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Date: Wed, 6 Mar 2002 16:05:54 -0800
From: Michael Andre-Driussi 
Subject: Re: (urth) electro-torture of Urth

It has been written:
> ECT can induce changes, physiological and emotional, that themsleves can
> lead to suicidal tendancies.

Back up a bit.

The Revolutionary is:

1) a device which behaves in a manner somewhat recognizable in 20th century
terms, i.e., like an electro-shock therapy machine (we don't seem to see
any contention here), yet

2) it functions in a manner decidedly opposite to therapy (again, no
argument so far).

Now then.  Electro-shock therapy is not terribly specialized knowledge; the
term and the general outline is part of general knowledge.

Presumably there was a certain amount of testing done before the therapy
became a standard procedure.  The success rate must have been relatively
high to warrant it being used at all. There may well be cases of such
therapy not working; no doubt--nothing is ever 100%.  And that is sad in
general, and more terrible in specific cases.

Nevertheless.  The Revolutionary is assumed to perform its task 99% of the
time (just as a guillotine or an electric chair functions). If there was an
identical device in use in the 20th century, we would know about it in
general knowledge.

Since such a device is unknown in general knowledge, then we suppose that
the author invented it (as Fleming invented diabolical devices for SMERSH,
et cetera).

The purpose of "The Languages of the Dying Sun" essay was to show how
=language= is being used by the authors in three different "dying sun"
works.  So it would have been out of place for me to investigate the
failure rate of a given therapy; the history of the therapy; the peak and
decline of the therapy.  Yes, another essay could be written on that
topic--bring in the frontal lobotomy from oft-mentioned (original motion
picture) "Planet of the Apes" and you've got the start of an sfnal take on
psychiatric surgery!

If people now are offended that I wrote such a device seems "implausible,
impossible," then I apologize.  My intent was not to get into "how to make
such a device in your garage today" nor any other hard-science approach: I
only wanted to say such a thing did not exist when Wolfe wrote of it; in
imagining it, I suspected Wolfe used a form of magical thinking (perhaps
ala Kafka or David Lindsay); I specified one example of magical thinking
involving a psychic/psychiatric link between Urth and Earth (odd how often
this happens very obviously in far future novels set on Earth).

Readers are free to disagree on every point (as they already have):
1) it does not exist;
2) Wolfe created it through magical thinking rather than, say, engineering;
3) it might teleport 20th century mental illness to the dying world of our

Readers might think that the Revolutionary was not a good choice to make
for an example in such an essay.  But I brought it along because it was
different from most of the other cases (contus, khaibit, etc.), and while
people may have chatted about it being similar to an electro-shock therapy
machine (like allusions to Kafka's "In the Penal Colony" with regard to the
slogan-writing tattoo machine of the torturers), I had not seen it set down
in an essay anywhere, making it somewhat "fresh and original" to the essay
world, at least in my experience.

Now I find myself sick of talking about it, so excuse me if I say no more.



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