or that the authority that punishes no one while there exists a chance for reformation will punish everyone when there is no possibility anyone will become the better for it.”

Thecla (and, it seems, a good amount of her Exultant peers) is rather agnostic, contrasting with Severian, who states that his guild has, “a celestial patroness and observances, just like any other guild.” Contrary to what Thecla thinks, the cruelty of the torturer’s vocation requires them to find some sort of cosmic significance in what they do.

Thecla gives a few brief hints about the House Absolute. Although it is very large, it remains cleverly hidden and protected by spies. Most of its inhabitants are unaware of the continued existence of the Torturer’s guild. Speculation amongst the apprentices also suggests that the character of the real Autarch has been clouded by legend. We also hear mention of, “his vizier, the famous Father Inire, who looked like a monkey ans was the oldest man in the world.” We’ll meet this character later on.

It isn’t surprising that Severian’s introduction to sex comes through a visit to the brothel. Although torture and prostitution are rather different things, they both hinge on seeing another’s embodied existence as an instrument to be used. Torture pretty much depends upon the recognition that the body has an integral relationship to one’s self – and to see that as a means of breaking another person. Prostitution uses it to achieve a simulation of love. both practices, in seeing the body as an instrument, show contempt for it.

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About Josh W

A Catholic. Likes to write stuff and draw pictures.
This entry was posted in Assigned Reading, pop culture and its discontents and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Reading The Shadow of the Torturer – Chapter VIII: The Conversationalist

  1. wgosline says:

    Nice analysis of the relationship between torture and prostitution. This no doubt accounts for the constant physical danger prostitutes are in. This tetrarch is one of my all time favorites. A singular work of art.

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